Fordham's Nemanja Zarkovic an Early Pick for Fan Favorite

Charles CostelloContributor IJune 19, 2014

Feb 16, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; Fordham Rams fans cheer against the Butler Bulldogs during the first half at Rose Hill Gym. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Nemanja Zarkovic is going to be a fan favorite at Fordham.

Maybe that's because of the maturity and confidence he displays on and off the court. It might be a result of his team-first mentality.

Or it could be as simple as this: It appears Fordham found the perfect person to run the point—a young man with talent who is about as level-headed as they come.

The more you see, hear and read about Zarkovic, the more you're going to like him.

Zarkovic arrived on campus at the end of May. Since then, he's been taking classes, working out with his new teammates and adjusting to life at Rose Hill.

After Tuesday's workout, Zarkovic, a native of Serbia who migrated with his parents to Canada in 1998, reflected on the opening days of his Fordham career.

"I feel much more comfortable after three weeks now," he said. "We've been playing better. When I first got here, we were trying to get to know each other. Now there's better ball movement. We work out a lot more in groups now.

"It's a big adjustment, but it's been fun."

Zarkovic isn't your typical college freshman. He's 20 years old, he's been living on his own for the last four years and he has ample experience competing against college and college-level players.

For those reasons, it should come as no shock that Zarkovic is confident he'll be able to make a smooth transition to the college game.

"Nothing's really surprised me," Zarkovic said when asked about his experiences early on at Fordham. "Everything I see I could have imagined. I was ready to face all this. There's nothing new really. The athleticism, the physicality...nothing new."

Because of his age, experience and what he can do on the court, Zarkovic is the favorite to be the starting point guard when the season begins. But he won't be handed the job.

Antwoine Anderson, an athletic and speedy combo guard, will be in the mix; and Zaire Thompson, who signed two weeks ago, will arrive later this summer.

Zarkovic doesn't want to hear about how it's his job to lose.

"I don't want to take that for granted," he said. "There are a lot of good guards here. I'm not comfortable enough to say that I'll be the starting point guard, but I'll do whatever it takes to be that guy.

"If Antwoine is playing better than me, if he deserves it, he'll deserve it. I'll just make sure that I work hard enough."

That has to be music to the ears of head coach Tom Pecora, who's been preaching about how important competition is going to be. He wants guys competing at every position.

In Zarkovic, he found a point guard who embraces that philosophy.

"I love it. I think it's a great thing," Zarkovic said. "You don't want to be satisfied. If I were to come in here and be the starting point guard from day one, it would be easy for me to be satisfied and then just stop working.

"One thing I've always been told... if you start being satisfied, you stop learning. You don't want that. That's the worst thing that could happen."

While there's a lot on his shoulders, Zarkovic is only one piece to the puzzle. If Fordham is going to be successful, it's going to have to be a team effort.

It's early, but Zarkovic is optimistic that the Rams can turn the corner.

"There's a lot of potential," he said. "Guys want to work hard. They're tired of losing.

"We've been working hard together. We just have to figure out a way to play smarter and play together."

One thing that's been noticeable at the summer workouts is that Zarkovic has blended in just fine with his new teammates. In fact, he's been more vocal and has taken on more of a leadership role than you would typically get from a player who just arrived on campus.

Clearly, he feels comfortable in that role.

"I can't be afraid to talk because we need leaders here," Zarkovic said. "We have a few seniors, but most of the guys who I'll work with over the next four years are very young. I'm just trying to figure out a way to get everyone to work together."

Great athletes are always trying to get better, and Zarkovic has identified parts of his game that he feels need work. He talks about getting his shot off quicker, ball handling and being ready to play against better athletes.

And then there's the team. Fordham hasn't had a winning season since 2006-07. In fact, it's been a long 19 years in the Atlantic 10. But heading into a new season with fresh faces like Zarkovic on board, there's more optimism in the Bronx than there's been in some time.

"I've been told things are much better than they were," Zarkovic said, "but I think they have to be way better. There are always ways for us to improve and get better."

Yes, you're really going to like this kid.


Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.

Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. Twitter: @CFCostello.