With legends on his side, Tristan Vukcevic eyes NBA dream

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With legends on his side, Tristan Vukcevic eyes NBA dream originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

LAS VEGAS — Tristan Vukcevic remembers checking into a game for Real Madrid back in 2021 and going up to then-Barcelona big man Pau Gasol to inform the Hall of Famer he loved watching his highlights on YouTube.

“It’s a pleasure to play against you,” Vukcevic told Gasol.

Two years later, just days after he was drafted in the second round by the Washington Wizards, Vukcevic received a phone call from Pau’s brother Marc.

“He just called me, he said he loves my game and wanted to give me advice,” Vukcevic told NBC Sports Washington. “He just told me the differences in the NBA and how life is in the NBA, like how to get adjusted. Whenever I’m wondering or have any specific questions, to feel free to always call him. I feel grateful for that. He’s a legend.”

The Gasols are two of many NBA players who have impacted Vukcevic’s basketball life. He also counts three-time All-Star Peja Stojakovic as a mentor. Those are the perks that come with being the son of a professional basketball player.

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Growing up around the sport, Vukcevic started hooping at an early age. He says his first birthday present was a mini basketball hoop.

“Basketball has always been in my life and in my blood,” he said.

Tristan’s father, Dusan Vukcevic, played a decade of pro ball. featuring a run in the EuroLeague for Real Madrid, where Vukcevic later played as a teenager. A 6-foot-7 sharpshooting forward, Dusan played alongside Wizards assistant coaches Joseph Blair and David Vanterpool at different stops. He was even teammates with current Wizards player Danilo Gallinari back before Gallinari joined the NBA.

His father is well-known in European basketball and following in his footsteps has brought its challenges, Vukcevic said.

“It’s honestly like a lot of pressure, but I don’t think that hurts me, I think it helps me. After a bad game, my dad was always honest with me. He never told me I was the best. That always just made me keep going,” Vukcevic said.

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Vukcevic, 20, has lived in Italy, Greece, Spain and Serbia. He considers Athens his home, as that’s where he spends his offseasons.

His father is Serbian and Vukcevic owns a Serbian passport. He takes great pride in his heritage, especially as a professional athlete.

“Serbia is a basketball country, it’s in our blood. They say it’s a good time to be Serbian. [Nikola] Jokic is the best player in the NBA right now. [Novak] Djokovic is No. 1 in tennis. It’s an athletic country, we rely a lot on our sports,” Vukcevic said.

Vukcevic’s next home could be Washington, D.C. The Wizards have yet to determine where he will play next season, but he may end up in the NBA if Washington’s front office and coaching staff decide to give him a roster spot in the fall.

Vukcevic said after a Las Vegas Summer League game his hope is to play in the NBA right away. He expressed that to teams during the pre-draft process.

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Whether he makes his NBA debut next season or at a later date, Vukcevic feels he got a good grasp of what he needs to improve on during his time in Vegas. He says the NBA is faster-paced and less structured on offense. He hopes to speed up his decision-making and be more aggressive looking for his own shot.

On defense, he aims to improve his footwork and anticipation. Defending pick-and-rolls will require him to sometimes switch onto guards and they are quicker in the NBA than they are in Europe.

The Summer League provided Vukcevic an early glimpse of what he hopes will be a long and successful NBA career. As he continues his basketball journey, he will have some members of European basketball royalty rooting for him every step of the way.

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