Krešimir Ćosić, Brigham Young University basketball great and Olympic champion, was a courageous, uncommon man. Those who knew him say his immeasurable sacrifices laid the groundwork for the introduction of the gospel in Yugoslavia. The Church continues to grow in that land.
On May 23, 2015, the Adriatic North Mission marked the 20th anniversary of the beloved Croatian’s death at Zagreb, Croatia, where members of the Church gathered to honor him, together with Brother Ćosić’s family, and friends from Europe and America.
The commemoration appropriately began on the basketball floor of a Zagreb sports gym; a tournament of 38 players on teams participating from Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia; countries which were once part of the former Yugoslavia.
Fans and players sensed the spirit of “Kreso” as the games progressed. When a smaller team struggled early on with no baskets and a 14-0 deficit, three of the best players from a larger team changed their shirts and assisted them the rest of the game to a respectable score. One of those three was Kreso’s son, Kreso Petar, who played throughout the tournament.
The Slovenian team took home the championship trophy for 2015. Their team’s player-coach, Radmil Lukovac, one of the oldest to suit up, was Kreso’s contemporary in his youth. Doug Richards, former teammate of Ćosić, won the over-50 age bracket free throw contest, shooting 80 percent. A tall, energetic woman, Rada Vujic from Montnegro who translates for the Church there, won the women’s free throw trophy.
Thus ended the first Adriatic North Mission Krešimir Ćosić International Basketball Tournament.
Watching Miso Ostarcevic and Doug Richards play together again brought back wonderful memories of their teammate, Kreso, “the gentle giant.”
Brother Ćosić’s close friend Mišo Oštarčević planned and directed the tournament, assisted by Doug Richards and many others throughout the mission. Miso and his wife, Ankica, were baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‐day Saints in what was then Yugoslavia in 1974 by Brother Ćosić, who was baptized in 1972 while at BYU by Hugh Nibley, a Church scholar, dear friend and mentor.
When Yugoslavia was mired in war in the early 1990s, Kreso accepted a position as Croatian Deputy Ambassador to the United States. He died of cancer in 1995.
Following the basketball tournament many city and state dignitaries, family, friends and team members gathered at the Zagreb Branch chapel to remember the man who changed a country. Among the dignitaries in attendance were Franjo Arapovic, special representative from the office of the President of Croatia; Vedran Mornar, Minister of Education and his college basketball-playing son, Marin, who recently completed his third season at Loyola Marymount University; Sandra Artukovic-Kunst, Deputy Minister of Justice; Milan Brandic, Mayor of Zagreb; Matke Granic, former Minister of Foreign Affairs. Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic sent regrets due to travel. Elder Christopher Charles, Area Seventy from England, presided at the gathering.
Attending from Brother Ćosić’s family were his wife, Lejerka; and their children: Ana, with her husband, daughter Matija Pajuron and their son Borna; and Iva, with her husband, Peter Cota, and their daughter, Natalie. Kresimir Petar, who had played in the basketball tournament was also there taking turns with his mother tending his niece and nephew.
Ana represented her family in speaking of her father. She attended BYU 25 years after her father and remembered. “I felt his presence almost on a daily basis,” she said. “What we’re particularly proud of as a family is that people do not remember him only as a famous basketball star but also a man of great heart, who left everyone he met with a positive lasting impression.”
Videos with comments by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch; and Beverly Campbell, who with Ann Madsen and Anikca Oštarčević, wrote Brother Ćosić’s biography, subtitled, One Man’s Spiritual Journey, each spoke of his love for the Savior.
The Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to the United States, Joško Paro, also appeared in a video to greet the group.
Having read the recently published biography concerning Brother Ćosić’s conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said, “It bears witness of and celebrates Krešo’s widely unknown inner spiritual journey that impresses me more than his sport career.” He noted that Krešimir Ćosić was an “extraordinary man of faith ... basketball was just a gift, talent, a vehicle of higher purposes in his life. Obviously, as we speak, his mission continues.”
President David Grant of the Adriatic North Mission said four basketball teams from Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia played the morning games with 38 players. He added that 16 girls, women and men entered the free throw contests and over 50 spectators watched the games and rooted for their teams. More than 140 dignitaries, guests, team members, and branch members attended the evening commemoration with the Ćosić family.
This is the first of what will be the annual Krešimir Ćosić International ANM Basketball Tournament, President Grant said.