By Todd Bluth
In its last game of the season, the BYU men”s basketball team honored a piece of their history Saturday night, March 4, 2006, in a halftime ceremony to retire the jersey number of former player Kresimir Cosic.
BYU students flooded the northern bleachers of the Marriott Center wearing white t-shirts with the number 11 emblazoned on the front and waving Yugoslavian flags in honor of the late collegiate basketball star, who came to BYU from Yugoslavia in 1969. The halftime show highlighted an impressive showing from the men”s basketball team, who finished their season by winning their sixth straight, 76-68, over New Mexico.
A video tribute to the BYU All-American began a 20-minute halftime ceremony in honor of Cosic, the 6”11″ center who joined Danny Ainge as the only men”s basketball players to have their numbers retired by BYU. Coaches, players, and others who knew Cosic throughout his life took turns expressing their appreciation and fond memories of Cosic, among them former teammate Steve Kelly.
“He not only remained a really gifted athlete,” Kelly said, “but…he became a better man and became quite a tribute to his family, to his land, and to his religion.”
Later, President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reminisced about his personal encounters with Cosic.
“He was a wonderful basketball player, but he was also a great man,” said President Monson after recounting his experiences with Cosic, who worked behind the scenes to help the Church when it finally made its way into Yugoslavia in 1985.
Cosic”s wife and three children made the trip from Europe as well to be at the halftime ceremony, which concluded with Cosic”s daughter Ana addressing the crowd before his jersey was unfurled from the rafters, accompanied by a burst of confetti.
“I am touched to see that they honor him here so far away from his country, and seeing that he is not forgotten,” said Cosic”s widow Ljerka. “I”m still trying to hold it all in. To have people all the way over here remember him is touching and amazing.”
Cosic, known for his guard-like playing style despite his height, thrilled crowds at the Marriott Center during his four years in Provo. His up-tempo style of play landed him national attention and helped increase awareness of foreign-born basketball players in America, paving the way for many other European-born players to make their mark in the NCAA and NBA.
Second on BYU”s all-time rebounding list and fourth in all-time points, Cosic became the first foreign player to ever garner an All-American selection. He was also a three-time all-WAC selection, and during his time at BYU the Cougars won two WAC titles and made two appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
After turning down lucrative offers from the NBA and ABA, Cosic returned to Yugoslavia and participated four times in the Olympic Games, winning one gold medal and two silver medals in basketball. After his retirement as Croatia”s all-time scoring leader, Cosic also helped coach the Yugoslavian national team years afterward.
Cosic was later appointed Croatian deputy ambassador to the United States in 1992 before dying of cancer nearly three years later.
“It is very impressive to us that [Kresimir] is not forgotten here, but…remember that [Kresimir] never forgot Provo,” said Ana Cosic. “Provo forever remained his second home. This [ceremony] makes us proud and happy.”