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Sasa says “new challenges” await; Vuls big man Vuksanovic to turn pro

  • Hawaii Pacific photo Sasa Vuksanovic’s post presence will be missed by UH-Hilo men’s basketball team, as will his easygoing manner off the court.

It’s goodbye to Sasa Vuksanovic, UH-Hilo’s multi-skilled post with an efficient scoring ability and an engaging personality who fostered great team chemistry, and hello to Kameron Ng, the best Hawaii prep player two years running as a multi-skilled guard out of Saint Francis and a UH-Manoa sophomore transfer.

Vuksanovic, a 6-foot-10 senior from Serbia, is leaving the Vulcans to turn professional. He departs today for Texas to visit an aunt and his cousins. Then he’ll return home to Serbia at the end of April.

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He wants to finish his degree in kinesiology and talk with his parents before signing with an agent. There is no pro draft in Europe, where the key to landing a contract is signing with an agent with a network of contacts.

Vuksanovic, who averaged 15.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game and shot 52 percent on field goals, felt ready to turn pro. Under the NCAA’s coronavirus status, he was eligible to repeat his senior season.

“I’m ready for new challenges,” he said. “The next step is to find a good and truthful agent, and at the same time work on my basketball game and my body as well.”

As productive and efficient as he was, the Vulcans will miss Vuksanovic’s off-court presence much more. He had the type of fun-loving personality to warm anybody on a cold, rainy day.

“We’re rooting for him. He’s going to represent UHH well, whichever pro league he ends up at,” coach Kaniela Aiona said. “We’ll miss him, first of all as a person. He’s a great young man, a great teammate. He showed up and worked hard every day. He brought a great personality and attitude to the court.

“We’ll miss his inside presence and his production on the glass. It’s always great to have a guy we can count on with touches in the paint. When we put the ball in his hands, he knows how to do the right thing.”

Aiona said UHH is actively recruiting all positions, but at least he’s snagged a talented scorer in Ng, who never found a fit and played in only four games and averaged 5.5 minutes per game for the Rainbow Warriors, who’ve had five players leave the program.

UHH hasn’t finished the paperwork on Ng, so Aiona is unable to comment, but Ng confirmed his transfer on Twitter.

To those who remember him from his days at Saint Francis, when the Saints won consecutive Division II state title in 2017 and ’18, the Vulcans will get a deft ball-handler, who can attack the rim with a nifty hesitation move, shoot off-the-dribble mid-range shots, or drill 3-pointers. Basically, he’ll open the offense because he can create his own shot and force double teams and rotation covers when he dribble penetrates to the rim.

In 2018, Ng’s senior season, the Saints blitzed Damien 76-52 for the state title. He scored 29 points despite the Monarchs centering the defense on him. He shot 8 of 17 from the field, including 3 of 4 from long distance, and made 10 of 12 free throws. No matter what they threw at him, Ng found a way to score, something the Vulcans will desperately need with Vuksanovic’s departure.

Forward Aniwaniwa Tait-Jones was second on UHH in shooting percentage at 50 percent, guard Darren Williams shot 43 percent, but the offense struggled with 3-point shooting at a 30 percent clip.

If the Vulcans don’t recruit an immediate impact post player like Tait-Jones, who averaged 16.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg, the likely candidate to fill Sasa’s shoes is junior transfer Jabari Sweet, who came aboard late in the season and played in only six games.

He’s 6-8 and 215 pounds, built like a tight end, and averaged 13 ppg and 7 rpg at Chabot College in California. The forward from Sacramento, Calif., shot 52 percent from the field.

“He’s versatile, a good athlete, who can alter shots, and score inside,” Aiona said. “He’s got a pretty good face-up game and can shot from 15 to 18 feet. He can score with his back to the basket. He’s unselfish. He’ll look to pass to his teammates. So there are a lot of positives on that end.”

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One positive to all of Hilo’s rain is Aiona is spending his free time finger painting with his young son, Kaleihoa. He’s recording all the March Madness games. So don’t spoil the news for him with any texts.

He’ll get there and so will Vuksanovic, who leaves while a new face in Ng arrives.

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