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HUNTINGTON — Forget the numbers, small as they may be. Milan Mijovic’s contribution to the Marshall basketball program has been greater than most followers realize.

The 6-foot-9, 255-pound native of Serbia is playing his final two regular-season games at Cam Henderson Center, as he nears the end of his college career. This week is historic, in a sense — he is the lone connection to the tough beginning of the Dan D’Antoni era.

That means he has lived through a 21-loss season and a 20-win season, and perhaps another one. The Herd (19-8, 10-4 Conference USA) is one win away from the 20-win mark, which would give the program its first consecutive 20-game winners since 2009-12.

As D’Antoni points out: “It’s not like the team went downhill. The team went uphill.”

Mijovic has been a role player from the start, playing 209 minutes as a freshman, 52 as a sophomore and 179 as a senior. He has 136 points total in 84 career games, with 125 rebounds. He has started 18 games this season, but still averages only 14.4 minutes.

But that doesn’t begin to measure his contribution over these four seasons.

“I think he’s been a big part of the locker room,” D’Antoni said. “Probably his biggest strength was in the practice/locker room [atmosphere] improvement. Hard work, team-first type of concept, and he brought that whether he was playing or not.

“Kids saw that even when he wasn’t playing, he was that same person. When he got a chance to play, that didn’t change. … Plus, academically, he has attended classes, he’s getting, I believe, a three-something grade-point average, [giving us] a good chance to set our program to where we want it to go — not just as a playing team, but as a college team that goes to school, goes to classes and participates in the community.”

When Ajdin Penava came to the U.S. from Bosnia and visited the MU campus the next year, he saw how much of an ambassador Mijovic had become. And as Penava has developed into an inside-outside scoring threat and the nation’s leading shot-blocker, Mijovic’s impact takes on a different dimension.

“My first year, him and Aleksa [Nikolic, since departed], they showed my around, they showed me how the system goes,” Penava said. “Other than my parents and the coaching staff, they’ve been the biggest factors of my transition.”

Mijovic has the size the Herd hasn’t had much of in the D’Antoni era, but his skills were questionable, to put it diplomatically. Improvement has not come easily over the years. Take setting picks, for instance — when you’re picked by this guy, you’re picked.

But Mijovic paid his own price at times. Let’s put it this way: Officials don’t often miss a 250-pound man setting a moving screen.

“Anybody who ran into him when he was off-balance, may God bless you,” D’Antoni said with a hearty laugh. “I will say he learned, as the years went by, not to get a foul every damn time he sets a pick. He did learn to kind of set picks without knocking the hell out of somebody.”

D’Antoni may needle Mijovic, as he does everybody else, but he admires the guy as much as anybody. Mijovic could have left the program, as do many who don’t see much playing time. D’Antoni could have decided not to renew Mijovic’s scholarship, which is permitted.

Neither was about to happen.

“It’s hard to pack in players who give 100 percent,” D’Antoni said. “On the floor, in the community. Somehow, those guys find a way to get minutes. I don’t care; they just find a way. In all my coaching, 45 years, people like him find a way to get some reward out of what they’re doing.”

By Doug Smock

original article: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/sports/marshall_university/milan-mijovic-s-contribution-to-marshall-basketball-can-t-be/article_7fa1dcc5-8e5b-57da-8223-249b05623258.html