HCC's Handanovic uses move from Croatia as drive for success

January 29, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI |
  • Hagerstown Community College guard Jasmin Handanovic (31) continually works on perfecting his game of basketball for a chance to use it to help his family move back to Croatia in comfort.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — You can say that Jasmin Handanovic is the leader of his own movement.

Hagerstown Community College’s sophomore shooting guard is a man in constant motion, fighting for a personal cause. Hawks fans can catch glimpses of him — if they’re lucky. He’s a blur on the floor, looking for an opening to unleash a 3-point shot.

To HCC coach Barry Brown, Handanovic makes the Energizer bunny look like a slacker who needs a new battery.

“If he has a fault, he spends too much time working out,” Brown said. “I think he works out in his sleep sometimes. He’s an extraordinary individual. People see he’s from Milford, N.H., but his story is much deeper. He works so hard because he wants to achieve his expectations. We have to tell him to slow down and smell the roses.”

Handanovic doesn’t have time for that. In his mind, he’s late; he’s late for a very important date.

At age 19, his life had been defined by movement. Idle time just makes Handanovic feel like he’s lazy and like he’s losing sight of those expectations.

“I know I’m not that big or talented,” Handanovic said. “I have to be perfect in everything … with my shot and my defense. Honestly, when I get home from class and lie down, I see the picture of my family by the head of my bed. That makes me want to get up and get working. My family and I have been through so much. I want to succeed to take care of them.”

Since Handanovic was 3, his family has been in transition, trying to find a better way of life. The Croatian War of Independence forced Handanovic, his parents and older brother to flee their country to look for safety and stability. After living in four countries, a number of cities and four states, he chose to come to HCC because he believed it gave him the best chance to reach his goals.

“I want to be able to take care of my parents,” Handanovic said with conviction. “They have worked so hard for a better life and to help me get my chance. The payback will be if I get my degree and play professionally in Europe. They want to move back home and I want to pay my family back.”

Spanning the globe

Handanovic’s journey to get to this point would put a GPS on overload.

Croatia was in the midst of civil war over socialism when the Handanovic family decided to run from the conflict.

“I’m too young to remember, but my parents told me we were hiding in our basement as the army marched by,” he said. “After they passed us, we ran into the mountains.”

Similar the Von Trapp family in The Sound of Music, the Handanovics used passports to move to Germany, but were sent back to Croatia after three years when the documents expired.

The family made a second move, this time going to Holland where they became part of an immigration-like program. The Handanovics lived in a trailer and received $55 a week for food. They were given a test which would allow them to come to the United States. They passed, but had to wait for someone to pay for their tickets.

In 1999, Handanovic and his older brother, Nedad, were excited about moving to the U.S. They didn’t have any television to see what this country was like, but they knew it had to be better.

“I remember we were flying in and me and my brother were listening to “Miami” by Will Smith,” Handanovic said. “We liked the music and we flew into Chicago. It was big and there was so much going on.”

That was just the tease to hook the family. They soon caught their next flight out of the big city, which was destined for Twin Falls, Idaho — where they were to live with an uncle.

“I went to school. I was in the second grade, but we didn’t like it there,” Handanovic said. “There was nothing to do.”

The Handanovics attempted to find a place to call their new home. They moved to Vermont, then tried St. Louis before going back to Vermont, then on to New Hampshire, which is now home. Handanovic’s father, Kasim, works 12 hours a day in a plant which makes Coca-Cola bottles and his mother, Katharina, works in a paper plant.

Learning the ropes

Jasmin knew things were better, but he also knew they could improve. He worried about his parents because of how hard they worked, but there was little he could do.

In eighth grade, just after moving to Milford, N.H., Handanovic’s best friend at the time, Oliver Davis, was playing basketball and he talked Jasmin into trying out for a youth team. Davis’ father got the ball rolling for Handanovic.

“He did everything for me to get me going,” Handanovic said. “I played on four different teams in eighth grade. Mr. Davis paid my fees and picked me up. He proved to me that if he could care so much, I should be able to, too.

“I felt like the way that I worked at it, I could be something. He made me love the game, but my brother (Nedad) pushed me to be good. He kept asking me why am I sitting around when I should be working on my game. He saw something in me.”

Handanovic began to prove it during his sophomore year at Milford High School. He dropped some weight and rode his bike to school. He began working with a friend who played Division I ball.

“He told me I had to work hard,” Handanovic said. “I started going to the gym and working, but the turning point was losing weight.”

The monster was unleashed. Handanovic became a fixture in the gym and started working on his goal.

He was named to New Hampshire’s All-State first team in Class I as a senior. He attended Fisher College, an NAIA school in Boston, averaging 11.3 points while connecting on 31.4 percent of his 3s.

But Handanovic wanted more and another acquaintance pointed to the next fork in the road.

“The competition wasn’t that good and we didn’t have a gym (at Fisher),” Handanovic said. “I wanted to get down in (the Maryland) area. Ryan Henry, a friend of mine who played at Fisher and here, told me to try HCC. He said it was pretty good, the competition was good and they had a brand new gym.”

Handanovic wasn’t bashful, nor was he afraid to travel to get what he wanted.

“He called me and said he wanted to come here,” Brown said. “I told him to get down here and I’d look at him. It seemed like he was here the same day.”

Chance of a lifetime

It was like a college road trip in the movies, but this one was a life-changer. Handanovic said he coaxed his roommate, Dennis Arnold, to come with him for the ride. They left at 1 a.m., stopped for a nap and hit the HCC campus at 10.

Handanovic needed to see only one thing at HCC and he was hooked.

“When I walked into the gym, I wanted to come here,” he said. “I saw the workout area … I knew where I wanted to be. This gym …. It is a prize to me.”

But he still had to convince Brown he belonged.

“I met Barry and I had a workout. I knew this was my only chance to make an impression,” Handanovic said. “I was feeling it that day.”

Shots were falling and he beat Brown’s handpicked one-on-one opponent. Despite the performance, Brown was straight forward.

“I was impressed,” Brown said. “I told him with our style demanded he had to be in tip-top physical condition. When he came back, he was there.”

It was all the invitation Handanovic needed.

Handanovic didn’t think long before making his decision. He had lunch before going to register for classes. He jumped back in his car at 3 p.m. and was back home by 5 a.m. the next day.

“Barry has been always honest with me,” Handanovic said. “He told me I’d have to work to get playing time. They said I had to get faster. I worked like crazy in the summer.”

Handanovic came back ready to play. After an early lull — from working too hard, according to Brown — the long-distance threat has started to come into his own. He scored 44 points in a recent three-game period for the Hawks, culminating with 12 points on four second-half 3-pointers on Jan. 22 in an 81-64 win over Allegany. He is averaging 11.1 points and 2.7 3-pointers per game, while shooting 41 percent behind the arc.

“He has a quick first step and when he gets hot, he will hit so many 3s in a row,” Brown said. “When he does that, it gets the team excited. He is a key part to our success this season.”

Light at end of the tunnel

Success is important to Handanovic because he has more moves and more traveling on his agenda.

“This is everything I wanted,” he said. “We have a great team with a whole lot of Division I talent. It’s the best team I ever played on. I expect so much out of it. I never realized that basketball could mean so much to me.

Handanovic hopes to parlay his success into a stop at a small Division I school. After that, he wants to play professionally in Europe so that he can help his parents in the same way that they helped him.

“My family wants to move back. They are homesick,” Handanovic said. “We have Skype at home and at Christmas, I saw and met my grandfather for the first time. My mom can barely speak English and wants to get back where she is comfortable. We love Croatia and want to go back.

“My biggest dream is for my family to be happy and I want to make it so my parents can retire after working so hard for so long. That’s why I work so hard because I know it is possible.”

And when that day comes, Jasmin Handanovic will stop and smell the roses … at least for a minute.

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