“I’ve always been tall,” says 15-year-old basketball standout, Carson Leedom. And when you’re 6-foot 5-inches tall and still growing, there’s of course only one way to spend the summer — playing hoops.
And that’s just what the Utah native and current SLO High freshman, who spent the past four years living and going to school in Los Osos, did but in a place one normally might not guess — Serbia.
But thanks to a Serbian coach, Dani Mihailovic, who runs EuroElite Basketball, a private club team program out of the gymnasium at the SLO Church of the Nazerene (see: SLONaz.org) on Johnson Avenue, he got a chance to see some of Eastern Europe and get a taste of international basketball.
Coach Dani explains that he took Carson and another boy from Atascadero to the professional basketball, Mega Leks program in his home country of Serbia, “because those boys practiced hard and every year have improved their talents.”
They got to practice with the youth program of “one of the best development teams in Europe,” adds Dani. Mega Leks had three kids drafted into the NBA including Lakers’ pick, Ivica Ibica.
Dani says he played hoops in Serbia and Bosnia but as a coach, likes to talk more about coaching than his playing days. The Euro Elite program started about a year ago and last season had six teams of kids from 4th to 8th grade. This year they added a girls program. He’s personally trained some NBA players whom he might try to coax to come to SLO for a visit with the kids.
Carson explains that he started playing basketball in 3rd grade in Utah and was on the Los Osos Middle Schools’ teams. “In sixth grade I wasn’t very great,” he says of his difficulties handling the ball and being, well a little awkward. “Then I got with Dani and since then I’ve gotten a lot better. I couldn’t dribble or shoot but I played point guard in 7th and 8th grade.”
The kid can slam dunk a basketball and as a big man, his ball-handling skills will improve. So was the game in Europe different?
They play more of an outside-in game, he says, whereas here, the game is more about outside shooting and 3-pointers.
Coach Dani explains that in Serbia the game is “based more on fundamentals and skills than athletic skills. It’s more about a team game, which is the definition of basketball. Basketball is a team game. In Europe that’s the main difference.”
The summer camp was 17 intense days and for Carson one thing that stuck out was that everyone seemed to take buses everywhere instead of having their moms drive them to practice. The town was Old World, with architecture more like one might see in San Francisco.
The country is beautiful especially the Danube River, which runs through Serbia and some six other European countries — from the Alps to the Black Sea. The river has beaches and restaurants that left an impression on the young man.
And sports are huge. There were soccer fields and basketball courts where players young and old get into pick-up games. He’d love to go back to Serbia and do it again.
Coach Dani says over there, people of all ages play pick-up ball. “Here,” he says, “people are scared to play.”
His mom, Brandi Burchell, herself quite the athlete, thanked John Frangie at Toyota of San Luis Obispo for donating scholarship money to send Carson to camp.
The single mother added that Coach Dani has been a tremendous help and influence on her son, so too his stepdad, Dustin Grover.
Carson plans to continue his workouts at SLO Naz and when basketball season starts up in school, he’ll join the Tigers’ program. Though a freshman, his height might see him moved up to JVs, “or maybe varsity,” smiles Coach Dani, as Carson blushes.