UH-Hilo’s Sasa Vuksanovic, a 6-foot-9 senior, has had to make adjustments all his life, making him a perfect fit for the PacWest pod season where nothing will stay the same playing Hawaii Pacific and Chaminade multiple times.
Every time the Sharks and Silverswords play the Vulcans, they’ll throw a different defensive monkey wrench at Vuksanovic, who’s from Serbia. But the former 6-8 point guard will be ready.
Wait, what? A 6-8 point guard? Yup, Vuksanovic was a ball-handler and distributor growing up.
He played in a junior pro league, attracted the attention of a coach, and landed in Maine for a high school prep season. From there, he played one season at McLennan College in Texas and Sheridan College in Wyoming.
Vuksanovic had to make an adjustment to different cultures each year and being far from home. The biggest challenge was learning to play in the paint, a different ballgame for someone who spent his life on the perimeter.
“It was pretty hard. I had a tough time,” he said. “It was my first year in Texas, and I was the tallest on the team. I learned how to do it, and now I like it.”
Vuksanovic is a tough cover because he’s a three-level scorer, able to post and score with either hand, shoot mid-range jumpers or step out beyond the arc and fire 3-pointers.
“I had to make an adjustment when I came over here,” he said. “The players here are faster and stronger.”
But one thing Vuksanovic learned in Serbia was mental toughness. Coaches there yell and slap you on the head. Do that here in America and a coach is given his walking papers. Over there in Serbia, they call that tough love.
“The coaches can beat you, slap you on the head, yell at you. It’s a lot of pressure,” said Vuksanovic, who’s majoring in kinesiology and wants to play pro ball.
The Vulcans suffer a double whammy when Vuksanovic gets into foul trouble. They lose a versatile scorer and a mobile defender.
“He’s one of a kind,” coach Kaniela Aiona said. “We don’t have another one in the program who can finish with both hands, has good touch and the most underrated part of his game is he’s a willing passer. It’s an asset when he can find the open man.
“We’re going to rely on him to do a great job on the glass. He has to be committed to rebounding. He’s our only true big and our anchor on the defensive end.”
Last season, Vuksanovic was an effective scorer, converting 53.6% from the field, the highest on the team. But he was Shaq-like from the free-throw line at 50%.
No doubt, he’ll make an adjustment to get that percentage higher. It should be a piece of cake for Vuksanovic, who’s spent his life making adjustments.
His main backup will be Tom Power, a 6-8 junior from New Zealand, who averaged 14.7 minutes and 2.7 rebounds per game.
“We’ll rely on Tom to do a lot of dirty work,” Aiona said. “He’s not the biggest guy, but we need him to really step up. He’s not afraid of contact.”