|A Graduation Story - Plavljanin's Road To Sparta|
Women's basketball player Sara Plavljanin has taken a winding road and worked very hard on her way to graduation. The Zagreb, Croatia native made a stop in Miles City, Montana before finding her way to San Jose State.
"I had a lot of teammates from the (Croatian) National Team that came to the United States a year ahead of me and I heard it was a good experience," said Plavljanin. "The husband of my coach worked in an agency which placed athletes in America."
Sara took the SAT and put together a highlight video, which she sent out to coaches. She got an offer from Miles (Mont.) Community College and came to the U.S.
"It was definitely culture shock coming from Zagreb (population of 1,000,000) to Miles City (population less than 9,000). It was especially hard over the holidays. But people told me that if you survive the first two months you'll stay. I know a lot of kids who went home but, I came with the mindset that I was going to stay and succeed.
"I'm not a quitter. It would have hurt my pride if I had gone back. You have to set goals to know what you want to do and to map out a way to achieve them."
Sara did set goals and did achieve them.
"When I came to the States I was more of a driver and passer than a shooter. I always looked to pass first, but everyone in the (Mon-Dak Athletic League) was a shooter, so I started to look for my shot more. I worked really hard the summer between my freshman and sophomore years and had a goal of getting a Division I scholarship. The work paid off and I had a good season..."
That's an understatement; Sara became just the second athlete in school history to lead the team in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots in a single season.
From there she picked states she would want to play in and sent each of the schools in those states a resume and highlight video and followed them up with emails to coaches.
"I sent out 200 emails, talked to a lot of programs and had some offers, but when I made a recruiting trip to San Jose State, I immediately liked the school. When I was offered a scholarship here, I took it. Who wouldn't want to go to school in California!"
Things were tough initially for Sara, the Spartans struggled in 2010-11 and she questioned her decision, but things changed this year with a new coaching staff. She was part of the rebirth of Spartan women's basketball.
"Although we didn't win as many games as we wanted to, it feels good to know we laid the foundation for change on the floor and in the classroom."
Sara showed her dedication in the classroom by graduating Cum Laude (with a 3.5 to 3.7 cumulative GPA) with a degree in psychology.
"School is number one. You can't get anywhere in life without an education. I knew I wanted to play basketball from a very young age, but you never know when it could all come to an end with an injury or something else. In Europe, a lot of my friends decided to just play basketball and five-years later their playing careers will end and what are they going to do then? They don't have a degree."
Sara wants to work in a corporate situation doing recruiting but would like to put that career off for a while.
"I go back to Zagreb in July and will try to play professionally. I've signed with an agent and now it's a waiting game to see if there is interest from teams in Europe."
No matter where she is or what she is doing, Sara will always be a Spartan and will always take the lessons she learned in basketball and apply them to her life.
"Basketball taught me that if you work hard you can accomplish anything. I learned discipline as well. Nobody get to this level and is successful if they are not dedicated and continue to work, even when nobody is watching.
"This program will continue to get better and better. No matter where I am I'll always follow and root for the Spartans. In five or six years, who knows...maybe we will be in the Final Four. I know that's what (head coach) Tim (La Kose) is aiming for. To me, it looks like it's very possible. Through hard work he is turning this program around. Work hard and you can accomplish anything."