Far from home, women’s basketball player Karla Vreš just keeps scoring
The Croatian Sensation has blossomed into a scoring machine in her sophomore year
Mali krug velikih ljudi. It’s a Croatian saying, and if you look it up, you’ll find two things. The first is a song by famous Croatian popstar Massimo, and the second is a phrase that means “a small circle of big people” in Croatian.
The latter of those two meanings happens to hold great significance for American University women’s basketball standout Karla Vreš, and that’s why it’s tucked neatly into her Instagram bio. However, this should come as no surprise once you meet Vreš. For her, the people you associate with are important.
“I like to keep my circle small,” Vreš, a sophomore, said. “I’m private with who I hang out with and people who I consider my closest friends. You meet a lot of people, but not all of those people are going to stick around forever.”
It makes sense for her to have this attitude. Vreš, who moved to Sweden when she was 15, has met a lot of people in her 22 years. However, Vreš’s long journey from her home in Zagreb, Croatia, to AU started with her older brother, Domagoj.
“My brother inspired me to start playing,” Vreš said. “I always wanted to be like him. Whatever he was doing, I was around, and seeing him play basketball I wanted to play basketball.”
Vreš soon joined a local basketball team and quickly took to the sport. She played for the Croatian National Team in the 2017 U18 Women’s European Championship.
The experience shows on the court, and head coach Megan Gebbia said Vreš has made the transition to the American college game with ease. After several strong performances to start the year, Gebbia inserted Vreš into the starting lineup.
“The international players are a little bit more mature when they come over, the pace of the game doesn’t surprise them when they come over, and they develop a bit quicker,” Gebbia said. “You see that when you put Karla in; she is instant offense.”
Vreš’s teammates have noticed the change too. Senior guard Indeya Sanders previously saw how talented Vreš was, and now sees her as an integral part of the offense.
“Me as a point guard and as a play creator, this is perfect because I know where she is at her best and where she can score,” Sanders said. “She’s finding her shot in rhythm, and I’m honestly not surprised because I knew what kind of player she is and I saw from her freshman year.”
Her ability to score has really helped the Eagles. The team is undefeated in the three games Vreš played for more than 10 minutes, and Vreš scores with surgical precision.
Vreš leads the Eagles in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and blocks — which is rather ironic considering both Gebbia and Vreš agree that defense is not the Croatian’s strong suit. She’s also fourth in scoring.
No matter what Vreš does, she will stand out. She is 6’3’’, the tallest player on the team, and she is lethal from 15 feet out — considered one the most inefficient shots in basketball. However, that isn’t what most people think of when they see her on the court.
Vreš plays with a mask on. While it was an adjustment at first, she said it’s now just a part of playing basketball in a pandemic.
“It’s the least I can do to protect myself and everyone else on the team,” she said. “You have your socks, shoes and now your mask.”
Her teammates, for their part, have gotten used to seeing her play in a mask.
“I first thought she forgot to take it off, but now I don’t even notice,” Sanders said.
While Vreš is now playing for the Eagles and stopping the spread in a sport that makes social distancing impossible, it wasn’t always a guarantee that Vreš would be able to keep playing basketball.
When she graduated high school, her dream to become a lawyer came into conflict with her love for basketball.
“In Sweden, if I were to do that there was no way I would be able to play basketball and go to school,” Vreš said.
Vreš decided she wasn’t ready to give up either and took a 13-hour plane ride to AU, where she could play basketball and study law.
She still wants to become a lawyer but hopes that she will be able to continue playing basketball after she leaves AU.
“Ideally I want to keep playing after college, but one day that is going to end,” Vreš said. “So as long as I’m able to play, I want to try and keep playing.”