Mike Brkovich was among Canada’s finest basketball players in the late 1970s and early ’80s. He played alongside Magic Johnson at Michigan State University, where he became the first Canadian to start an NCAA Championship game. He won that game as well as two Big 10 titles. Brkovich played for the Canadian National team and was drafted by the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks.
Born in Windsor on April 6, 1958, Brkovich attended Dougall Avenue Public School, where he competed in basketball, soccer, track and field, and volleyball.
In the 1973-74 season, Brkovich’s W. D. Lowe team won the WSSA and SWOSSA Junior titles during his freshman year. He graduated to the senior squad for Grade 10 and went on to win the full WSSA and SWOSSA titles in three consecutive seasons. In ’74-75, Brkovich’s Lowe team reached the OFSAA quarterfinals. In ’75-76 and ’76-77, Lowe won the OFSAA All-Ontario Championship. Brkovich, the team’s outstanding player, was named First-Team All-City and Lowe’s MVP in both seasons.
Michigan State University head coach Jud Heathcote invited Brkovich to a scrimmage alongside select NCAA and high school players in June 1977. Although Brkovich turned in an unimpressive workout and failed to seize his opportunity, Lowe head coach Gerry Brumpton convinced Heathcote that his player had more to offer. Brkovich spent the next week improving his game, and his second impression at MSU was significantly superior. In his return visit, Brkovich memorably dunked over MSU’s All-American Greg Kesler. He earned a scholarship.
Brkovich arrived at Michigan State as a limited player at the NCAA level – a zone-breaker with an excellent outside jump shot – but he quickly improved his overall skillset and became a productive member of the roster. Soon, Heathcote nicknamed Brkovich “the Golden Arm” as he considered his outstanding perimeter shooting ability among the best in the nation.
Brkovich played in all 27 games as a freshman during the 1977-78 season, mostly as the first guard option off the bench. He won the team’s Most Improved Player award at the end of the campaign, during which the Spartans won the Big 10 Championship and lost to Kentucky, the eventual NCAA Champions, in the Elite Eight of that year’s NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.
As a sophomore, Brkovich established himself as a starter mid-season. He completed a starting five that included Ervin “Magic” Johnson, Greg Kesler, Jay Vincent, and Terry Donnelly. Michigan State won the 1979 Big 10 and NCAA Championships, defeating Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores 75-64 in the National Championship Game. MSU employed a 2-3 matchup zone defence in the title contest, which meant that Brkovich and Magic teamed up to guard Bird’s side of the floor when Indiana State had possession.
The 1979-80 season was Brkovich’s statistically strongest. He averaged 8.8 points per game and hit double figures in 14 of 27 contests while leading MSU in assists with 96.
Brkovich co-captained the Spartans in ’80-81, his senior year.
Brkovich finished his NCAA career with 730 points and a 6.6 points-per-game average. He shot 80.5% from the free-throw line and an impressive 69% from the field.
Brkovich represented Canada at the 1979 Pan Am Games in Puerto Rico, where the team finished in fourth place. He was a prime candidate for the 1980 Moscow Olympics until Canada boycotted the Games.
The National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks drafted Brkovich in 1981, but he was the team’s final cut in training camp. He latched on with the CBA’s Milwaukee Flyers, for which he played out the ’81-82 season.
Brkovich returned home after the season and signed with the Windsor Senior Men’s Team. The team played exhibition games against NCAA schools each year and participated in occasional European tournaments. During a memorable match against Louisiana Tech, he found himself guarding future NBA great Karl Malone.