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From Serbia to Santa Fe: Basketball player finds himself in Gainesville

Predrag Panisic drives in the paint for an easy layup in a scrimmage. (Adrian Carmona/WUFT News)
Predrag Panisic drives in the paint for an easy layup in a scrimmage. (Adrian Carmona/WUFT News)

More than 5,000 miles away from home, Serbian basketball player Predrag Panisic has settled into life in Gainesville.

Panisic is a freshman student-athlete from Krajevac, Serbia playing forward for the Santa Fe Saints. He is hoping to reach the next level in his basketball career.

At 14 years old, Panisic watched the Cleveland Cavaliers defeat the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals and was instantly hooked on the game.

After a two-year hiatus due to a sprained ligament in his left foot, Panisic competed in FIBA 3v3 basketball for the Serbian national team while he was still in highs school. “It is a special moment,” Panisic said. “You get to represent your friends and family.”

Chris Mowry, head coach for Santa Fe, said he really liked what he saw from Panisic when he watched his club team play in the national championship last year. Mowry offered Panisic a scholarship to play for the Saints, and through some back-and-forth conversations, Panisic accepted the offer.

Mowry was very impressed with Panisic’s energy on the court. He said Panisic pushes himself every day and plays extremely hard whenever he is on the floor. “Those characteristics are great in sports and great in life,” Mowry said.

Despite all his skills on the court, Panisic still faced the challenge of adjusting to life thousands of miles away from home.

When he first met his teammates at Santa Fe, Panisic was welcomed with open arms.

“It was actually very nice,” he said. “Everyone was very kind.”

Although he was not familiar with English, his teammates and coaches, along with his classes, helped him learn the language. Kavin Pazmino, a redshirt freshman from Weston, FL, and Panisic’s roommate, was a big help in his transition to his new life.

“His English off the rip was not that good,” Pazmino said. But as they spent more time together, doing things like getting groceries and playing video games, Panisic not only got better at speaking English, but also formed a special bond with Pazmino. “He would tell me about Serbia, and I would talk to him about where I’m from,” he said.

Tom Di Maria, a sophomore guard from Belgium, also played a big role for Panisic. The two met for the first time over the phone, and Tom said it was easy to talk to him because he was also European. “I try to be the guy he can talk to and get advice from,” Di Maria said.

Panisic said he hopes he can pay it forward with another international student the way Di Maria helped him. “I hope I can get someone next year,” he said with a chuckle.

Panisic has grown athletically and in confidence. “He’s adapted pretty well, really well actually,” Pazmino said.

As a freshman, Panisic started all 30 games for the Saints this past season and played a total of 309 minutes. “He’s gotten a lot of game time, and the coach had a lot of trust in him,” Di Maria said.

“You really don’t see freshmen play a lot,” Pazmino said, “He’s been playing mostly the whole game this year.

When asked if he felt homesick, Panisic seemed to take it in stride. “Sometimes it’s normal, you know?” he said. “You miss some people, but you focus on basketball and school so your mind is on that. You can’t control everything.”

Panisic said he keeps in touch with his family, including his guardians Nikodin and Snežana Mirković, and his brother, Sreten Panisic.

According to Panisic, discovering who he was the nicest thing about relocating to Gainesville. Being apart from his friends and family meant he had to find his own path. “I was able to meet myself, who I am and what I want to do,” he said.

With the season now over, Panisic plans to continue training in Serbia during the off season. In terms of looking forward to playing basketball professionally in America, Panisic said he just wants to take it step by step. “I like to look into the future, but not too much into the future,” he said.

Adrian is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing