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Fiery Zlatko Josic Is the ‘Everything Man’ for El Camino

Times Staff Writer

A guy who is best known for playing intense defense--often limiting the opponent’s star scorer to 10 points or less--is a great asset to any basketball team. And this is doubly true when that player also contributes about 19 points a game.

And when he’s 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, vivacious and full of fervor, it’s just that much better for his coach.

For El Camino (10-3) Coach Ron McClurkin, that man is Zlatko Josic, a hot-blooded Yugoslav who covers the basketball court like an electric blanket.

This 20-year-old can muscle his way inside the key to score or grab a rebound, he can drive the ball a court’s length with his speed and agility, he can dunk and he can stop some top junior college scorers.

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“He’s probably the best player on our team,” said McClurkin. “He’s our everything man. Defensively, he’s the best player we’ve had in a long time. Zlatko always guards the top guy on every squad, whether it’s the guard, center or forward.”

Josic’s vehement style of play has always made him stick out, according to his high school coach.

“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Zlatko is tenacity,” said San Pedro High basketball Coach Jack Kordich. “He’s always going full blast. Whether it’s practice or a game, with Zlatko there’s no first, second or third gear. He’s always in fourth gear.”

As a freshman at El Camino two years ago, Josic received a trophy for being the team’s defensive player of the year. He averaged about 30 minutes a game and was the team’s third-best scorer, an excellent performance considering that he was playing with stars such as Kirkland Howling, who now plays at Clemson, and Charles White, who is at Purdue.

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“I take more pride in my defense,” Josic said. “I know I don’t look like I can play good defense because I’m wide and kind of stocky, but I’m pretty quick. I told coach that I’m going to be a defensive specialist by the end of the season.”

That was supposed to happen at the conclusion of last season, but five weeks into fall practice Josic learned that he was academically ineligible. He was given credit for a sociology class he had failed in the spring, and the error wasn’t caught until too late.

Josic got used to watching instead of performing, but to this day he regrets not being part of last year’s state champion Warrior club.

“It was real hard the first three weeks of basketball season,” Josic said. “Then it was a learning process. As an observer I saw what was really expected of us. I paid more attention, and I matured and learned a lot.”

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That’s clearly evident on the court, where Josic is like a permanent fixture in his opponent’s face and where he’s scored in double figures in every game this season. His strong all-around performance has earned his teammates’ respect as well as McClurkin’s.

“There’s no doubt that he’s our leader,” McClurkin said. “He does everything and he does it well. We can’t win without him.”

Guard Kevin Mixon, who played his freshman season with Josic and also sat out last year for academic reasons, agrees with McClurkin. The 6-foot-3 sophomore says Josic’s athletic ability isn’t his only contribution to this year’s team.

“He’s one of our main motivators,” Mixon said.

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Josic, whose family moved to San Pedro from Yugoslavia when he was 5, started playing basketball in South Bay public park leagues at 13.

At San Pedro High he was an all-city and all-league player two years in a row. His senior year he was the league MVP and helped lead the Pirates to the semifinals of the City 4-A playoffs.

“He was our main guy,” Kordich said. “We had a lot of other players that were good, but without Zlatko we couldn’t have done it.

“To give you an idea of the kind of player he is, one game comes to mind. We played Gardena over there and we were down 12 points with less than 3 minutes to go and we didn’t even have a the 3-pointer then. Zlatko just about won the game for us. He had 4 steals and 8 points in the last 3 minutes. It was just an incredible performance.”

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Josic intends to perform like that in every game this season, which should earn him a scholarship to play next year. Already the University of Texas, El Paso, Seton Hall and New Mexico State have shown interest. Josic is honored, but next season is the last thing on his mind.

“I missed out last year,” Josic said, shaking his head, “on the state championship. I just want to be the state champ. I want to go to the tournament in Santa Clara and I want to win.”


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