Kresimir Coasic: The player who made basketball an international game

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The Lakers play the Utah Jazz Friday night in Salt Lake City. You know the Lakers are led by Spaniard Pau Gasol – perhaps the greatest European basketball player ever. Utah is where U.S. fans cheered the first great player from Europe. He was born on this date 62 years ago.

His name was Kresimir Cosic, a 6-foot-11 handsome curly-haired free spirit from Croatia who loved to run the fastbreak – and really loved to shoot the basketball.

Coaches at Brigham Young University spotted him playing for Yugoslavia at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

Cosic was the first really good European basketball player in the U.S.. BYU fans packed the biggest campus arena in the country to watch him gallop up and down the court.

Cosic led BYU to the NCAA Tournament twice. In 1973, the Lakers drafted him with Showtime dreams years before Magic Johnson.

But Cosic chose not the Lakers' money but a return to Croatia. He became a giant missionary for the Latter Day Saints – and a European hoops superstar who brought Yugoslavia Olympic gold in 1980.

He later coached the Yugoslavian team – and molded a young Vlade Divac into the Laker star that Cosic might have been. Lymphoma took Kresimir Cosic's life 15 years ago – but not before he'd made basketball the world's game.