Nikola Vucevic relishing his time in the NBA after his shocking near-death experience

Vucevic, whose side play the Toronto Raptors, was a passenger on a train which crashed in Montenegro on January 23, 2006, killing 47 and injuring nearly 200.

He was travelling with a youth basketball team at the time and one of his team-mates was among those who lost their lives in one of Europe’s worst train accidents.

Vucevic knows how lucky he was to survive – and has made the most of his good fortune to go on and become one of the NBA’s best big men.

He said: “It was a horrible tragedy. I was very lucky to survive and you look at your life differently once you’ve been through something like that.

“It was horrible for everyone who was involved and for the whole country. I don’t like to think about it too much because obviously it doesn’t bring a lot of happiness.”

No wonder. When the brakes failed on the train, from the mountain resort of Kolasin to the coastal town of Bar, it derailed in a tunnel, smashed into the walls and plummeted into a ravine.

The death toll, while appalling, could obviously have been far worse, and Vucevic is part of a group of around ten former team-mates who still text each other on the anniversary of their lucky escape.

This year the text will read the same as every other: “Happy second birthday,” a reminder of the second chance they were all given.

Vucevic has seized it with both hands, and will go into Thursday’s regular season clash against one of the best teams in a competitive Eastern Conference as one of the Magic’s biggest weapons.

The Swiss-born Montenegrin, 25, was a first-round pick in the 2011 draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and has averaged a double-double every season since he joined the Magic.

Hugely popular in Orlando, Vucevic is also hoping to receive plenty of support in London, where an army of friends and family are set to see him in action.

He said: “Obviously, England is on a separate island, but it’s still part of Europe. It’ll be nice. It’ll be closer for a lot of my friends and family to maybe come to the game and watch me play.”

Thursday’s game is actually a designated “home” game for Orlando, who are eighth in the Eastern conference with a 20-18 win-loss record.

But they won’t be favourites to win, with the second-placed Raptors (24-15), on a three-match winning streak while the Magic have lost five of their last six.

Vucevic, a Chelsea fan who hopes to meet the team while he’s here, said: “Toronto are in our conference, they’re one of the best teams and are fighting for the top spots in the East.

“We’re trying to prove ourselves and make the playoffs this year having had a couple of tough seasons so it’s going to be an important trip for us.

“The Raptors are a team we’ve struggled against the last few years but this year was a very close game that we were able to win at the end but they are a very good team.

“They are one of the best teams in our conference and one of the best teams in the NBA. They have some very good players, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas so they are a good team.

“They have a lot of good guys who come off the bench and provide a boost so it will be a tough matchup for us against them.

“Every time we play them it’s a pretty close game and a pretty tough game so it will be a very good game for us to play against them in London as well.”

 

By: Paul Brown, Daily Star

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