Saturday, March 19, 2011
Krešimir Ćosić: Basketball Star and Churchman
Before there was Danny Ainge and before we even knew what a Jimmer was there was Krešimir Ćosić. Krešimir Ćosić was born in Yugoslavia in 1948. He started his basketball career playing in 1965 for the KK Zadar. He lead his hometown team to the Yugoslavian national championship and later represented his nation at the Mexico City Olympics where they won a silver medal. In 1970 he ventured over to the U.S. to play college basketball for Brigham Young University. Ćosić, an Atheist, didn't choose the school based off of religion but rather just the desire to play American basketball. In fact he says he knew nothing about the church. " I had never heard about the Church before I came here. In Yugoslavia most of the young people are completely atheistic, and that’s the way I lived. When I came to Provo I didn’t change. I was an atheist for two years while I was in Provo. Nobody was farther from becoming a Mormon than I was. I just lived my way, and people lived their way. I obeyed all the rules of BYU, tried to be as good as I could, and tried to play ball and do my studying and other things.." says Ćosić.
While changing religions was no where to be found on his radar he quickly became a fan favorite. As a 6'11" center he sure didn't play like one. He was famous for his uncenterlike skills like leading the fast break, putting up long outside shots, two handed layups, and shooting underhand shots along the baseline against taller defenders. This play quickly earned him nicknames like “the wild giraffe”, “the runaway camel”, and “the tallest guard in the league.” Averaging 19.1 points per game he helped lead BYU to two WAC titles and became the first foreign player to earn All-America honors.
After two years of playing ball and attending school Ćosić wanted to know more. "When I was a junior, I decided to figure out a few things. I had things I wanted to know." In 1971 after meeting with the missionaries he was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. When talking about his conversion Ćosić says "I didn’t decide to join the Church because of any one thing. There were some things that I wanted to know. I had a few questions that no one could answer. It just happened. We as Mormons believe in personal things everyone can know by himself. It all depends on how bad you want to know something. That’s the whole point. If we have a desire in the Church to know something, we will know it; there’s no question about that. If something is really bothering you, you probably go to somebody for advice. If it’s football you want to know about—what kind of a play you are going to play—you can ask me, and I don’t have any idea. I just can’t help. It’s the same if you’re going to the wrong church. They can’t give you an answer. So you ask, and find out, and you join the true church. So I just decided to join the Church."
The Church not only effected Ćosić but on many others from his native land. He first served as the LDS presiding priesthood holder in post-communist Croatia. He was responsible with the translation of The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants into Croatian. Later he was able to introduce the gospel to Yugoslavia. Many believe that because of Ćosić's influence Yugoslavia recognized the Church in 1975. In the same year, Church leaders formed Yugoslavia's first Latter-day Saint congregation in Zadar. Between 1993 and 1998, the Church provided thousands of tons of food, clothing, bedding and medical supplies to Croatia. Since 1995 the Church has participated in a project to assist Croatian farmers. Currently there are just over 500 members in six congregations in Croatia.
In 1995 he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and passed away at the age of 46 years old. We may never know the full impact Krešimir Ćosić had on spreading the gospel to others but this does help us know that our Heavenly Father is always looking for ways to move His work forward, including using a basketball player to open up others to Him.