The Daily Californian Online

Thrown Together

By Mustafa Shaikh
Contributing Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Category: Sports > Spring > Track and Field

The Cal men's throws team makes a daily habit of getting on an athlete's case-in an affectionate way, of course.

Today's target-Martin Maric-is being hounded for his reported love interest. He takes the remarks in stride and responds with a few barbs of his own.

His English might be a little rough, but he is comfortable nevertheless in the midst of his teammates.

It's a far cry from the spring of 2006, when Maric was unhappily throwing for Georgia.

At that time, to the outside observer, it would have appeared that everything was falling into place for Maric.

After winning a junior national championship in the discus in his home country of Croatia, Maric attracted attention from American universities, where he could pursue his dreams of making it to the Olympics and getting a college degree.

On both fronts, everything was going well. As a sophomore he was named an All-American in the javelin and made the SEC Academic Honor Roll.

But life outside of school was just missing something.

"It was the South, just too much in the middle of nowhere," says Maric.

Through making calls and using Facebook, Maric had kept in touch with other Croatian athletes studying abroad, including Duje Draganja. Draganja swam for the Bears from 2001-2005 and won a silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

"I talked to him (and told him) I can't stand it here anymore. And he said, 'Come here it's great. I like it, you'll like it,'" says Maric.

Maric eventually made the transfer to Cal, and the move has benefited him ever since.

Even though he had to redshirt his first year with the Bears because of NCAA rules, he was able to find what he was missing with the Bulldogs.

The Cal throws team is an extremely tight-knit group of friends. According to senior thrower Craig Kent, Maric immediately meshed with the rest of the guys with his easy-going personality.

"We do everything together and kind of get to know each other by default and then become brothers after that," says Kent.

Apart from just the athletes, Maric has also developed a close relationship with coach Ed Miller.

"He's a very cool guy ... off practice we joke all day, he's like my father," Maric said.

Miller's track record with developing Olympians played into Maric's decision to transfer to Cal. Olympians Ramon Jimenez-Gaona, Kenny Harrison, Chris Huffins and Sheila Hudson all benefited from Miller's tutelage.

However, with Maric, Miller claims to be taking an alternative approach.

"I'm actually trying to screw him up so he doesn't beat the U.S. guys," Miller says with a laugh.

But in all seriousness, Miller has been delighted to work with Maric.

"He's a very motivated guy. So to be honest with you, he's a coach's dream in that he'll do what he has to do to get better," says Miller. "If you're there to help him, he'll accept that help. If you aren't there to help him, he'll work to get better himself."

Maric's work ethic will be essential in his bid to represent Croatia in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. As it stands now, he is the top discus thrower from the country and among the best in the world, as he proved in last summer's World University Games.

Maric placed eighth in the discus, and usually the top eight to 10 competitors make their way into the summer games.

For the Cal men's throws team to perform at its peak this year, Miller will have to play a difficult balancing act managing Maric's Olympic aspirations along with the overall goals of the team.

"We're not going to overdo," Miller says about Maric's workload for the Bears. "The discus is his primary event and then he's going to help us in the javelin in the meets we need help in. We're only going to take so much out of him. We're going to give him a chance to be an Olympian because it's great to say that I was an NCAA champion or a Pac-10 champion, but every four years you get to say I was in the Olympics, and that's a very, very special time."

As far as integrating his passion for Cal with his love for Croatia, Maric has a handle on that.

At the 2004 Olympics, Draganja created a stir amongst Croatian officials when he wore a Cal hat after winning the silver medal.

"Oh definitely, oh definitely," Maric chuckles when asked if he will follow Draganja's lead. "He's started a tradition, I guess I have to continue it."

It would seem that Maric has finally found his home away from home. He is now one just of the guys, and more importantly, a Bear at heart.


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