Four minutes into the eighth game of Arizona’s 2003-04 season, a tall European subbed himself onto the Lute and Bobbi Olson Court and gave public address announcer Jonathan Norris a chance to test out his Serbian.
“Now entering for Arizona: Ivan Radenovic.”
It wouldn’t be the last time Norris called Radenovic’s name that night.
The 19-year old out of Belgrade produced one of the most memorable college debuts of the Lute Olson era, pouring in 17 points and nine rebounds in a 107-91 victory over Liberty.
After the game, Radenovic told reporters, “I was nervous, very much. It has been six months since I have played. I wasn’t ready yet; in a few days I will be ready. I need to run better. These guys play very fast.”
Over the coming months, Radenovic’s syntax would improve alongside his preparation for the college game, which was faster than what he was used to back home.
He played his way to an Honorable Mention Pac-10 All-Freshman selection as Arizona sputtered to a disappointing first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Seton Hall.
Radenovic returned to campus as a matured, confident sophomore poised to compliment Channing Frye in the paint.
As the 2004-05 season progressed, Radenovic filled into out his massive 6-foot-10 frame and became a reliable steward in the post, averaging 8.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
One of Radenovic’s best games came in the Sweet 16 against Oklahoma State, when he scored 13 points on 5-5 shooting. He fared well against Illinois in the Elite Eight, too, scoring 13 points with five rebounds and a career high four steals.
Once again, Arizona’s season ended in disappointment, which became a theme during Radenovic’s career.
By his junior year, Radenovic had become one of the top big men in the Pac-10, known for his determination in the paint and ability to stretch the floor.
He averaged more than 16 points over Arizona’s last 10 games, serving as a model of consistency on an otherwise tumultuous roster.
The Wildcats lost to Villanova in the second round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
Radenovic’s senior year was a culmination of four years of dedication to college basketball: he averaged 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds.
His best performance in an Arizona uniform came in an early March overtime win against Stanford, when he scored 37 points with nine rebounds and seven assists facing the Lopez twins.
As a senior, Radenvoic also provided invaluable leadership to freshmen Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill.
Unfortunately Radenovic’s career at Arizona ended with a first-round exit to Purdue.
Radenovic had the misfortune of playing in Tucson amid roster and coaching unrest; otherwise his career would be better remembered.
Radenovic set a modern precedent of international players, particularly European bigs, finding success in Tucson.