Vedrana “VeVe” Milakovic, starter on the OBU Lady Bison basketball team that advanced to the Final Four in the quest for this year’s NAIA national championship, was a 5-year-old in Croatia the afternoon her lawyer-businessman father got the phone call.

Vedrana “VeVe” Milakovic, starter on the OBU Lady Bison basketball team that advanced to the Final Four in the quest for this year’s NAIA national championship, was a 5-year-old in Croatia the afternoon her lawyer-businessman father got the phone call.
It was 1991, civil war was raging in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. The call warned that the military was coming after her dad.
They had 45 minutes to escape. “So we packed our bags and just left,” said Milakovic, now an Oklahoma Baptist University junior majoring in international business.
Everything they could grab for the parents, Milakovic and her 10-year-old brother was stuffed into two bags.
“We could not go to the bank to get our money because they had cameras everywhere,” she said. “They would arrest you if you went to the bank to get money. So we had almost no money to go with.”
But they jumped into the car and headed for Slovenia, the “only country that was free you could escape to,” she said. It would be years before they would be settled again.
They had to leave behind their identification-tagged dog, chained to his dog house, two cats, fishes, two birds, their home and all other belongings. “We loved our animals,” Milakovic said.
Her mother later learned the dog broke loose, tried to follow them, and was struck by a car and killed.
It was two years later - in Sweden - that Milakovic heard what happened. Their parents tried to shield the children from such sad news and the horrors of war. She remembers wartime gunfire and seeing people shooting, however.
Word her dad would be seized was a complete surprise, she said. All former servicemen were being conscripted and he had been in the military when he was 18. But “we were living in Croatia and were from Bosnia. He didn’t want to fight either one.”
The goal, she said, was to cross the Slovenian border. “We were driving through the night. It took at least 12 or 14 hours.
“I woke up when the really strong border lights were shined on us, all over the car, under it, everywhere. It was 2 a.m. or so. They were checking our passports.”
When Milakovic awoke, she said, “Dad, are we free yet?”
The family thinks the guard heard her and it touched his heart. “We had Croatian passports and he was not supposed to let people in with those, but he did, and bought us breakfast.
“We call him our angel because he let us through. It was like life or death, pretty much,” she said.
They drove to Austria where relatives gave her parents money. But they could only stay in Austria overnight. It was too close to the former Yugoslavia. “People were being sent back.
“My dad made some phone calls and learned that some people who went to Denmark and Sweden never came back - which meant they were allowed to stay in those countries,” she said.
They left their car with the relatives as a safety measure because of its identifying license plates. Milakovic remembers taking the train and boat to Scandinavia.
While on board the ship, Milakovic remembers “we ran out of money. My mother sold all her gold jewelry, a couple of bracelets, necklace, earrings, everything she had except her wedding ring. That gave us money to buy food on the boat which was going from Denmark, our first stop, to Vaxjo, Sweden.”
So many war refugees were coming in, Sweden was about to close the border. “This guy we sold the gold to, knew some people and helped us get into the country,” Milakovic said.
Like other refugees, the family was placed in a military camp. They were fed twice daily and moved frequently from city to city, for 18 months.
Milakovic, her brother and “other military camp kids from former Yugoslavia learned Swedish during that time,” she said, while her parents “were applying to get to stay in Sweden. The Swedish government was determining whether they had sufficient reason to stay.”
They were allowed to remain five years, then apply for Swedish citizenship. When they became citizens, “they sent us a Swedish flag to welcome us,” she said.
Sweden did much more to assimilate them into its culture. Today, her father, mother - who formerly was a type of court reporter - and brother operate their own bakery in Stockholm.
Milakovic was 12 when her dad opened it. She and her brother worked in it after school daily.
She began playing basketball at age 10; continued through graduation from a Stockholm athletic high school, and an associate of science degree from Panola College, Carthage, Texas. OBU Coach John McCullough found her through another college coach
Milakovic was offered a Panola scholarship by Coach Tracy Stellato who had seen her play on a tape sent her by another girl. “I didn’t get to visit the school or anything. I just took a chance,” she said.
Offered her OBU scholarship last May, Milakovic began summer school last July. The basketball forward works 20 hours weekly at Java City, the Geiger Center coffee shop; became fluent in English during her first six months at Panola, and speaks German in addition to Croatian and Swedish.
Her ambition is to have her own business, where, she’s unsure. Milakovic will spend this summer in Stockholm. Her parents hope to attend her OBU graduation in December 2010.