Jasmina Parazic loves to teach, and the basketball court is her classroom. The former University of Maryland women's basketball standout finds joy in instilling the fundamentals in her students: proper shooting form, how to throw the perfect bounce pass, the right way to play defense.
Parazic also stresses fun as much as fundamentals -- much more so than winning.
"Everyone thinks [coaching] is about Xs and Os, but nobody realizes it's about teaching," Parazic said.
To feed her passion, Parazic founded MD Sports, a Montgomery County-based nonprofit organization that uses sports to teach children to be successful, both on and off the court. MD Sports runs clinics and camps for children of all ages in basketball, soccer, flag football, lacrosse, tennis and volleyball.
Parazic's reach will grow this fall, as she takes over as varsity girls' basketball coach at the Bullis School in Potomac. It will be the latest step in an athletic career that has produced pleasant surprises at most every step.
Parazic -- affectionately known as "Jazz" -- played a variety of sports growing up in Novisad, Yugoslavia, but her favorite sport by far was soccer. She often played against boys who were much older and held her own. But eventually, she ran into a problem: girls didn't play competitive soccer at that time in Yugoslavia.
"Boys would watch me and laugh," Parazic said. "By age 10, I realized there were no women's teams anywhere so I decided to switch to basketball."
Making the conversion did not take long. After honing her skills on the playgrounds of Novisad, Parazic's father sent her to high school in Germany so she could learn English. She played on the high school's basketball team and her coaches pushed her to come to the United States. One of the coaches filmed her playing in a pick-up game and sent the tape to coaches at Michigan, UCLA, Hawaii and Maryland.
Hawaii sent an assistant coach to visit Parazic in Germany while Maryland offered her their last scholarship. Having never visited the United States, and wanting desperately to see Washington, D.C., Parazic chose Maryland.
The move to the U.S. meant Parazic was facing another transition. It was more than she imagined.
"When I got to the U.S. I knew nothing about the history of women and sports in this country," said Parazic. "I realized everyone was good. I learned I had to work hard to get better, but once I did I really had fun."
Fun came in the form of leading Maryland to three consecutive ACC Tournament Championship victories, playing in the first NCAA women's Final Four in 1982 and racking up several personal awards.
She was a two-time all-ACC tournament first-team selection and still ranks 10th on Maryland's all-time leading scorers list. She is one of only three Terrapins women's players to have her jersey number honored, and she went on to play on the 1984 Yugoslavian Olympic team and, more recently, for the WNBA's New York Liberty. Since her playing days ended, Parazic said she has been offered assistant coaching jobs with college programs, including Maryland and George Washington. Until recently, resisted a return to the sidelines.
She even worked as a sports agent for a short time, but "hated it."
"As much as I love helping people that wasn't for me," said Parazic. "What I do now fits every aspect of my life."
At MD Sports, she runs an open gym at the Tilden Center in Rockville on Fridays. From 6 to 8 p.m., boys and girls of all ages, many of whom play on AAU teams, can drop by to play in pick-up games or to individually work on their skills. Then, from 8 to 10 p.m., Parazic conducts a skills clinic for anyone who wants tips.
She also coached an under-12 girls' basketball team for the Maryland Flames organization. She accepted the decision after learning that the team needed a coach and would fold if it didn't find a new one.
That team quickly was molded after Parazic's teaching beliefs. Parazic refused to cut players and instead focused on individual improvement -- often at the cost of victories. "We've lost games because we teach" said Parazic, now in her third year with the Flames, "but it's worth it when you see players improving every year."
Early on the team's struggles were evident.
"When we started two years ago we were playing down an age group and losing by 20," Parazic said. "Now we're playing up and competing. Coaching this team happened by accident and now I love it."
The parents of Parazic's players appreciate her coaching methods.
"My daughter played recreation basketball before," said Maureen Brown whose daughter, Melissa, now plays for Parazic. "Most of the other coaches were screaming fathers, but Jazz is really about fundamentals. My daughter plays on her middle school team and you can see the difference between the way she and the other girls play."
Part of what makes Parazic's methods unique is that she teaches all of her players to play all five positions on the court. As a 6-foot-1 point guard, Parazic was used to dominating because of her height during her playing day. But she realized that she needed to understand what every player on the court does in order for her to improve as an individual.
Her coaching style has proven attractive. One player, formerly a member of the competitive travel team, chose instead to play for Parazic in hopes of becoming a better overall player.
"She could put on clinics for coaches," said Mark Weatherly, the father of one of Parazic's players and a Flames assistant coach. "No doubt she is one of the best AAU coaches in the area. The kids are learning things now that most probably don't learn until college. . . . She has changed the way I coach and look at the game."
When Bullis lost its varsity girls' basketball coach this spring, school officials contacted Parazic at the recommendation of a parent of one of her former players. Besides taking over one of the Washington area's top programs, Parazic agreed to teach physical education, coach a middle school basketball team and either middle school or junior varsity soccer at Bullis.
She'll still coach the Maryland Flames and run MD Sports. In fact, Parazic said Bullis has offered her the perfect combination of teaching and coaching she enjoys.
"I would love to develop the programs there," said Parazic. "I believe I can turn almost anyone into a player if they're willing to put in the work."