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NIU’s Rakocevic happy to be playing, closer to home

Northern Illinois center Pete Rakocevic keeps the ball out of reach of James Madison defenders during a Nov. 15 game at the Convocation Center in DeKalb.
Northern Illinois center Pete Rakocevic keeps the ball out of reach of James Madison defenders during a Nov. 15 game at the Convocation Center in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Sacramento, Calif. is 2,044 miles from Chicago.

A flight is roughly four hours, and that’s if one is lucky enough to find a non-stop trip.

Eventually, it became too much for Pete Rakocevic.

The 6-foot-11 Northern Illinois junior center played two seasons at Sacramento State, but the long distance from the Windy City – he grew up near Midway Airport – was a big reason he decided to transfer from Sacramento State to NIU after the 2011-12 season.

During his two years out in northern California, the trips back home for holidays were rare. Now, his parents, Momo and Denise Rakocevic, are able to make it out to pretty much every home game and watch him in some road contests as well.

“It really is true, there’s no place like home,” Rakocevic said. “Being able to go out to dinner with my family after games, seeing them in the stands, playing for a guy like coach Montgomery, it’s really relaxing.”

DeKalb is the third stop in Rakocevic’s post-high school career.

After graduating from St. Laurence in 2009, he spent a year of postgraduate prep school out at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Massachusetts.

He was just 17 when he graduated, and figured he could draw some higher interest after a year of prep school after being recruited by mid-major programs in high school.

There was interest from Michigan and Notre Dame, but it eventually cooled off. Rakocevic wanted a place where he could avoid redshirting and step in. He went out to California, where he averaged 1.9 points per game as a freshman at Sacramento State and 1.3 points per contest as a sophomore.

Rakocevic was forced to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, but brought some much-needed size to the Huskies this season. He’s playing 16.6 minutes per game after sitting out the 2012-13 campaign, averaging 4.4 points through the Huskies’ first 14 games.

“I think if he puts on another 15 pounds in the offseason and keeps working on his explosion, he has a chance to play some basketball after college,” NIU head coach Mark Montgomery said. “You don’t find 6-11, 6-10, 7-foot guys walking around.”

Rakocevic has helped provide depth behind fellow transfer Jordan Threloff, but will play some power forward at times when Threloff is on the floor.

He’s glad to finally be back on the floor after his long journey.

“Last year was tough because there were so many nail-biters and games within five points that we lost, and I felt like we could have won,” Rakocevic said. “We were relatively young. Last year was tough for me, not playing, especially since we were struggling. That’s when most guys want to be on the court because they feel like they can help.”

When Rakocevic’s career is over following next season, there could be another Rakocevic heading in to DeKalb. His younger brother, Nick, is a sophomore at St. Joseph High in Westchester. He’s already received an offer from NIU among other Division-I interest, and has been able to make it out to a number of home games.

“I told him that right now this is a team that’s starting to rebuild. He would love Coach Montgomery,” Pete said. “That’s what he asked me about more than anything, are the coaches.”

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