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Serbian hoops to make a home in China

After the Olympics, former FIBA 3x3 world No 1, Stefan Stojacic, is courting a permanent move to Wuxi

By YAN WEIJUE in Wuxi, Jiangsu province | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-06 09:42
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Serbian basketball player Stefan Stojacic (second from right) enjoys a moment with his family in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, on April 20. Stojacic, 35, formerly the world's No 1 player in FIBA 3x3 basketball, moved with his family to the city to join a local club in early 2023 and has been enjoying what life in China has to offer. CHINA DAILY

For Stefan Stojacic, life is a matter of choices, and relocating to China was an easy one.

Stojacic, 35, formerly the world's No 1 player in FIBA 3x3 basketball, moved with his family to Wuxi in Jiangsu province to join a local club in early 2023 and has been enjoying what the city has to offer.

"I feel like I'm a 'domestic guy' here now. My kids are going to Chinese kindergartens, my wife also likes here. It could easily happen that I will live the rest of my life in Wuxi," said the Serbian father of two in an exclusive interview with China Daily.

He added that the family enjoys hanging out with its Chinese neighbors, taking leisurely tours to the magnificent Taihu Lake, studying Mandarin together and constantly trying the sweet local delicacies.

Their five-year-old daughter, Stasa Stojacic, has had a head start in learning Chinese, absorbing a plethora of phrases and expressions at kindergarten and, in turn, tutoring her parents at home.

"Sometimes when I start to speak Chinese, she will say to my wife 'father didn't say this right'," he joked. "I think she's going to be our teacher really soon."

Stojacic's first visit to China was in 2008, when he came to play in the FIBA Stankovic Continental Champions Cup, an international basketball tournament for men's national teams.

Stojacic's affection for Wuxi, however, didn't develop until a decade later, in May 2018. He and the Serbian club he helped found, Liman, won a 3x3 tournament in the city, opening a hugely successful year that saw his side clinch nine titles over nearly 20 tournaments.

"It was my first time coming to Wuxi, and it was the first tournament of the season. Great memories indeed," he recalled, with a beaming smile.

What made his Wuxi debut even more memorable was a driving dunk during competition. The Serbian hoopster later proudly shared the play twice on his Instagram account, once as a video and once as a photo.

In 2019, he and Liman agreed to base themselves in Shanghai for nearly a year to help with the country's 3x3 basketball development through a collaboration program, imparting his expertise to the younger generation.

Stefan Stojacic, who plays for Wuxi Huishan and the Serbian national side, has taken part in a series of international and domestic 3x3 basketball tournaments. CHINA DAILY

Four years later, in 2023, in a one-year stint with the Wuxi Huishan club, Stojacic helped the team thrive at many international FIBA 3x3 tournaments, which paved the way for Team China eventually securing an early berth at this summer's Paris Olympics.

"Last year, as a member of the Wuxi team, he made a significant contribution to Chinese basketball, and proved to be an exceptional mentor for younger players," said Sun Xiujun, general manager of Wuxi Huishan Sports. "He has truly settled down in Wuxi, fostering great friendships."

Outside of his work, Stojacic has made sure to devote a fair amount of time to exploring the country — a pursuit that has profoundly changed his life.

"I knew a lot about China before I came to Wuxi. I knew about its development. I've been to many Chinese cities, and I can see the huge difference (between then and now)," he said.

"I feel closer to the way Chinese people think than to the Western mindset. I feel really good in the Chinese environment."

As someone who's been at the forefront of Chinese 3x3 basketball development over the last couple of years, Stojacic has noticed a significant improvement, fostering a capable generation that knows the game well.

"The level of the game is rising a lot. We have Zhang Ning, we have Zhao Jiaren, and we have some CBA players. They know how 3x3 should be played, and they can develop into really good players — maybe even getting on some foreign teams."

Yet Stojacic contends that Chinese players need to be more vocal on the court and learn how to become leaders.

"They're listening too much. It's good in life, but not perfect for sports," he said. "We need at least one player who is willing to be 'the guy' if things don't go well on the court."

Stojacic now plays alongside his younger brother, Strahinja Stojacic, for the Serbian 3x3 club UB, with a keen eye on competing at the Paris Olympics, which is a dream for all athletes.

But, he is excited about returning to Wuxi soon after what he described as "the big quest".

"I think in 2025, I'll just move here and be here all the time. Things are going to get even more interesting."

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