The University of Wisconsin-Parkside held its 2023 Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 13 in De Simone Arena. Over 500 students were recognized for completing the graduation requirements for their respective majors. Several Parkside student-athletes were recognized during the ceremony, with one student-athlete earning a special recognition. Lamija Coric of the Parkside women’s basketball team was named an Outstanding Graduate by the University. She was one of eight students to receive this award in 2023. Coric graduated with a degree in Biological Sciences after spending three years with the Rangers. Her academic and athletic accomplishments are impressive alone, but Lamija’s backstory makes her accomplish truly inspirational.
Lamija was born in Mostar, Bosnia in 1999, soon after the end of the Bosnian Civil War. Her parents, Enesa and Ibrahim, both worked good jobs and owned land in Bosnia following the war and led good lives. However, they saw the destroyed society that surrounded them after the war and decided that they wanted to give their children a better life. The couple decided to take a chance and leave their lives behind and move their family to Lulea, Sweden, where Lamija and her twin brother Vedad grew up. It was a move that would be clouded by mystery, as they did not speak Swedish, had no family in the country, and had no clue what was going to happen to them in a new home.
Lamija and Vedad went through struggles growing up, despite being in a very supportive community. They were not as fluent speaking Swedish and often just had that sense that they were from another country. “This never stopped me from chasing my dreams,” said Coric. “My brother and I went through it together and it kept us motivated and taught us the importance of hard work and grit.”
When Lamija was seven years old, she was introduced to the game of basketball. She went to the local gym with a friend who played the sport, and as soon as she hit the court she fell in love with the sport. Lulea is sometimes referred to as the “Basketball Capital of Sweden,” as it is filled with great players and opportunities to grow as an athlete. Lamija began to devote a lot of time and effort towards bettering her skills. She would often practice with older teams and men’s teams to improve and fine tune her skills. By the time she was entering high school, she was selected to join Riksbasketgymnasiet Lulea, one of two national high school basketball academies in Sweden. This gave her the opportunity to compete on both the national and international stage. She helped lead her team to a European Girls Basketball League (EGBL) Championship in 2016, and the team would return and finish as the EGBL runner-up in 2018. The team also finished as the runner-up in the Sweden National Championship game that same year. Despite all the time and effort on the basketball court, Lamija also excelled in the classroom, finishing with the highest Student-Athlete GPA in 2018.
After completing her three years of high school, the standard length of high school in Sweden, Lamija looked to the United States. Coming to America would give her an opportunity to further her education while continuing to play the game that she loved. “A lot of older players in Sweden that I knew were going to America,” Coric added. “It just seemed like the right move for me, getting to continue basketball and school simultaneously was an incredible opportunity.” Coric took a chance and came to America, enrolling at Utah State University Eastern, a junior college in Price, Utah. She saw it as a low risk-high reward opportunity, knowing that she could always return to Sweden if she felt it wasn’t working out.
Lamija fell in love with Utah immediately, from the amazing landscapes to the awesome people. “I definitely experienced some culture shock when I first got here,” Lamija recalled. “The food was definitely a shock, and not always in a good way. I was also surprised by how spontaneous and open people are here. I felt shy and introverted, but I learned how to connect with people and come out of my shell.” In the 2018-19 season, Coric finished fourth in the NJCAA in three-point shooting with a 42.5% on the season. She would go on to earn Honorable Mention All-Region XVIII that season.
As her time at Utah State University Eastern was coming to a close, the unthinkable happened. Coric was coming back from a spring break trip with friends when she learned that the COVID-19 pandemic had shut down her school and the country was beginning to shut down as well. It became a race to get home for Lamija, as she tried to get a flight back to Sweden as quickly as possible. Fortunately, she made it back home safely, arriving in Sweden the day that the United States borders closed. Lamija looked to the future with uncertainty. Would she ever get to come back to the United States, or was her exciting opportunity cut short by the global pandemic?
Coric’s coaches at Eastern helped her enter and navigate the transfer portal, but for a while no offer seemed right. She was then contacted by Jen Conely, Head Coach of the women’s basketball program at Wisconsin-Parkside. Between the pandemic and the 4,000 miles that separated them, Coach Conely and Lamija never got to meet in person. Their first meeting was over a Zoom call, which Lamija and her brother began to learn about Parkside for the first time. Coach Conely talked about the academic success that Parkside offered, as well as her goals and visions for the women’s basketball program that Lamija would later become a part of. “I remember my brother was in the room with me, and he and Jen were just talking like they were good friends. That showed me that Jen was someone who would truly care about me, as well as my family. We got off the call and I said to my brother, “That seemed almost too good to be true.”‘ After a few more phone calls, Lamija committed to Parkside and packed her bags to return to America. On the flight over, Lamija met her future teammate Maja Leidefors, a native of Jonkoping, Sweden who also graduated from Parkside last week.
Coric joined the Rangers with a team-first mentality. “I never worried about scoring the most points,” she commented. “I was more focused on making stops on defense and making the extra pass when it was needed.” Coric also focused on pushing her teammates in practices, believing that being more competitive in practices would translate to better performance by the team in games. In her time at Parkside, Lamija averaged 14.7 minutes per game over 78 appearances as the Rangers went 44-35 over her time with the program. Her most notable performance came on February, 4, 2023 when she scored a career high 17 points and helped lead the team to a record-breaking 109-68 win over Lake Superior State. During the game she went 5-5 from behind the three-point line and was 2-2 from the free throw line.
Off the basketball court, Coric has spent time working as a tutor for the Parkside Academic Resource Center (PARC). Coric worked with 100- and 200- level classes, but also went above and beyond to assist the higher-level classes as well. “The idea of a tutor was so cool to me when I first came to America,” Lamija noted. “We did not have that sort of academic help in Sweden, and it was something I immediately wanted to get involved with.”
Lamija plans to return home to Sweden, where she will begin medical school at Karolinska Institutet (KI). She has always wanted to attend KI, and decided to make her dream of becoming a cardiologist a reality after her father passed away from a heart attack last fall. “He is the greatest motivation to keep going for my dream. My father showed me that anything is possible with hard work and a positive mindset.”
Lamija is thankful for the time she has had a Parkside. She believes that Parkside has given her the ability to express herself and has allowed her to reach her full potential.
Written by UW-Parkside