LOS ANGELES — Nik Vucevic made one of the best decisions of his life when he was just 16 years old.
He chose to leave Europe and spend his senior year of high school in the United States.
He spoke almost no English. He had never lived away from home for any significant amount of time. And he knew almost no one in the U.S.
"It was a tough decision just because it would be my first time away from my family," Vucevic said. "I'd be across the world. It'd be totally new for me. But I was happy and excited to come here and come to the States."
He came to Southern California.
Vucevic attended Stoneridge Preparatory School in Simi Valley, which is about 45 miles from Staples Center, where Vucevic's Orlando Magic played the Los Angeles Clippers late Monday night.
Vucevic was scheduled to start when the Magic opened their five-game road trip against the Clippers. He tested his ankle about 90 minutes before tipoff and reported no problems.
He had sat out Orlando's previous two games because of a sprained left ankle and had missed a total of six of his team's games so far this season.
The Magic lost all six games without him.
In those games, they were outscored on average by 16.0 points per game and were outrebounded by 13.2 boards per game.
Their offense and defense suffered, too.
The Magic made just 41.1 percent of their shots while opponents shot 45.2 percent from the field.
Some of Vucevic's best games as a Magic player have occurred at Staples Center. He held his own against Dwight Howard in the Magic's upset win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 2, 2012, and he scored 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in a victory over the Clippers on Jan. 12.
In a way, this area of the country is a second home to the 7-foot-tall center.
Vucevic remained here for college. He spent three years at the University of Southern California before he entered the 2011 NBA Draft.
His four years of school in the U.S. turned out to be a wise choice.
The experience acclimated him to American culture and allowed him to improve his English.
A native of Montenegro who was born in Switzerland and spent much of his youth in Belgium, Vucevic already was fluent in Serbian and in French.
But until he arrived in the U.S. in 2007, he only knew bits and pieces of the language. His year at Stoneridge Prep was a massive culture plunge.
"In Europe, when you're young and people talk about the States, you watch it through movies," Vucevic said after the Magic completed their shootaround Monday at Staples Center.
"Then I was coming to L.A. and Hollywood and all that. It was cool for me. That's the way I was thinking: It would be a good [opportunity] for me to come here. But it was tough at first because I was far from my family and friends."
In his first few months in California, he understandably spoke with one grammatical error after another, and he remembers feeling shy about speaking English.
"Tomorrow, I go eat," is one example of how he spoke shortly after he arrived here.
He picked up English quickly.
And, now, his English is almost flawless.
Almost as flawless as his decision to attend school in the States.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/magicblog and follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins.