Apr. 3—Aleksandar Pantelic and Igor Stokic grew up about an hour away from each other in Serbia, but it took Dalton, Georgia, to bring them together on the other side of the globe.
The Serbian basketball players found each other some 4,500 miles away from home, in the basketball program at Dalton State College.
Pantelic hails from Belgrade, the country's capital with a population of more than a million. Stokic, from a smaller city, Ruma, spent time living in the city as well.
The journey to Dalton was similar for both Pantelic and Stokic. Both came to the northeastern United States to play basketball in high school; Pantelic in Maine and Stokic in Pennsylvania.
"I moved from Serbia and went there all alone," Pantelic said. "That first year was so tough. I had so many hardships. The first couple of months was a period where I kind of adjusted to culture, language and, believe it or not, food. Food was the thing I had most issues with."
For Stokic, the decision to attend school in the states was made to help him expand his horizons — on and off the court.
"I really wanted to find somewhere that could help me get better at basketball and get a good education," Stokic said.
Stokic found that opportunity with the Roadrunners, where he's been for three years, coming to Dalton State out of Erie First Christian Academy in Erie, Pennsylvania. Pantelic took the longer road to DSC, making stops at Southeastern Illinois and Flagler College before both Serbians were on the roster in Dalton for the 2020-21 season.
"Obviously that was a plus but before I even decided to commit I had no clue we had another Serbian on the roster," Pantelic said.
"It was nice to have another Serbian come in," Stokic said. "Aleks has become one of my very best friends."
While Pantelic already had plenty of time to adjust to life in the U.S., Stokic served as his countryman's go-to guide for getting him set up in the Carpet Capital of the World.
"They kind of set him up with me to help him get used to campus," Stokic said.
One thing that Stokic wouldn't be able to help Pantelic with is the adjustment in lifestyles. Pantelic likens life in Belgrade to what might be found in Atlanta or New York City.
"I would say that states are different from Serbia because everything is spaced out, and it's a lot slower in Dalton," Pantelic said. "In the place where I live, everything is sped up, and people are in a hurry. I like it more in Serbia than back in Dalton only because I like action a little bit more than being laid back."
On the court, though, things clicked for Pantelic. The versatile 6-foot-6 player spent time at several positions, sometimes serving as a de-facto point guard for a Dalton State team that finished the year with just eight available players in 2020-21 due to injuries and COVID-19. Pantelic averaged 8 points per game, coming on even stronger later in the year as his role increased.
Stokic has seen mostly reserve minutes in his three years as a Roadrunner, playing a key role off the bench for the 2019-20 squad, which finished 30-3.
Both are adept at playing closer to the basket or stepping outside to shoot a 3-pointer.
The Roadrunners dipped to 7-11 last season, thanks in part to roster turnover, low numbers and COVID-19 scheduling havoc. Dalton State withdrew from the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament, which was played in late February, due to COVID-19 issues in the program. Dalton State won the tournament a season ago.
Pantelic and Stokic, who both expect to return to the Roadrunners next season, aren't the first players from outside the United States to find a spot on the Roadrunner team since Dalton State revived its program in 2013.
Pantelic and Stokic were joined on the 2020-21 squad by Bora Certel, a freshman point guard who is originally from Istanbul, Turkey. Three of the eight players on the roster at season's end hailed from outside the U.S.
Sean Cranney, from Australia, was a key piece on the 30-3 team in 2019-20, and the Roadrunners have welcomed players from Poland, Spain and Georgia — the country — in the last few years.
Each has their own story and reasonings for winding up in Dalton.
"It's been a great place for me to learn and grow," said Stokic, who wants to remain involved with basketball after graduation, whether by continuing to play or getting involved in the business side with the business degree he's on track to earn by next spring. "I'm grateful for what the university has done for me. It's almost like a second home."