Young rivals become teammates on Missouri men's basketball team

Saturday, October 27, 2012 | 7:50 p.m. CDT; updated 9:06 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 27, 2012
Missouri forward Stefan Jankovic, left, drives to the basket against teammate Negus Webster-Chan, guard, during the scrimmage portion of Mizzou Madness on Oct. 12 at Mizzou Arena.

COLUMBIA — Negus Webster-Chan didn't have many nice things to say about Stefan Jankovic when the two were playing against each other in the fourth grade.

If they were asked back then if they could envision being teammates at some point of their lives, they would have never thought it possible.

Monday's exhibition

Northwest Missouri State
at No. 15 Missouri

WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
TV: Fox Sports Midwest

But now, Webster-Chan, a 6-foot-7-inch guard from Scarborough, Ontario, and Jankovic, a 6-foot-11-inch forward from Mississauga, Ontario, are freshmen teammates on the Missouri men's basketball team.

Back when they played against each other in Ontario Basketball, a Canadian counterpart to the American Amateur Athletics Union, Webster-Chan and his dominant team would constantly taunt the scrawny, goggle-wearing Jankovic and his team after defeating them.

"They were the best team at the time. They were everyone's enemies," Jankovic said. "They called me Harry Potter, and they had a bunch of other nicknames."

Then their relationship went a different direction. In the eighth grade, Jankovic and Webster-Chan played on the same team for the first time on a week-and-a-half trip to Italy with a collection of players from the Ontario area.

When the rooming assignments were made, they found out they were also going to have to live together. They looked at each other in disbelief. They didn't like each other, but they were going to have to deal with it.

"When we were in another country together, it clicked," Jankovic said. "We were roommates, and we were making jokes. We weren't playing against each other, so it was different."

It wouldn't be the last time they were teammates. After that, wherever one went, the other followed, and they played in the AAU together.

Webster-Chan left his Canadian high school for Huntington Prep School in West Virginia at the end of his sophomore season after being recruited by the school. He decided to play basketball in the U.S. because he felt the basketball culture in Canada was not as serious as it was in America.

"Back home you can't just get into a gym when you want. You have to pay a rec center, travel and take the bus," Webster-Chan said. "Our coaches volunteered in Canada. They didn't really get paid."

Jankovic also thought the motivation to play competitively was not present in Canadian basketball.

"It's just the level of seriousness. In Canada, you play sports just to play sports," Jankovic said, "But in America, most people play sports to go pro, to get a scholarship."

When Webster-Chan visited Huntington Prep, he said he knew he was in the right place— a place to focus on basketball. His mother was apprehensive at first about sending her son to another country, but after a visit, she trusted the prep school and decided to send him there the following year. Webster-Chan started his junior year of high school in America.

"It was a good situation for me. I got to live with a host family; others lived in an apartment close to the coaches," Webster-Chan said.

Jankovic, who was born in Serbia, was no stranger to international sports. He was also looking to play in a more basketball-friendly environment and ended up at The Kiski School in Pennsylvania, but left shortly after to seek better basketball opportunities.

When Webster-Chan heard Jankovic was looking for another school, Webster-Chan immediately asked Jankovic to join him at the West Virginia prep school.

The two played two seasons together at Huntington Prep, where they were joined by top Canadian prospects Andrew Wiggins and Sim Bhullar. Bhullar is now a 7-foot-5-inch center for New Mexico State.

Jankovic enjoyed the experience at Huntington Prep, saying it was similar to college, having to travel around the U.S. to play basketball. When the two weren't on the road for basketball, they could be found at the local movie theater, mall or visiting one another's host family. Webster-Chan said the geography of Huntington, W.Va., bolstered their relationship.

"That's all there is to do out there," Webster-Chan joked.

After graduation they separated, but only briefly.

When Jankovic landed at Columbia Regional Airport during an unofficial visit to Missouri, he looked out the window of his plane and saw the surrounding empty fields. He wondered why he was visiting a place that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.

His opinion of Missouri quickly changed after seeing waves of students wearing black and gold to class. He said the welcoming environment the coaches created played an even bigger role in his decision.

"You got a relationship with coaches," Jankovic said. "You got a lot of transfers here. They talk about their (old) coaches, and some of them didn't have their numbers. Here (at Missouri) it was just a family atmosphere that welcomed you once you got here."

This time, Jankovic reached out to Webster-Chan, who had committed to Louisville but then de-committed and reopened his recruitment. Jankovic told him he liked what he saw at Missouri during his visit, and the two made their official visit to Missouri together and ended up committing.

Missouri assistant coach Tim Fuller helped bring them together. Fuller was involved in recruiting both of them during his time at Louisville and knew Webster-Chan's mother and AAU coach well.  

Fuller said there is an advantage with teammates who have experience with each other. They know one another's strengths and weaknesses on the court. Off the court, they motivate each other and keep one another's spirits up.

"Its hard just to figure it out. You have a lot of people yelling, people telling you to do things that you've never seen before," Fuller said. "But it's definitely good when you have another guy who picks you up, who cares about you at the end of the day."

Missouri junior guard Phil Pressey, who had the experience of playing with his older brother Matt Pressey last year, had similar thoughts.

"It's a good thing to have them both together because they know how to talk to each other. When you see one of them, you see the other," Pressey said. "They know each other's goals in life. They know each other's secrets. They know how to push one another."

Besides bringing their array of basketball skills to Columbia, Webster-Chan and Jankovic also joked that they brought their Ontario slang. They brag about how the rest of the team can't decipher it, and they keep the meanings a secret.

Some things never change for the two. Webster-Chan still makes fun of Jankovic, whose long frame can make him appear awkward at times.

"He's 6-foot-11 and he crosses his legs, plays video games and eats food at the same time, its weird man, I can't even cross my legs," Webster-Chan said with a chuckle as Jankovic laughed along.

Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.

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