Our CanesHoops Consigliere, Josh Frank (@JoshDaCane) was able to get an exclusive interview with Dejan Vasiljevic back in November and we are fortunate once again that Dejan granted him another Q&A for State Of The U!
Many observers point to globalization and the rapid advancement of technology as major shifts in the world in recent decades. On a much smaller scale, this influence is felt on the increasingly competitive world of college basketball recruiting. No longer are a handful of "rich" or resourceful programs looking to find a gem hidden away from their competitors, hoping that a player they've heard about or seen only once is more stud than stiff when he arrives in the States. Now, major competitions are scouted as heavily as domestic AAU and high school tournaments, and streamed worldwide for those who aren't able to attend in person.
Dejan Vasiljevic broke out in a big way at the biggest competitions - leading Australia to a silver medal at the 2014 FIBA 17U World Championships and earning All-Tournament honors, and as the country's leading scorer playing up an age group in the 2015 FIBA 19U World Championships. With his reputation established, the 6'2" guard fielded offers from schools such as LSU, Louisville and Texas, and ultimately visited Stanford and St. Mary's before choosing Miami last month.
The new Hurricanes commit again graciously agreed to an email interview with us - this time from western Australia, where he has temporarily joined the Perth Wildcats, one of Australia's most successful professional basketball franchises, as a developmental player after graduating from high school at the Centre of Excellence in December. Again, his answers were so comprehensive that we've to run the entire exchange, lightly edited and annotated [in bracketed italics] for clarity and context, and any mistakes are ours.
SOTU: First, please tell us about your visit. Who was your host? Besides attending the FSU game and a practice, what else did you do and see as part of the official visit? What were your favorite parts of the trip, from both a basketball and non-basketball perspective?
DV: The overall experience with the visit was just incredible; however, it was extremely busy due to a number of meetings and tour of campus in the space of allowed 48 hours. The entire coaching staff was my host at certain times and they were really approachable considering that was in the middle of their preparation for a very important game. I should mention one of the managers, Viraj Kulhari, who was our host during the game. The real question is what didn't I get to see! I saw the entire campus, was provided with an opportunity to meet the academic advisor, faculty and program advisors and many other people who would assist me during my time at the University. My favorite part from a basketball perspective was the game day routine and what it included in the preparation for every game. From a non-basketball perspective, what really stood out was friendly and encouraging environment which included the players, the coaching and the support staff. Mrs. L [Coach Larrañaga's wife, Liz] was really special ensuring first that we were looked after and then second that no breaches of the NCAA rules were committed. An outstanding personality!
SOTU: What was your feeling stepping into the arena for an ACC rivalry game? How did the environment compare to what you'd seen on TV, or any games and tournaments you have played in?
DV: I have attended professional games in the past, including the NBA All-Star [when he was part of the 2015 Basketball Without Borders Global Camp], but I have never experienced such an excitement stepping into the arena against FSU. The coaches were genuinely concerned with the crowd since it was an off-school game [school was in winter break, with classes starting the following Monday]; on the contrary the students turned up in a large number and what they created gave me goose bumps. Dick Vitale was great dancing with cheerleaders, and the atmosphere was simply crazy and it made me want to step on the court and take part in action. I really appreciated the experience, with the players approaching the game with such professionalism and the crowd being so electrifying. I believe the organization should be very proud of ensuring such a support; basically the arena is completely sold out for this season.
SOTU: Could you please tell us what it was like to meet Coach L and the other coaches and players after being recruited from a distance for so long (having only met Coach Fisher, correct)?
DV: From the first moment, Coach L was there - he greeted us at the airport, made sure he could pronounce our names properly, which can be very challenging, and then every spare moment of his time, he would either spend with me or with my family. He is simply an unbelievable person, such a great coach with a great experience in college basketball. It was really interesting to see how the whole coaching team operated considering that almost everyone was half the age of Coach L. Many wonder about success this program has or has had, but they should meet the coaching staff to understand the way they approach all tasks and their overall intentions, which all has started transferring into a successful recruiting campaign. Their ability to convey their vision and immerse me into their enthusiasm was really great and was one of the reasons for my decision. I will definitely do my best to contribute in achieving overall, team and personal goals.
SOTU: As an international prospect, you took visits together rather than over a series of individual weekends, and you brought your family with you. Who came on your visit with you? During the unofficial downtime - in Miami, in California, or elsewhere, what else did you have a chance to see and visit?
DV: While really draining, taking visits together had its advantages. First, due to the NCAA requirements there is no real downtime so I was able to ‘compare notes' easy - I did not have to remind myself all the time and simply asked the same questions. My whole family, mum, dad and my little sister, accompanied me during the visits, which really worked as a charm - if I forgot to ask something, someone would step in to direct me properly - mum was more concerned with the environment (weather, distances, availability of facilities), while my dad was more into academia and basketball. I think my sister was more interested in asking questions that would help her decide on a college than assisting me in my decision, but she was really happy to be part of the experience.
Many people don't realize that actually there is no downtime during these visits. As per the NCAA rules, these visits should be finalized within 48 hours, so a little time could have been allocated for sightseeing. I did not see much in Miami, so I can't really say that the South Beach played any role in my decision. Due to last minute itinerary changes, we visited St. Mary's College unofficially, which allowed me to ask questions relevant to transitioning from high school to college environment. Coaches [Randy] Bennett and [Marty] Clarke were exceptional allocating their time to assist me with my questions. I also had an opportunity to meet my former teammates and current Gaels players [Dane] Pineau, [Kyle] Clark, [Jordan] Hunter and [Tanner] Krebs, and ask them about their experience with transition. It was also great to compare the campuses on these three locations. We did not have much time for anything else since on our way back from Moraga we got stuck in traffic.
SOTU: You returned home for a week before announcing your decision. When did you know that you were going to choose Miami? Ultimately, why did you choose Miami?
DV: I believe my decision surprised some since they may have seen me as part of the Stanford program due to their outstanding academic standing and reputation. But from the start, I was outright open with everyone involved in recruiting me that I was interested in both aspects of this experience - basketball and education. So when I returned home, I had to really assess properly which college would provide me with the best support to achieve my short and long term goals. I had to do additional research on the standing of undergraduate programs and current curricula and made additional inquiry with contacts in the US and Australia to provide me with some additional insights into these basketball programs and the conferences. On top of all this, I had to have a serious discussion with my family and get their impressions of the colleges involved. At the start of the process, which was almost 2 years ago, my dad asked me to be really honest of my intentions and keep everyone informed, which really worked well on most occasions. In the final stage of the decision making this paid off, since I have developed really good relationships with many coaches and scouts, not directly linked to these programs but with a really good understanding where these programs were heading. And they gave me their objective inputs.
So in the end it was Miami that was the best fit to my plans. It certainly provided me with the required balance between basketball and academics to allow me for a proper development in both areas. The business program at UM was broad enough to provide me with a good foundation for the future since I plan on continuing with a graduate school after basketball. I also felt a part of the basketball vision. The coaching staff was really open and outright honest telling me that I was not the only one good at research - they did research on me, basically dissecting me fully to show my strengths and weaknesses. They showed how they could utilize my strengths immediately and what I need to improve to be a key factor on their future team.
SOTU: Did being part of what many are calling Miami's best recruiting class ever (it is ranked in the top 10 by several analysts, prior to your commitment) mean anything to you? Did you have the opportunity to meet Dewan Huell on your visit or to talk to either of the other commits before you made your decision?
DV: To be honest, I am still puzzled with rankings since personally these mean very little to me. What really matters is the performance on the court. Personally, I like the way current players have been replaced by newcomers, which will ensure that the Canes will remain very competitive in years to come. I hope we all will contribute our best to be successful and hopefully bring that maiden NCAA championship to Coral Gables. I had an opportunity to meet Dewan Huell after the game against FSU and chat with him about his impressions. I can say that I am very excited and looking forward to playing with Dewan and the other commits (Bruce Brown and Rodney Miller).
SOTU: What have the coaches told you about what they perceive your role to be next year, and moving forward, as the current class features four players who could all see the floor at the same time?
DV: With departure of Angel Rodriguez, I am left with huge shoes to fill. As a freshman, I can certainly make an immediate impact with the toughness and scoring ability but also the experience of playing at two World Championships. However, as I mentioned before there are several areas of my game that I need to improve to be able to compete at the next stage. Looking at 2016 commit list with remaining team members, I would say that exciting times are ahead.
SOTU: What is the plan going forward? What do you do to prepare for making that sort of move and adjustment? When do you plan to arrive and do you intend to participate in summer school?
DV: The plan is to join the program early to give me a head start in school and in preparation for the new season, so I will arrive mid-May. Until then my calendar is full of events. At the moment, I am part of the Perth Wildcats squad. The Wildcats are a professional team here in Australia with several imports, including Casey Prather, who was a member of the Gators during their successful NCAA run in 2014, and Jermaine Beal, a former Vanderbilt player and graduate. Matching up against these former college talents is invaluable experience especially with their first-hand knowledge of the collegiate competitions. I am also committed to the State preparations for the upcoming U20 National Championships in Ipswich, and to Diamond Valley BigV Championship Men team with the season starting in March. There is also an opportunity to be invited to the Nike Hoop Summit at the beginning of April, where I would play along with the best athletes from around the world against the best 10-12 US athletes. So the schedule is full on.
SOTU: I saw that we are recruiting your national teammate, Deng Gak, who is now in school in the United States. Do you know of any other Australians or COE teammates who we are recruiting for future classes, in either men's or women's hoops?
DV: One thing is for sure - Deng Gak is a great basketball player and even better guy off the court. Definitely he is a person I would love to play with in the future and hopefully he commits to the Canes next recruiting year! It will be interesting to see how the next generation performs in the Worlds and the State championships since these are the places Australian talents can be fully identified. At the moment I am not aware of any current interests but I will instruct coaches to watch the U17 Worlds, which take place in June/July this year. These games are streamed live and provide an excellent opportunity for everyone to see what is available internationally. One of the names frequently mentioned is younger brother of Harry Froling's, Sam, who appears more versatile than his brother. As for women's prospects, again plenty of talents in Australia and my sister also showed keen interest into the women's program at the U.
SOTU: Thanks again for taking the time - is there anything else you want to Miami fans to know now that you're on board?
DV: No worries, I am a guy that loves to chill and relax, but when it comes to business whether in the gym or school, I am a workhorse giving it all. I'd like to thank you for your keen interest and invite all our fans to come out and support us in future years. Exciting times ahead!