VACALLO BASKETBALL CLUB
ANTE GRGUREVIC VS. THE SERB AND HERB JOHNSON
Height: 6’6” (198cm) Weight: 225lbs (102kg)
Physical shape – Excellent
Born and raised in Split, Croatia, Ante was unfortunately forced to quickly grow up during the ethnic conflicts of the infamous Yugoslav Wars (1991-1999). Ante was fiercely independent, competitive, and hard as granite rock – He was not the man you dared instigate a conflict with, nor intentionally piss-off.
Ante’s epic training regiments were unconventional, yet undeniably functional. They were designed for optimal strength and looking at Ante that was confirmed. Clearly during his youth there had to have been a coach who taught him these intense Easter European Block workouts. I’d watch him train with bewilderment. Seldom had I seen strength exercises akin to these; certainly never in real life. Ante’s strength, coordination, and agility was comparable to a professional NFL football player. Coincidentally, Ante also looked strangely like ‘Ivan Drago’ (Dolph Lundgren) from Rocky (See image above) – although Ante was 2 inches taller and 200 times tougher.
In the late 1990s we were playing in closely contested basketball game versus Vevey (Switzerland). Vevey’s gym was filled with a their usual crazy and boisterous crowd. Their fans were abuzz with anticipation. Our Vacallo Basketball Club team was ranked #1 in the league and stacked with international players who came from 10 different countries. (which included some of America’s best – Peter Lisicky (Penn State), Haris Mujezinovic (Indiana), Lee Matthews (Siena) etc. We were playing in Vevey to win.
During the game my “much-strong-like-bull” roommate Ante was intentionally (or so he felt), elbowed in the face by Vevey’s 6’9” Serbian enforcer. The impact of Serbian’s bony elbow immediately ripped Ante’s skin open directly above his left eye. Ante was gushing blood.
Vevey also had Herb Johnson who was 6’10” (208cm), athletic, tattooed and notoriously tough wherever he played – sometimes even dangerous. Johnson was skinny and fat-free with an unmistakably deep voice. He also possessed a well-respected mean streak – one which realigned people who upset him for any reason. Johnson was the Swiss leagues infamous heavy-duty enforcer – he knew it, and he knew we all knew it. He was rightfully feared.
After having his skin ripped open, Ante slowly shook his head then bent down to pick up the basketball off the floor.
With his face filled with that unmistakable mixture of gushing blood and dripping sweat, Ante began slowly walking down the court towards the Serbian and the fully-tattooed Herb. All Ante’s face said was “well if he dies, he dies” (yes, that is a quote from Rocky).
Ante then proceeded to do what I’ve never again seen another player do. He placed the basketball ball in a headlock under his left arm and confidentially, leisurely, and purposefully walked the length of the basketball court towards the Serbian and Herb Johnson. The Swiss LNA referees finally blew their whistles as play had not yet stopped, nor had we properly inbounded the ball. The Euro-fans whistled (disapprovingly) and the referees whistled (ineffectively), we all watched with extreme intensity our “I Must Break You” Ante Grugorevic acrimoniously march down court – clearly more and more displeased with his injury.
Initially, players on both teams were stunned in confused – each side analyzing the situation. What was happening? Ante’s pace was slow, deliberate, confident. His face possessed the unmistakable gaze of the unleashed tortured animal, newly escaped from captivity…seeking revenge from his captures. Prepared, at all costs to even the score. There was no escape.
Many players made worthless attempts to hinder Ante’s progress down the court. (Funny to see men haphazardly stepping in to stop a consumed man), but Ante couldn’t see or hear anyone. He literally only saw the Serbian and Herb on the far end of the floor. Both the Serb and Herb were Ante’s current concern which was glaringly evident.
Ante approached the Serbian and Herb and stopped. He approached calmly (ball still under his arm – blood still gushing) and then calmly and surprisingly politely asked:.
”You v’want fight?”
Serb & Herb (both): “what?”
Ante:“You v’want fight?” (Staring directly into their eyes)
Serb & Herb:“man, get the f’ outta here!”
Ante:“No, no, no, I ask you now…you v’want fight?… BECAUSE I FIGHT!!!!”
Serb & Herb:“get out of here!”
Ante:“NO FIGHT? So, you NO v’want fight?” (again) BECAUSE I FIGHT!!!!”
Serb & Herb:“No, I we ain’t gonna fight you”
Ante:“OK…so NO fight?”
Serb & Herb:(Shaking their heads No – obviously overwhelmed by Ante’s exuding confidence)
Ante:“OK then, NO FIGHT” (Blood and sweat absolutely blanketed Ante’s face. He shook his head and wiped off his face, then stepped off the basketball court to receive ‘x’ number of stitches. I have a picture somewhere and will post it when I find it.
It was an astute decision not to fight on both Serb & Herb’s part as all my instincts steered me to think that Ante would have killed them.
I have seen many heroic people tackle different difficult situations, but I was still left shaking my head at Ante’s unrelenting determination to settle the score and his confidence to do so.
Background: Ante lead his team in rebounding wherever he played and was the 3rd best rebounder in the Europe’s Euro League. Often he had more rebounds than the entire opposing team. Impressive statistics considering most centers are approximately seven feet tall – and Ante stood 6’6” tall.
As my roommate Ante always kept his side of the apartment clean. He always prepared and cooked meals for us and loved Frank Sinatra. He took the maximum times you could possible listen to Sinatra to new heights – playing Franky day and night. Ante also loved ‘chess’ and ‘minesweeper’ and we challenged each other daily. Ante always felt that he had the upper hand in Chess but the truth was that I felt sorry for the little “boo-boo on his head” so I let him win. :- )
Ante was modest but once he leisurely told me (between chess moves), how he fought an entire team of “Ron, Vat are deez guys called who play with dis big vattermellon ball?” They are called rugby players Ante. “Yes, deez guys made me very angry wan time!!!” Then he described the demolition in the bar, outside the bar, and the final outcome.
Ante was the “Kindest man in the world.” The ‘kind-type’ you knew to NOT EVER provoke. His kindness reminded me of legendary NMSU football player (Homecoming King) Sam Dyckie or Indiana University Hoosier basketball legend Haris Mujezinovic… but don’t get under their skin.
Ante now lives back in his hometown of Split, Croatia with his wife and 3 kids.