Vavic prepares for Tokyo in water polo as his father awaits trial

LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) – Marko Vavic was in Mexico when this happened. He had just taken off for Cabo San…

LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) – Marko Vavic was in Mexico when this happened. He had just flown to Cabo San Lucas to spend spring break with a group of friends.

When Vavic woke up there were several text messages on his phone. This is how Operation Varsity Blues entered his life.

Vavic’s father Jovan, who coached Southern California’s vaunted water polo programs to 16 combined national championships, had been indicted in a college admissions corruption scandal that trapped the stars of the television, businessmen and sports coaches across the United States

It was a massive earthquake at the center of American water polo in California.

“Everyone was texting me like, ‘Hey, what’s going on? And I don’t know what’s going on, ”said Marko Vavic. “Basically I called my mom, brother and sister and checked the internet. That’s pretty much how I found out.

Two years later, Jovan Vavic awaits trial in November after pleading not guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges, and Marko Vavic is pushing for a spot on the U.S. squad for the Tokyo Olympics.

They barely speak of the legal cloud hovering over Jovan.

“We are a family. We remain united, ”Marko Vavic, 22, told The Associated Press in his first public comments on his father’s legal situation. “It’s not like, ‘Forget me’. We fight together.

Jovan Vavic was in Hawaii with the Women’s Trojans Team when he was arrested on March 12, 2019. The response was swift to the federal investigation dubbed Operation Varsity Blues.

Jovan Vavic was fired from USC the same day. Immediately after winning the national title, Marko Vavic was informed by the school that he was not eligible to play pending an investigation into a possible infraction.

“I can’t play water polo in college, but other than that it was kinda great not having my dad in school,” said Marko Vavic. “I mean, I grew up with him there. But other than that, it didn’t really affect me that much. Obviously, this is a frustrating situation to go through, and it just takes forever to go through the process with the court.

Stephen Larson, one of Jovan Vavic’s lawyers, refused to make his client available for an interview. Larson said in an email that Vavic “is innocent of these convoluted charges,” and he can’t wait to be vindicated at trial.

According to a replacement indictment, filed in federal court in Boston in October 2019, Jovan Vavic is accused of accepting $ 250,000 in bribes in exchange for appointing two prospective students as water recruits. polo shirt, facilitating their admission to USC. Prosecutors say none of the students played the sport competitively.

The indictment also alleges that Rick Singer, the admissions consultant at the center of the program, paid private school tuition for Vavic’s children in return for the coach’s commitment to designate clients from Singer as recruits in the future.

The charges put Marko and his younger brother, Stefan, in a precarious position with USC. Marko plays professionally for Roma Nuoto in Italy, but he forgoes a salary in order to protect the possibility of returning to the Trojans. Stefan, 20, has yet to play for school.

Marko said they were in contact with USC and had spoken with the NCAA, but basically nothing has changed since his father was first charged.

“I would like to know more about what is going on,” he said. “I would like to know that they are digging in there at least so I can play. Not that I’m just hoping for nothing or at least, if it’s a no, tell me it’s a no, not just maybe for (two) years.

Marko and Stefan share a page in the school’s latest media guide and are listed on the list on USC’s website. Next season’s schedule will likely start in September.

Asked about the brothers’ eligibility and when there might be a resolution, a school spokeswoman declined to comment, citing student privacy laws. An NCAA spokeswoman told the AP she “could not comment on any ongoing, ongoing or potential investigations.”

Water polo has linked the Vavic family for years. Jovan Vavic played professionally in his native Montenegro in the former Yugoslavia before moving to Southern California in 1984. Marko Vavic grew up going to his father’s USC games, watching and playing with Stefan.

Their older brother, Nikola, and sister, Monica, also played for the Trojans, with Nikola scoring 254 times en route to four national championships, and Monica scoring a program record of 291 goals and winning the 2013 NCAA title.

Jovan Vavic was known for his uncompromising approach with his players, and Marko Vavic said he benefited from his father’s experience with his older siblings.

“I was in Round 3 so he had done it by the time he got to me,” said Marko. “My brother, it was definitely more difficult for him and my sister. I think by the time he got to me he knew what he was doing.

“He was really, really hard on me, but it definitely made me a better player. I really understood the difference between being a coach and being a father.

Marko Vavic scored 108 times in his first two seasons at USC, but the 6-foot-5 forward is best known for his defensive ability. He’s played on the right side with the national team, so he’s working on shooting from a different position after spending a lot of his time on the left growing up.

The influence of the family, said US coach Dejan Udovicic, is undeniable.

“You know Jovan is a warrior and he will do anything to win for his team, for his program, and Marko has that line, that warrior line, never give up which is awesome,” he said. .

Asked whether Marko was weighed down by Jovan’s legal situation, Udovicic said he was doing “more than good.”

“If he is my son, I would be proud of the way he handles the situation,” he said. “It’s not easy. I understand that. It’s not easy at all. But he (finds) a way to motivate himself and I see a good vibe from his side. Not just the past few months, I see that. a year and a half, three years. “

Even after everything that has happened, Marko wants to return to USC. He wants to play with his friends on the team again and he wants to win another NCAA title.

This is just the beginning. He wants to make multiple trips to the Olympics and play at the highest level of water polo in Europe. He thinks he’s just getting started.

“I have big tournaments and games that I want to win,” he said.

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Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap

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More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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