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January 15, 2013One thing is for sure about Walled Lake (Mich.) Western center Miroslav Jaksic: he'll be ready to compete in front of the raucous road crowds awaiting him at the next level.
Western lost at crosstown rival Walled Lake Central Friday night, 39-38, and Central's fans did their best to take Jaksic out of the game mentally.
A native of Serbia, Jaksic moved to southeastern Michigan from Canada two years ago. Whenever he touched the ball, the large and unwieldy Central student section chanted, "USA! USA! USA!"
But Jaksic shut out the insensitive banter and mauled Central in the low post. He finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and an impressive five blocked shots, including a key one late in the fourth quarter that he nearly sent into the rafters.
"Mentally, he's much tougher," Western coach RaRedding Murray said. "I put it on him to be mentally tough this year, and he has definitely grown from where he was as a junior.
"I am proud of him, period."
Jaksic, a 6-10, 190 center in the 2014 class, has flown under the radar until recently.
He has garnered scholarship offers from Iowa State, Northwestern and Rhode Island, but his strong play this season has big-name coaches paying attention.
In the last few weeks, Jaksic has entertained interest from Michigan and Duke. Michigan coach John Beilein has travelled to Walled Lake - a 45-minute drive from Ann Arbor - twice this season to watch Jaksic play.
"Coach Beilein has been at two of my games, and it's exciting," Jaksic said. "They're second in the nation. It's exciting to hear from them. Michigan is a good school.
"Recruiting has really picked up this year, and some bigger schools are interested. But I am really just focused on the season, do the best we can as a team and reboot from this loss. I'm not really getting into recruiting right now. I'm just focused on the season to play the best I can."
Western (6-1) has gotten a huge boost inside this season from Jaksic, who says he spent last offseason in the weight room and on conditioning so he could be stronger in the post.
"I put a lot more time and focus on my post play," he said. "I study the best people who can do it, and try to copy their moves down there."
"He is making plays for us," added Murray. "You saw the big dunk at the end. He's really growing as a player."
There are still a few aspects of his game that Jaksic wants to work on, as the season progresses.
"I have to keep improving my passing," he said. "There are opportunities there, and I have to find my teammates. And I want to be better defensively.
"I am pretty good in the post, and I can shoot . I didn't really get to do that today, but that's a strong part of my game. I can stay in the post, too, and try to help my team."