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Midvale Journal

New Hillcrest basketball coach grateful for family, his team and community

Jan 29, 2019 09:56AM ● By Heather Ernst

The Hillcrest High basketball team, seen here in 2016, began its new season with a new head coach, Sanjin Kolovrat. (Photo courtesy Sanjin Kolovrat)

By Heather Ernst | [email protected]

“I absolutely fell in love with the game of basketball at an early age, and now I get to share that love and help other young players get better.” 

So says Hillcrest’s new Head Boy’s Basketball Coach Sanjin Kolovrat. The Hillcrest alum and former Husky basketball forward has no shortage of love for his alma mater either. Between his school pride and passion for the game, it is impossible to not enjoy talking to him; even more interesting however, is how he first was introduced to basketball. 

“I got into basketball when I was young and my family and I moved to the United States as political refugees from the former Yugoslavia,” Kolovrat explained. “My dad talked about famous players from Yugoslavia all the time, Vlade Divac for example.”

Kolovrat and his family, including his parents, brothers, grandparents and himself, immigrated to the U.S. in 1996 when he was about to turn 6. At this time there was a civil war going on in Yugoslavia that began on June 25, 1991 when Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. 

During the civil war, Kolovrat’s father was captured and held as a prisoner of war. The American Red Cross organization freed the prisoners of war and gave Kolovrat and his family the option of several new countries to call home, and they chose to come to the United States as political refugees.  

“It wasn’t too difficult to adjust for me and my brother, but my parents had a much harder time,” Kolovrat said. “My brother and I will always be in great debt to our parents for the sacrifices they made; everything we do is to try to pay them back.”

Kolovrat feels especially grateful for his father who was a huge factor in his basketball career, teaching him the fundamentals early on. Now, Kolovrat has been playing basketball for 19 years and coaching for 10. 

Kolovrat graduated from Hillcrest and played on their boy’s basketball team growing up. He decided coaching was something he was interested in when he started coaching his former club team by his then coach Ron Preece. Not long after that he found himself coaching at Hillcrest as an assistant coach before becoming lead varsity assistant coach to Coach Sam Richins up until last season. 

The now varsity head coach hopes to bring a renewed energy to the Hillcrest program short term, along with a new off-season program. Long term, Kolovrat hopes to help his players succeed and get into college and play the game at any level. 

“I certainly do not coach high school basketball for the money; quite simply it’s my absolute love for the game,” stated Kolovrat. “And for wanting to help other young players get better and hopefully get to play at the next level.” 

The team is much more than just a team to Kolovrat, they’re part of his family, something he is passionate about having come from a culture that values strong family bonds. Similarly, the Hillcrest community has become a part of Kolovrat’s family as well. 

“I love the Hillcrest community and to be able to give back and help stay active as a coach in the community is a great thing,” Kolovrat explained. 

Kolovrat knows that being a coach is more than just teaching the players about the game, it’s about being a role model and a person whom players can turn to. 

“Coach Kolovrat likes to promote himself as a player’s coach,” said Athletic Director Joshua Griffel. “He really works hard to build relationships with the players and make sure they have a voice.” 

Kolovrat’s hard work definitely shows on and off the basketball court, having been a key player in establishing a little league program for Hillcrest, that they previously lacked. 

“We’ve had a sixth-grade, seventh-grade, and two eighth-grade teams participating in leagues this winter already,” explained Kolovrat. “We are excited for our future.”

He spends numerous hours studying the game to improve his coaching abilities to make sure his players have the best chance at success. 

“Sanjin understands what our kids go through at our school,” explained Griffel. “He understands their trials and the hardships that many of our kids experience and he does an amazing job relating to them and validating what they are going through.” 

For this season, Kolovrat’s main focus is getting to know the team and preparing them the best he can for the court. “Our off-season weights and skill development program will be a huge initiative for my staff and I as we go into the offseason in March,” Kolovrat said.

With the new Hillcrest gym coming this fall and excitement all around for Hillcrest athletics, Kolovrat could not be more proud to be the head coach of his alma mater.

He invites any interested young players to come to their voluntary, open workouts or reach out to him to attend a practice or a game while their season is still going on. 

“We are going to build Hillcrest into a power school and it starts one day at a time,” Kolovrat said. “Go Huskies!”