Jan. 22, 2002
By Lisa Nelson
Although Sept. 11 will forever be remembered as the day America and the world changed, it was also a defining moment in the life of Irish junior basketball player and Croatian native Jere Macura. How one might ask? According to Macura, it was that day which put everything into proper perspective for the 6-9 forward and made him a much improved basketball player.
“Even though I am not from the United States, Sept. 11 affected me a little more than most people I think,” Macura says.
“I am from Croatia and we had a war a couple of years ago. You come from Croatia to the United States and you think that kind of stuff could never happen here. Then you wake up one morning and watch something like that happen on television. It was like a movie, it just didn’t seem real. I still cannot believe that happened.
“It makes you see how important life is and how you do not need to get upset about the little things, including basketball. It is just basketball.”
The events of Sept. 11 were the culmination of what was a trying spring and summer for Macura. Coming off a disappointing basketball season in 2000-01, where Macura played in only 22 of 30 games and averaged 1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds a game, the forward had some tough decisions to make.
His best friend, fellow Irish basketball player and Croatian native Ivan Kartelo, who brought Macura to Notre Dame, decided he was transferring to Purdue and wanted him to follow suit. Hoping to see more playing time, Macura listened closely to his best friend, wrestling with the possibility of leaving Notre Dame as well.
“Ivan talked every once and a while about leaving Notre Dame,” Macura says.
“Naturally, when he talked about leaving, I started to think about it more. Ivan was my best friend and he was the reason I came to Notre Dame more or less. He definitely had some influence on me.”
It was Kartelo who three years ago convinced an unknowing Macura to make the long journey from Croatia to South Bend. Kartelo, who had been offered a scholarship by former Irish head coach Matt Doherty, mentioned he had a friend who was a good basketball player back in Croatia and suggested Doherty should take a look at him.
“When Ivan called to tell me about Notre Dame, I was in the Army and could not come on an official visit,” Macura says.
“I asked him ‘Notre Dame? Where is Notre Dame? What is Notre Dame?’ He told me everything about the school and I said ‘OK, I like it, I want to come.”
Macura’s first season with the Irish was a period of adjustment both on and off the court. On the hardwood, Macura had difficulty with the Western style of basketball played in the United States, which is much more intense and aggressive than in Europe. Off the court, Macura struggled in the classroom as English was his third language when he arrived here (Macura also speaks Croatian and Italian).
Macura played in 37 games as a freshman, averaging 14.2 minutes a game. He averaged 4.6 points and 2.4 rebounds a game, including a then-career high 13 points in 33 minutes against Indiana in only his sixth game in an Irish uniform. Macura finished the season with five games in double-figure scoring, including 12 points in 15 minutes of action against Penn State in the National Invitational Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
Although a difficult time for Macura, what looked like a promising college career became even more clouded with the departure of Doherty to become head coach at his alma mater North Carolina. Enter new Irish coach Mike Brey and another style of basketball different from his native Croatia’s and Doherty’s.
“I was tense and never relaxed when playing. I felt I always needed to do something when I was in the game or at practice. That just led to mistakes for me,” Macura said.
As a sophomore, as Macura pressed more and more, his role with the Irish diminished more and more. He played only 29 minutes over the final eight games of the 2000-01 season, contributing only two points and eight rebounds during that time.
Kartelo’s role was much the same as he played only four minutes in the final eight games of’01, seeing action only against Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. At that point, the duo would continually talk about leaving Notre Dame.
“Ivan didn’t play as much as he wanted, and I didn’t play as much as I wanted,” Macura says.
“And with the pressures of school, your head keeps getting bigger and bigger. You feel like it is going to explode. That is when you make bad decisions.”
Kartelo soon announced that he was leaving for Purdue and Macura decided he needed to do some searching of his own. With Brey’s approval, Macura looked at his options, even scheduling a trip to Northwestern.
“I liked Northwestern a lot,” Macura says.
“I have some relatives in Chicago, and it was still close to Notre Dame. The people and coaches were great, but while I was there, I realized I missed Notre Dame a lot. I kept thinking ‘I am not sure I can do this.'”
Macura also credits Brey for keeping him in South Bend.
“We talked about me leaving and he helped a lot,” Macura said.
“He encouraged me to look at my options. It was not like he said, ‘Go look and never come back.’ I really appreciate him for that.
“Coach told me there would be more time for me. He also said he felt the team would be even better and I was going to be a big part of it. He recruited me back to Notre Dame and showed me this is where I needed to be. He is a good recruiter.”
“I wanted Jere to explore his options,” Brey said.
“He is different than most of the players in that he doesn’t have his family here, and with the coaching change, he owed it to himself to see what was out there. I think he respected the fact I was willing to do that for him. It definitely improved the level of trust and communication between us.”
Brey and the rest of the Irish faithful are glad Macura is back as he has been an integral part to the success of the Irish thus far in 2001-02. Through the Miami (Ohio) game, Macura is averaging 7.0 points and 4.3 rebounds a game. Macura started the first two games of the season in place of senior forward Ryan Humphrey and recorded back-to-back career-highs with 14 points versus New Hampshire and 16 against Cornell. Macura also pulled down a career-high eight rebounds against the Big Red.
“We have moved him to the front line and that has really helped him because he does not have to handle the ball as much, and he does not have to defend perimeter players,” Brey said.
“We are finding a niche for him up front to compliment Ryan (Humphrey) and Harold (Swanagan). He is a big, aggressive player that is a tough matchup on opposing players. We just want him to keep getting more confident.”
“The biggest difference in Jere this season is he is more aggressive on the court, both offensively and defensively,” junior guard Matt Carroll says.
“He is playing stronger this season and is making a huge impact by giving us quality minutes in every game this season.
“He is more aggressive and more outspoken this season,” Humphrey says.
“He worked hard in the off-season in improving his offense and defensive mentality. His confidence is much greater this season and his athleticism really helps us down the stretch.”
Macura once again looks back to that fateful day in September as what could be the defining moment in his Irish basketball career.
“I worked hard over the summer and played a lot back in Croatia with some of the nation’s best players,” Macura says.
“But most of all this year, I am playing more relaxed and remembering that it is just basketball. The stuff that has been happening in New York…all the plane crashes and that stuff, reminded me what is really important.”
“I think Sept. 11 put everything into perspective for Jere,” Brey says.
“So much of Jere’s self esteem was based on basketball, and the events of that day really gave him a new perspective. He has now taken more of a big-picture role and recognizes that if he has a bad practice or game, it isn’t as important as he once thought it was.”
A marketing major in the Mendoza College of Business, Macura is not sure what he wants to do after graduation. Maybe stay in the United States or maybe work in Europe. All that will come in due time.
For now though, Macura is just enjoying his time in America and at Notre Dame. He made his first visit to Hawaii when Notre Dame played at, and won, the Hawaii Pacific Thanksgiving Classic.
“It was a great experience. I had heard great stuff about Hawaii, and it was the truth. The weather was great,” Macura says.
Always studying and not having time to watch much television, he readily admits though he cannot get through the day without watching ESPN’s SportsCenter.
“I have to watch it at least once a day.” Macura says with a smile.
And how is he handling life at Notre Dame without his best friend?
“Ivan is a great guy and I was sad to see him leave Notre Dame,” Macura says.
“I still talk to him a lot. He was my best buddy here. We hung out a lot and had almost every class together. It is tough, but I have met a lot of great people and friends here. Now I know Notre Dame is where I belong.”
Welcome back, Jere.