Senior guard Bruno Skokna said he’s had a winning mentality from the beginning of his basketball career. That mentality is something that translated to his time on the Loyola men’s basketball team.
One of the first conversations he had with head coach Porter Moser after committing, before he moved from his hometown of Zagreb, Croatia, was about March Madness.
“He said, ‘We’re going to go to the NCAA tournament,’” Moser said.
Going to the NCAA Tournament was something that seemed unlikely. Two years later in Skokna’s sophomore year, that sentiment became a reality when Loyola advanced to the NCAA Tournament Final Four in 2018.
Now as the only senior on the team, it’s a little different. Skokna — who’s graduating with a bachelor’s in finance and a master’s in the summer — said he still holds that winning mentality, but it’s harder because he’s not playing as much as he wants.
“It’s the hardest year of my life regarding [my] basketball career,” Skokna said. “Because obviously I didn’t play and I wasn’t expecting it.”
Since the start of his collegiate career, Skokna has been an off-the-bench player. In the 2016-17 season, he averaged 16.5 minutes per game and had double-digit averages the next two years with 11.4 and 19.9 minutes, respectively.
This year, his average dropped to a mere 7.8 minutes per game.
“You work out of the summer, prepare and like it’s your last year expecting it’s going to be the best one … but it didn’t work out that way,” Skokna said.
The Ramblers had an influx of new faces join the roster this year — three first-years and three transfers. Skokna said he figured he wouldn’t be playing as much, but it was hard for him to overcome the idea of not playing a lot his final year.
Instead of getting pessimistic, he turned his focus on two different avenues: helping his teammates and using his few minutes in the game to the best of his ability.
The latter showed during a game against Illinois State University Feb. 19. Seven seconds after coming off the bench, he drained a three. Moser credits a rebound and quick pass by Skokna to a change of momentum that ultimately helped the Ramblers win.
In addition to making the most of his time on the court, he’s also transitioned to being more of a voice to the younger members. He said he knows what the coaches like and he’s been trying to help his newer teammates transition to the team.
Junior center Cameron Krutwig said he noticed Skokna’s switch from “key bench player” to leader.
“The best quality about him is his mindset, his positivity” Krutwig said. “This year, he hasn’t got the minutes he would like. He’s never mentioned anything, he’s always been a team guy. [He’s] definitely a leader. The younger guys can look up to him.”
Skokna credits his lack of playing to being able to grow more as a person. Having to go through tough times doubting himself and without having family members to lean on, he had to mature quicker than most.
Before coming to Loyola, he said he saw himself as the best. Now he’s accepted a supporting role to make sure his team is the best. Skokna said he’s happy when his team is winning even when he doesn’t necessarily play.
“He’s never made it about him,” Moser said. “It’s always about the team. It’s always about the program. He’s an elite student-athlete. He’s always put the team first.”
Skokna said if he had been playing more, he might not have learned that lesson.
Despite his lack of presence on the court, some fans still make sure to cheer for who they call the “unsung hero” of the Loyola men’s basketball team.
Sophomores Evan Cole and Brenden Fleming have been cheering their hearts out for the lone senior from the first game this season. They even went as far as to make signs specifically praising the 22-year-old.
“I felt like he didn’t get as much love,” said Cole, a mathematics major. “[Brenden and I] wanted to make sure Bruno got the recognition he deserved. It’s his senior year. He’s been a vital part of the team for the last four years.”
Skokna took note of the duo and made sure to thank them when he would see them outside of Gentile Arena.
When Skokna would begin to doubt himself or things got too hard, he said he remembered the fans cheering for him. He said it motivates him to keep going.
“They noticed [I wasn’t playing as much],” Skokna said “I felt like support kind of pushed me forward. Then towards the end of the year, more and more support was there. I’m very grateful.”