Nikola Kecman’s career at Ohio State might be over, but the native of Belgrade, Serbia, continues to make an impact within the locker room.
After recovery from his fourth knee surgery hit a snag this fall, the junior forward realized that he would not recover in time to join the team this season. It was a tough blow for the 6-8, 220-pound Kecman, but his teammates have never caught wind of his frustration.
This season, the OSU coaches have begun handing out buckeyes within the locker room to reward in-game contributions. The criteria range from taking charges to helping pick up the team in tough times.
Despite never having dressed for a game this season, Kecman has received his fair share of buckeyes for his efforts from the bench.
“I think it proves what a good teammate he is because he’s into every game,” team trainer Vince O’Brien told BuckeyeSports.com. “He’s genuinely excited for every player that is on the team when they have success, but he is a guy that knows he hasn’t been able to contribute. He feels I think at times a certain almost guilt that he hasn’t been able to help his teammates out.”
His time in Columbus has been anything but easy. After transferring into the program from Eastern Arizona for the 2008-09 season, Kecman was forced to sit out the first 12 games of the season to satisfy an NCAA penalty for his ties to a professional team in his home country.
After seeing action in one game, Kecman tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and was lost for the season. He returned to health but could not find a role on last year’s team, averaging 1.9 points and 1.1 rebounds in 15 appearances. During the summer, he tore the ACL in his right knee and was hopeful for a January return. It was his fourth surgery on the knee and second since his arrival in Columbus.
In mid-January, Matta said Kecman’s return was in doubt because there were concerns about the stability of his knee. On March 17, the junior said he is not sure if he will ever play basketball again.
“My timeframe was (January) but I had one spot on my knee that keeps hurting when I jump, when I make sudden moves,” he said. “Now I really don’t know what’s going to be: one month, two months, if I’m going to be able to play again. I really don’t know.”
Kecman confirmed that he will not take a scholarship next season, a noteworthy development because had every member of this year’s team opted to return the program would have been one over the limit.
O’Brien described Kecman as “the little brother I never had” after all the time they have spent together since his arrival.
“He’s had a few bad days probably but he’s kept that just in the training room with us,” the trainer said. “He’s never let any of the other kids in on when he’s having a bad day. He just comes in and he works hard.”
The hardest part for Kecman came in October, O’Brien said.
“His left knee did great and he was back doing everything,” the trainer said. “He was pretty good during the summer. He knew what to expect, but when it didn’t go as smoothly as his left knee reconstruction – I think once October rolled around – that was probably the low point when everyone else was practicing and he wasn’t able to be a part of it.”
His immediate focus, apart from continuing to rehabilitate the knee, is on his career outside of basketball. Kecman was one of four Buckeyes to graduate Sunday and he will soon begin flight school as part of his aviation management studies. He has never flown a plane and said the thought of doing so is somewhat exciting.
“I just want to supplement that knowledge with flying,” he said. “I don’t want to be a pilot or have that type of career. Just to have that knowledge because my goal in aviation is to work at the airports.”
O’Brien said that by showing that he can accept a future outside of the sport is just one way he has been an inspiration to his teammates this season. Freshman guard Lenzelle Smith, who has battled an injury to his wrist that has kept him from being 100 percent healthy this season, said Kecman has taught him a lot.
“He’s fun to be around,” Smith said. “He brings a lot of energy to the team. He keeps guys smiling. He keeps guys laughing. He’s very serious and he’s very dedicated. He jumps up for a three-pointer; he jumps up for a dunk. Sometimes he jumps up and there isn’t even a reason, he just feels the need to jump sometimes.
“He hasn’t played a minute and he has a lot of buckeyes. It’s remarkable.”
Although he is proud of the time he has spent in Columbus, Kecman said he feels he owes a debt to the university.
“I just feel that I didn’t give Ohio State what they gave me with a scholarship and the education they gave me, the treatment that I had here, which is great,” he said. “All the coaches treated me so good in these three years. I feel that with only one complete season that I had, it’s not enough.
“I love Ohio State and I will never forget this experience and I will try to come back and give back to Ohio State what Ohio State gave to me.”
O’Brien disagreed with part of Kecman’s logic.
“Here’s a kid who came in every day with a positive attitude, a kid who’s helped the younger athletes along and told them what to expect,” the trainer said. “He’s shared his knowledge. He’s also older than the other players, so having that age and wisdom has helped (the team).
“He’s been a terrific kid to have on our team and I’m so happy that he did come here.”