Dejan Vasiljevic is used to the spotlight– he seems to shine brighter when the pressure mounts.

By Jarrod Potter via Basketball Victoria.

It was his moment to shine at schools last year. The long-time Victoria Metropolitan and Australian representative hadn’t featured in the Helloworld Australian School Championships before then… but what a debut tournament he brought to Canberra.

With a gold medal around his neck and the perfect end to his time on the school courts – what did he take away from the experience? Cameraderie – between team mates, opponents and other players you meet at the championships – and having a great time made the most difference.

“Just got to play hard I guess, but the main thing is to just have fun,” Vasiljevic said. “You’re there for a week with pretty much your best friends, the kids you go to school with and your coach is probably like a father figure to you during the tournament.

“Make a lot of new friends too – whether in the lower divisions or the higher division that I played in – you have fun on the court, the referees talk to you and you just have fun.”

“It was an amazing experience – having that week just for my team mates and my school representing Canberra and Lake Ginninderra as well.

“And winning that championship was probably the best week of that year and it was a great tournament to be a part of.”

Few could match his explosiveness and tenacious work-rate as Vasiljevic starred in an already all-star Lake Ginninderra side. They had the team on paper and the rest of the competition knew it. With Vasiljevic, fellow collegiate athlete Jack White and Bul Kuol carving up the Championship Men’s Division, everyone was gunning for the Lakers.

But that was outside their control – DJ and his mates just focused on the tasks at hand.

“We were the team – we were the ones being hunted because of myself and Jack White – who is at Duke now,” Vasiljevic said. “We were the hunted team and a talented squad, but we had so much confidence in us and the way we practiced twice a week leading up into the tournament – we had tremendous confidence coming in to win that championship and we did.

“The performance I put in myself, I just felt like I was comfortable with the team and we came about winners.”

Taking apart Ignatius Park College 90-75 in the Championship final was the crowning achievement of his 2015. He lapped up any perceived pressure and enjoyed his moment under the spotlight.

The big stage has been his playground for years after all, having gone to two World Championships and countless national titles, but this time around it was all about the team.

Whatever he did in the championship game was only for the championship and not his own stat-sheet. With that sheer determination to push Lake G across the line, Vasiljevic lit up the Tuggeranong Southern Cross Stadium.

It was the fitting start and end to his time in the school jersey, as Vasiljevic dropped 45 points and reeled in 14 rebounds. But that was what the team needed – not what he coveted – and in the end it’s the championship with mates that he remembers most fondly.

 “I’m kind of used to the big stage right now,” Vasiljevic said. “Throughout my junior career growing up and having that big moment and taking those big shots I needed to, but those 45 points doesn’t mean anything to me, the championship means more it’s just what I did for the team.

“Alongside no one says I also had 14 rebounds so I did just what I had to do for the team.

It was always something he wanted to feature in, but his hectic schedule could not accommodate the school championships until last season. His drive and motivation always meant another team was knocking on his door and another camp, squad or tournament was just around the corner.

It wasn’t always that way. That hunger to succeed started in Year 9 after he was cut from the first side. From then on, Vasiljevic went to work.

Training harder. Performing better. Excelling everywhere.

The results started mounting as he popped up onto the Victorian and Australian radar… and his ticket to Lake G proved the perfect final stage for his transition to the senior ranks.

“It all started in the ninth grade when I got cut from the first team – I just wanted to be better than everybody I guess and just worked hard,” Vasiljevic said. “You can ask anyone in Victoria and Australia how hard I worked to be better than anyone.

“After that my junior career just kicked off – making state teams, making national teams, performing at big stages and moving to Canberra and playing in that school championship was probably the best thing and I’m proud of what I’ve done.”

With ‘national school champion’ added to his junior resume, DJ had a short stint with Diamond Valley’s BIG V team before packing his bags and heading to Miami to join The U.

The freshman guard is learning the ropes as he takes his game to the desired next level, and he’s kept up the hard work he cultivated in Victoria and has transplanted to the Hurricanes.

“Bit of ups and downs as a freshman – a lot of learning and getting to know the guys,” Vasiljevic said. “The competition is a lot different as I mentioned before – a lot of athletic guys, quicker guys, and you just have to adjust.”

Therein lies the great opportunity a tournament like the Australian School Championships can provide. Whether you win the title, battle for the minor placings or just come for the experience – there’s always something bold to aim for on and off the school courts.