Serbian prospects scouting service had an exclusive chance to talk with Vasa Pušica– Serbian PG from Northeastern university. Pušica was one of the most notable European players in this season of NCAA Division 1 basketball. He led his team to a CAA conference title and spot in March Madness. Serbian guard was top scorer in the NCAA regular season among Europeans- averaging 17.9ppg.
We spoke with him about his NCAA experience, individual development and future basketball plans. Read more about it in further lines:
Last season was very successful for you and your team, as well. You have played on March Madness after a while, what are your overall impressions after the season has ended and how does it feel like to be a Conference champion?
We were really close to get to the March Madness in last season, too, we were up by 17 in the second half of the Conference Final game and lost the game in the end eventually. That loss really hurts, specially knowing that you were that close of something that is really big here in the USA like March Madness. Overall, this season was much better than previous one, despite the fact we had many injury troubles so basically we didn’t have full game roster ready never in this season. I was injured, as well, on the beginning of the season. However, it is huge success to win the conference and play on March Madness, it is something that colleges live for here. Game against Kansas in the round 1 of March Madness was not something to remember. We played against the team that is on another level athletic wise and it was really tough to play it. To sum it up, it was good season for us, and great two years on Northeastern University.
Speaking about CAA conference Final, you have played against Hofstra university which was regular season champion and their player Justin Wright- Foreman was CAA player of the year. Have you expected to reach the final of CAA Conference Tournament?
We played against them twice in the regular season. First game we played away and lost it by a buzzer beating shot, we played the end of the game in a bad way and lost the game by our mistakes basically, but we also felt even then that we are better team. We knew they won’t be a major problem for us. We have prepared well and always had good and easy solutions for matchup zone defense they play. Second game in the regular season we won by 15 at home so we were confident to beat them in the Tournament final game, as well. Team that scared us the most was Charleston, since we lost against them in the last year’s conference final game.
You have won many individual awards this year, which one would you separate as more important than others?
Every award is important, ofcourse. It gives me both motivation and reward for work I put in. It is really hard to get any award, specially here in the USA. The most significant one for me was to be in All CAA Conference first team. A lot of people were saying that I have deserved to be a player of the year in previous season, but Foreman won it by two votes. However, this year he played on a way better level, was the top scorer of whole NCAA having 27 points per game. I would mark off maybe the biggest award so far, it is the Most Outstanding player of the CAA Conference Tournament. It can’t get better than winning the title and you get an award for the best player.
Let’s get back to your USA beginnings. You came to the USA as a national team player and one of the best players in the Serbia. Do you think it has helped your status when you first came to the States?
It probably did help me to get a scholarship on one really good High school in Kansas which is very good basketball wise and it keeps growing each year. On my further college recruiting, I have to say that it didn’t affect at all. In my personal opinion, I wasn’t looked by colleges enough. They thought I am just a spot up shooter waiting for the ball in the corner, since that was my role in the HS. I was used to play as a PG before, I like to play with the ball in my hands and I knew if I want to keep on developing I got to get back to that position. That is why I decided to commit for University of San Diego. They knew about me since I have played for national team and Partizan, that helped a bit, but overall my status of national team player didn’t bring me any benefits here.
You played on University of San Diego before transferring to Northeastern. What would you describe as main differences between those two programs?
Those programs are on pretty much the same level. Biggest difference between them is that on Northeastern, head coach Bill Coen is here for 13 years already, so he made his system here and culture that is really respected. His job is not only coaching and leading the team, it is recruiting, as well. I am sure that I came to the right place, it is more organised and there is less pressure here. On the other hand, San Diego is really nice city for living, the best one I have ever lived in. Still, Northeastern is in advance basketball wise and it is visible by players they have produced in past few years.
After changing schools, you had a redshirt year, so you couldn’t play. How did you feel in that period?
When I transferred, I knew I would have to sit out one year and I was mentally ready for it. Knowing it will be really boring for me not being able to play games for a year, I went back home during summer before my redshirt season so it helped me a lot. Still, I went to the USA to play basketball and before that I was never that long off the court because of an injury or something. I knew I have to workout as much as possible, to go to weightroom, practice individually with my coaches and to give my best on scrimmages we had. Even though it was a tough year, I think it gave me more than it took out from me. I went out as a much better player with a lot of confidence. It happens oftenly in the USA.
Since you have played 4 years of college basketball, you have played against a lot of big names. Who is the best player you have played against?
There was really a lot of good players, but I will say Kevin Pangos and Domantas Sabonis who played on Gonzaga while I was on San Diego. I have played against Sabonis for the national team, too, but on college I felt that difference when someone is NBA level for the first time.
We’ll take a moment to talk about Serbian players, a lot of them are currently on D1 schools. Who do you think can have the best college career among them?
I know about Filip Petrušev, who has biggest expectations around him probably. He is on the biggest college out of all Serbian players. Beside him, I would mention Nick Rakočević from the USC. He has really good body and he is on big college, as well. He already had some good numbers this year and I don’t doubt that he will play basketball on serious level. Nikola Popović is playing for a good school, with him having decent role, too. Saša Stefanović from Purdue was injured last year, he is still a freshman so he is not getting involved that much yet. When he gets bigger role and more minutes we will see if he is able to play the game. Still, they talk a lot about him. I have heard he is a big time shooter.
Let’s talk about you and your on court abilities. What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses in the game?
Let’s start off from weaknesses. I need to be quicker. I will not say I am slow, but speed and quickness are not my major strengths for sure. I am not athletic type of player. On the other hand, my size and body strength are on above average level for position I play. I sub lack of speed and bounce with it. Speaking about game itself, I’m basing my game on Pick and Roll. I think it is my main advantage. I can create for me to score, or to find open teammates or even something third. I do it very well. Defense is not something I am the best at. Still, maybe I’m not able to lockdown scorers, but I have some other strengths on defensive end. I read passing lines really well, I am active on weak side, I can cut passes and make steals. That’s how I look to sub those physical weaknesses I have for top level basketball.
Do you have any role models?
Not really, but If I have to mark off someone it would be Kobe Bryant. I watched him a lot when I was younger. His on and off the court behavior makes him role model to a lot of people. Real team leader. I also like to watch players that play in similar way like I do, so I try to watch how they perform in the NBA, how do they score, assist, create and stuff like that. When it comes to Serbian players, Milos Teodosić and Bogdan Bogdanović are my two favorites for a while.
To end it up, what are your future plans? Where would like to continue your basketball career?
Next step is signing a professional contract. It is still a bit early to talk about it since a lot of teams are making their rosters during the summer. I would love to play in Spain. I don’t have any special club there, I just think that basketball fits me perfectly. Spain is nice country and basketball league is the best in Europe so it is definitely my wish to play there.
Vasa, thanks for your time and we wish you all the happiness in future career.
Thank you for the invite, wish you the same.
photo by: Christopher Evans/Boston Herald