PULLMAN - The peace and quiet of the Palouse is not for everyone. When Washington State students leave Pullman for Christmas break, the silence can be downright deafening.
Nikola Koprivica, a senior forward for the Cougars, doesn’t mind the silence. In fact, there are times he savors it.
That’s what hiding in an underground bomb shelter for two months will do to a man.
“It’s sad and scary when you feel the ground under you shaking,” said Koprivica, who survived NATO bombings in his hometown of Belgrade, Serbia, during the Kosovo War in 1999.
“You can hear bombs coming closer and closer. Not a pleasant feeling.
“Even today, when I hear in the movies sirens that announce air strikes and all that, I get chills and I just don’t feel comfortable.”
Koprivica said he was 10 years old when his father, mother and older brother were forced to abandon their high-rise apartment after a bomb landed 500 yards from their home. Koprivica said he rarely left the bomb shelter for two months.
Eventually, peace returned to Belgrade, and Koprivica – whose father, Zarko, was a famed pro basketball player in Yugoslavia – developed into one of Serbia’s top young players.
This season, Koprivica has thrived as the Cougars’ lone upperclassman. Virtually all of his statistics are improved, including per-game averages of 8.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists and shooting percentages of 56.4 from the field, 50.0 for 3-point range and 75.8 at the free-throw line.
“He’s done a good job,” coach Ken Bone said. “I think there’s a few kids in our program playing with more confidence than they’ve played with in the past.
“Any time guys play with confidence, they usually play better. They’re a little more relaxed and they just perform a little bit better. I think that’s the case with Nikola.”
Koprivica, who like most Europeans grew up playing in a wide-open offense, said he welcomed the change to Bone’s up-tempo offense after three years in the slower, defensive-minded system coached by Tony Bennett.
Koprivica stresses his respect for Bennett as a coach and person, but said Bone’s style of play fits him better. Bennett resigned after last season to take over at Virginia.
“Coach Bone gave me a lot of freedom and support,” Koprivica said. “I can feel it.
“I think confidence comes with that. A little luck and all that. Shots are falling in. I’m feeling great.”
The 6-foot-6, 221-pound Koprivica shares the power-forward position with starter Abe Lodwick. Both are natural wings, but Bone’s offense provides Koprivica and Lodwick with opportunities to play away from the basket on offense.
“He (Bone) could have said, ‘I don’t care about (a) senior, I want to invest in young guys and all that,’ ” Koprivica said in his slight accent. “But he told me the first day we met, ‘You’re really important for me. I need you to help me deal with the young guys.’
“I started working harder and harder in practice. Every time he gets on me, I understand that. I think he makes me better every time.”
Koprivica, who said he could have signed a pro contract in Serbia right out of high school, plans to play professionally overseas next season. He’s on track to graduate in May with an international business degree .
The Cougars (10-2) open Pacific-10 Conference play at 3:30 p.m. today against visiting Oregon (8-4). The Ducks and Cougars are riding four-game winning streaks after being picked to finish sixth and eighth, respectively, in a preseason poll.
“I’m really happy they picked us eighth, because I love that underdog mentality,” Koprivica said. “Now we have to prove to people, ‘Let’s see who is eighth.’
“All of a sudden, people are talking now about we have a chance for Pac-10 championship (Washington State last won a conference title in 1940-41). I tell guys, ‘Don’t listen to what people are saying. We’ve got to come out and practice every day and grind.’
“When Pac-10 starts, it’s different. It’s not preseason. Everybody plays harder.”
WSU has won six in a row over Oregon after losing the previous 13. … The Ducks have lost 16 consecutive road games. … Joevan Catron, Oregon’s leading rebounder last season, is listed as questionable after missing eight games with a back injury. …Guard Tajuan Porter leads four Ducks in double figures with 11 points per game. He’s nursing an ankle injury that recently forced him to sit out four games. … WSU wing Klay Thompson leads the Pac-10 and is ranked third in NCAA Division I through Tuesday with 25 ppg. … The Cougars lead the Pac-10 in free-throw shooting percentage (73.4) and attempts per game (27.9). … Oregon State (6-5 with two straight wins) visits WSU on Saturday after playing at No. 17 Washington tonight. FSN televises Saturday’s game at 4 p.m. … The Beavers lead the Pac-10 with 8.9 steals per game. Senior guard Seth Tarver is the individual league leader in steals at 3.3. Tarver is Oregon State’s top scorer at 13.4. … OSU ranks last in the Pac-10 in turnovers (16.7), ninth in scoring (63.1) and ninth in rebounding (33.0).