Every aspiring student-athlete can relate, the ultimate goal of playing any desired sport is to one day reach the peak of the profession. In the case of Dejan Vasiljevic, his aspirations are to one day make it to the NBA.
Although the process hasn’t been pleasing and will continue to feature bumps and bruises, there’s nothing cutting the former Miami Hurricanes captain from reaching his goal. In order to better pursue it, Vasiljevic made a life-changing decision in early July.
He’s going back home.
Raised in Melbourne, Australia, Vasiljevic signed a three-year deal with the Sydney Kings of the NBL, skipping the NBA Draft and instead pursuing a route he believes better equips him.
“The NBA is the ultimate goal,” the four-year letterman at Miami told 305 Sports back in July. “However, right now I’m concentrating on this season and developing my game, playing at the highest level and obviously trying to win a championship with the organization and bring that winning culture to the Sydney Kings.”
Vasiljevic was a fantastic addition to coach Jim Larranaga’s gameplan, providing consistent three-point shooting and leadership that not many possess. He finished his senior campaign averaging a career-best 13.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game on 35.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
The 23-year-old sharpshooter scored 1,271 points throughout his collegiate career, which ranks 21st on UM’s all-time list, and is second in three-pointers made with 272.
Despite the accolades, his likelihood of being selected in the 2020 NBA Draft was slim. Instead of letting things play out, Vasiljevic preferred to better his resume in a well-respected league that is the NBL.
“For me, it was all anew feeling because I didn’t know how to go about the entire process of signing my first professional contract,” he said. “My agents did a fantastic job on that end. I had a lot of interest from different NBL clubs and teams in Europe but I just felt the Sydney Kings were the right fit for me regarding their development and opportunity.”
This won’t be his first rodeo of playing in Australia for the 6-foot-3 guard, having attended the Australian Institute of Sport for high school and playing in multiple FIBA World Championships.
Vasiljevic led Australia to a Bronze medal at the World University Games in 2019, averaging a team-high 20.5 points per game on 48 percent shooting. His best outing came in the bronze-medal match, recording 33 points against Israel.
Ironically, he joins a Kings organization that features a coach he’s built a solid relationship with throughout those events.
“My relationship is really good with the coaching staff, especially with assistant coach Adam Forde,” he said. “Forde, as I call him, was an assistant coach for the past World University Games, so that played a big part in my decision on signing with the Kings.”
As for the team success, the Kings, headlined by former Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut, come off an impressive 20-8 season, deserving of the top spot in the standings. Still, they shot a poor 33.9 percent from deep, ranking second-last in the NBL.
That’s why Vasiljevic fits in so elequently.
“In terms of my role and expectations are, we want to compete at the highest level and win a championship,” he said. “My role obviously is to come in and be a scorer, be a leader and develop my game. Once I get there I will have a more clear understanding of how I will fit into the system by getting to know my teammates, and what they are also good at. I’ve met with head coach Will Weaver and assistant Adam Forde to put a plan into place on how I’m going to contribute but also develop my game to reach my ultimate goal of playing in the NBA.”
Now making the transition from the states to overseas, Vasiljevic hopes to bring the culture he inherited throughout his time under Larranaga. At the same time, his experience against top-notch ACC talent has him well prepared.
“I think the thing that I will carry over the most is being able to come in and work every day, bring my toughness and competitive alone with my passion for the game,” he said. You know it’s been along time since I’ve played in Australia in front of my family and my friends so I’m looking forward to going out there making a great impression, winning games, and trying to win Sydney a championship.
“… One advantage I have already in being able to transition from college to the NBL is that I played against ACC caliber players day in and day out. I was able to compete against NBA talent, like Jayson Tatum, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, all those guys like it was never a night off in the ACC. Therefore, I had to bring my ‘A’ game every night.”
With his professional debut becoming a new goal in mind, Vasiljevic has held a ‘no excuse’ mindset in regard to training for the big event.
“I’ve been working out every day, three times a day with cardio, lifting and getting on the court,” he said.
The future is bright for Vasiljevic. We’re in for a treat.