John Baratto's East Chicago Washington basketball teams produced several great players, but the movie credits didn't end there.
Many were of Serbian heritage, and became very successful away from the court. Mirko Blesich, a 1965 graduate, quickly comes to mind. He is a book deal waiting to happen.
"I wouldn't be where I'm at if not for basketball, especially playing at East Chicago Washington and being in such a competitive environment," said the president of Blesich Property Management in Merrillville. "That translates into business."
Blesich starred at guard for the Senators, earning a scholarship to Southern Cal, where Tom Selleck was his big brother as a Sigma Chi pledge and his roommate for one year.
"When I left the Harbor and went to USC, saw all the wealth out there, that was culture shock," Blesich said. "I was a street kid. I didn't even speak English. I spoke 'street.'"
John Wayne also was a Sigma Chi and Blesich recalled Hollywood's long-time leading man occasionally visiting the campus and chatting with students while forming a human smoke stack, one pack of cigarettes after another.
"Imagine. THE John Wayne," said Blesich, who also is friends with Kinko's Founder Paul Orfalea.
Quite aware he wasn't NBA material after college, Blesich joined the Army, was a Viet Nam vet, and later helped found the Indianapolis-based World Wide Sports, which handled investments for professional Serbian athletes.
Meanwhile, he continued developing contacts and getting the Blesich name out there.
"I can't say enough about the opportunities and doors that opened for me because of basketball," he said.
This from a guy born in a GI camp overseas.
This from a guy who grew up in a strict Serbian household and didn't eat at a sit-down restaurant until he was 15.
This from a guy whose parents, father Vojin and mother Milka, both worked in the steel mill.
The Indiana Harbor product isn't finished.
He currently is helping 30-year-old son and president Nick run Blesich Sports & Entertainment, Inc. in Beverly Hills. Nick's quite a story, too, once a troubled teen who fell out of favor with the Lake Central administration and had to earn a GED instead.
He attended San Diego State and got his law degree. The agency opened its doors last summer.
"My head is spinning, there's so much going on," Mirko Blesich said. "We've got about 15 clients right now, five of 'em in sports. We're still building contacts.
"We just added Nicholas Cage's son, Weston, an entertainer/musician."
Feel good story, right? So keep your TMZ and its mindless blabber about idiot celebrities.
"Everything's happening so quickly," Mirko Blesich said. "What we've done in this short period of time is phenomenal, incredible, unheard of in this business."
Book deal, I'm telling ya. How can it miss?