About 13 miles from FTX Arena, inside the Columbus High School basketball gym, coach Andrew Moran spent two months working with NBA draft prospects leading up to one of the biggest moments of their lives.
Among the group of hopefuls was Nikola Jovic, a 6-foot-10 forward from Belgrade, Serbia, who would eventually become the Miami Heat’s first-round pick.
Jovic arrived in Miami to train with Moran and the Miami Hoop School, which has worked with Excel Sports Management for the last three years, preparing its clients throughout the pre-draft process. So, the South Florida weather should be a fairly easy adjustment for the 19 year old.
When Moran found out that Jovic was staying in Miami, he was ecstatic.
“I was watching the draft with my wife and I was really excited,” Moran said. “I know a lot of the Heat coaches. I love the player development that they do, it’s one of the best in the league. So, I was super excited for him and then I was also super excited for the Heat, just getting the type of player he is.
“And then I also get to continue to work with him as he’s here in town and on off days. Just helping him throughout the season.”
Moran, who is the founder of the Miami Hoop School and the head coach at Columbus, has been a pro trainer for several years, working with high-profile clients like Heat standout Tyler Herro and Tim Hardaway Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks.
When he began to work with Jovic, Moran was immediately attracted to his combination of size and guard-like skills that earned him the 2022 Top Prospect Award in the ABA League while playing for Mega Basket in Belgrade.
“Such a versatile player,” Moran said. “First of all, he’s 6-foot-10 playing a guard position, so his playmaking abilities are incredible. I think he fits right into what the Heat are looking for and I think he’s embracing it.
“He was kind of a main guy on his team in Europe, so he knowns how to carry that load a little bit even as such a young player.”
The main focus of Jovic’s pre-draft workouts were improving his ball-handling and shooting. Moran would put him through intense drills that included midrange jumpers, catch-and-shoot, shooting off the dribble and situational shooting.
All that work evidently turned into solid results as Moran says shooting was where the teenager has made the biggest leap during their time together.
“I would say he definitely made a big improvement in his shooting and in pushing through,” Moran said. “When maybe the workout is not going well, we want the guys to continue to give their best effort because in the game it sometimes doesn’t go well, but there’s other things you could do to help your team win.
“And I think in those areas, he’s improved and he’s got some great endurance from his water polo years. So, I think that’s going to help him when he goes into those conditioning tests for the Heat because they’re pretty rigorous.”
When it came to his off-court training, Jovic headed to Wynwood, working with Andy Luaces and Core Fitness Miami.
Luaces, a Miami native, is a personal trainer and owner of Core Fitness. He also has experience working with professional athletes and specializes in helping his clients become more explosive laterally, vertically and linearly while making sure they stay healthy.
During his time with Jovic, Luaces put less emphasis on building power and more on increasing his mobility. He focused on improving Jovic’s posture by strengthening his glutes and hamstrings.
Luaces believes that with his frame and body type, Jovic has the physique to excel as an NBA player.
“I think his strength is going to help him succeed at the next level,” Luaces said. “He’s a strong guy. I think that’s probably his No. 1 physical attribute.”
No matter whether he was on the court or the weight room, Jovic’s coaches were taken back by how professional he was at such a young age.
“I think he’s got tremendous professionalism,” Luaces said. “And I think that’s because he already played professionally in Europe. He came into the gym and took it very seriously. He showed up ready to work, very respectful. … He was happy to be there and he was happy to improve.”
As the newest member of the Heat, Jovic’s going to need that professionalism to fit into the organization’s culture.
Those who worked with him and saw his work ethic and love for the game up close know that it should be a seamless transition, especially since he shouldn’t have to get used to a new city.
“I think he fits right in [with Heat culture],” Moran said. “From the last few days, he got back from New York [for the draft], we were in the gym the very next day. … So, I think that’s exactly the type of player that they are looking for, one that wants to be in the gym and improve.
“Look at the guys that they’ve gotten that nobody really knew about and the improvement that they have had going through that player development that the Heat culture has built, and, I think, he fits right into that. I think those guys are going to love his game and the things he can do as far helping the Heat win.”