As the first international player in Silver Lake College men’s basketball history, Filip Pesek doesn’t take his role lightly.
“It’s a big responsibility, because based on my efforts and the image I’m going to give, there might be others who follow or no one will follow,” he said.
Pesek, a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard from the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, transferred to Silver Lake College after attending Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, Calif., last year. He’s majoring in business, with aspirations of becoming a successful entrepreneur after college.
For now, though, the 19-year-old knows many eyes will be on him as the Lakers prepare to open their season Oct. 31 at the two-day Haunted Hoops Tournament on the campus of Indiana University South Bend.
“I know (head coach) Phil (Budervic) has put his name on the line for me, and I see his vision with the foreign players that they can add value not only to the team but to the Silver Lake College program overall,” Pesek said. “Phil sees the bigger picture to the community. I know that I can be a pioneer here at Silver Lake College. And maybe in the next few years there can be a bunch of crazy European guys coming here too.”
That would suit Budervic just fine.
“What Filip brings to our team and to our college — like most European student-athletes, he’s very driven,” said Budervic, who has coached international players at other colleges in the past. “He’s well-schooled in the game, and he’s prepared to accept leadership roles both in school and on the team.
“Having Filip here is a big stride for our program. Hopefully, this will pave the way for future international students to play basketball for us and expand the educational opportunities at Silver Lake College.”
Pesek began playing basketball at the age of 6. It’s the second most popular sport in Slovenia, behind only soccer.
The first player he idolized was former Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson. Since then, Pesek’s attention has shifted from player to player. These days, Pesek said his style of play resembles former NBA star Jason Kidd, who’s in his first year as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I’m not the most athletic player in the world, but I understand the game,” Pesek said. “I know about timing and getting rebounds and running the transition, and I definitely know how to pass.”
Budervic concurred, adding: “His fundamentals are fantastic. He has obviously had good coaching in the European system.”
In Slovenia, it’s common for players of Pesek’s ability to play for high school and club teams simultaneously. He also starred on Slovenian youth national teams.
“From when I was 14 until I was 17, I was playing basketball constantly,” Pesek said.
As a member of Slovenia youth national teams, Pesek competed in Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Turkey and the Netherlands.
“It was a great experience, going to so many countries,” said Pesek, who speaks English, Slovenia, Serbian and Spanish. “I would do it all over again. You get to see the world for free, which is great, just amazing.”
As a 15-year-old, Pesek and his team traveled to Turkey for a tournament, “and police cars were in front of us and behind our bus (escorting us) like we were celebrities.”
After high school, Pesek wanted to see even more of the world, so he enrolled at Cuesta College in California. He was one of 10 foreign players on that team’s 13-man roster. However, his experience wasn’t ideal, so he explored other options and came across Budervic.
“This first time I talked to Phil on the phone, he was talking for half an hour straight … I’m not exaggerating,” Pesek said with a laugh. “He had a lot to say. He said some things that really impressed me. I was drawn by the vision he has for this program. You can tell when someone has a purpose where they want to go, and I was really able to relate to that. He said he wanted someone to come in and make an immediate impact, and I knew I could do that.”
The NBA has welcomed a handful of players from Slovenia over the years — men like Goran Dragic and Rasho Nesterovic. But Pesek said he’s realistic about his future.
“For the remaining three years of college, I just want to play basketball for pure enjoyment,” Pesek said. “I’ve been into the game for so long now and I’ve played so many games, I want to get the most out of playing in college. That’s what I’m focusing on with basketball. As for being a professional player, I left that dream behind. I have different dreams now.
“I just want to go where my business path will take me. I don’t care if it’s Australia, or America, or wherever. I want to travel and get new experiences and see where my business degree takes me after college.”
He’d also like to coach high school players someday in the future.
But for now, Pesek’s sights are firmly set on helping the Lakers.
“I came here to win,” he said. “I didn’t just come here to chill out and play video games. I definitely came here to work hard and win.”