CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Dejan Vasiljevic is a native of Canada with Serbian roots who grew up in Australia and has now found a home as a shooting guard for the Miami Hurricanes.
Vasiljevic is the most well-traveled member of a talented freshman class already playing a significant role for the Hurricanes, who compete in an eight-team tournament in Orlando beginning Thursday.
In Miami’s first three games, all wins, Vasiljevic has averaged 11.7 points while going 9 for 18 from 3-point range.
“He can really, really shoot,” coach Jim Larranaga said. “I told him he reminds me of me — a really good offensive player who doesn’t play much D. He really tries, but you’re guarding a different kind of player, an athlete who is very skilled, and he hasn’t faced that kind of athlete on a regular basis. So he’s learning.”
Vasiljevic’s background suggests he’s quick to adapt.
“My parents are from the former Yugoslavia,” he said. “Because of the war, they decided to move here and there.”
He was born in Calgary and moved to Melbourne when he was 6. He has Canadian and Australian citizenship, and plans to apply eventually for citizenship in Serbia, where he still has family. His parents and sister live in Australia.
His unusual accent — mostly Aussie, a bit Serbian — made him somewhat difficult for teammates to understand at first.
“I’m trying to get rid of the Australian slang in my speech,” said Vasiljevic, who pronounces his name DAY-on Vass-EEL-uh-vitch and goes by DJ. “At first they didn’t know what I was trying to say, but I’ve gotten into their vocabulary and how they speak.”
Teammate Ja’Quan Newton said Vasiljevic was shy and quiet when he first arrived.
“But now he’s talking the language we talk,” Newton said. “He’s picking up our lingo. He’s very playful.”
And he can play. His parents both played semi-professional handball, but he took up basketball at 12 and quickly became hooked, modeling his game after Croatian NBA star Drazen Petrovic, who died in a car crash four years before Vasiljevic was born.
Vasiljevic has given the young Hurricanes a perimeter threat as the offense retools after the departure of last season’s leading scorers, Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez.
His shooting ability caught the eye of college recruiters in the summer of 2015 playing for a U-19 team in Europe. He made visits to Miami and Stanford and chose the Hurricanes because he liked Larranaga and the weather.
“I thought it was the perfect fit for me,” he said. “It’s a new family to me, a new home.”
Vasiljevic’s parents probably won’t make it to the United States this season to see him play in person. He said he misses mom’s cooking, and notes there are no longer kangaroos in his backyard.
But the biggest adjustment has been dealing with cars driving on the right-hand side of the road, opposite from Australia. He’s in no rush to obtain a U.S. driver’s license and gets where he’s going mostly by walking, which isn’t much of a problem because he lives on campus.
Vasiljevic wants to get a degree and plans on a four-year stay rather than an early exit for the NBA. He likes Miami so well he helped land two prospects in next year’s recruiting class and would be happy to give other prep players his sales pitch.
“I’m 2 for 2,” he said. “Let’s see if I can keep it going.”
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