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Former New Hyde Park star Lisa Karcic, the pride of Croatia

Villanova's Lisa Karcic runs the ball past Notre

Villanova's Lisa Karcic runs the ball past Notre Dame's Erica Solomon during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference women's tournament. Photo Credit: AP, 2009

It will be "funny," former New Hyde Park High School basketball star Lisa Karcic said, to be playing against the U.S. women in Saturday's Olympic basketball opener.

"A lot of people are always, like, 'Well, why don't you play with the U.S.,' " Karcic said by email from Croatia, where she has spent a second summer training with that country's national team. "Most of whom aren't too familiar with the basketball world.

"But, of course, the U.S. is extremely competitive and home to some of the best players in the world. I would be nice to be able to represent the country where you've lived your whole life, but Croatia is just as much a part of me as the U.S. I'm proud to call Croatia my home now and, come game time, I'm 100 percent Cro!"

Because her father is Croatian-born -- he immigrated to the United States when he was 30 -- Karcic has dual citizenship, and the old country hardly is foreign to her. "We had a few [family] visits when I was younger," she said, "and even once in college, I went just with my dad."

Most of her teammates and coaches -- Karcic is the only member of the team with dual citizenship -- speak English and she has "picked up a lot of Croatian." She has plenty of travel experience; upon graduation from Villanova University, she began her professional basketball career in Cyprus, spent her second season in Finland, her third in Spain. After the Olympics, she expects to be based with a team in Spain or France.

A 6-1 forward who twice was Newsday's Nassau County (2003, '04) high school player of the year and twice led Villanova in three-point shooting, Karcic hardly is laboring in some basketball backwater. Before the post-Communist splintering of Yugoslavia, which led to Croatia's declaration of independence from that nation in 1991, Croats was a significant part of Yugoslavia's Olympic women's teams that won bronze in 1980, placed fifth in 1984 and won silver in 1988.

"After my second season overseas," Karcic said, "I was contacted by the [Croatian] coach to attend a tryout and I ended up making the team. Playing for Croatia always was an aspiration of mine. I had joked around in high school, and even with some of my family when I was younger, that I would be in the 2012 Olympics. Never thought it would really happen."

Now it has, Karcic surely deserves a proclamation of "to je dobro!" (Oh, that's good.) And a hearty "sretno!" (Good luck.)

New York Sports