The 2010-2011 season was an eventful year for Sasha Vujacic as he made a transition to a new team and a new city. The opportunity to play for the New Jersey Nets, came at the right time and was a good fit for Sasha as he quickly became one of the major motivators and forces on the team. We were able to catch up with Sasha in a phone interview during the off season to ask him about this year of change. Sasha also wanted to be sure to take the opportunity to say some words of appreciation to his longtime and new fans for their faithful support during this transition to an exciting and new point in his basketball career.
Bringing more energy and outside shooting were just a few of the ways you’ve contributed to the Nets this season, how do you yourself see your role on the Nets?
Well I was obviously excited about having the opportunity to be with the Nets and it came at the right time. I learned a lot with the Lakers, and I was privileged to have the opportunity to bring this experience to the Nets and help with what they needed at the time . We didn’t end up where we wanted, we were chasing the playoffs, but we were still searching for real chemistry, even in the second part of the season. We had sparks of good basketball, but we are still working on being a great team. It was a great opportunity to be able to play alongside one of the best point guards in the game, Deron Williams and play with one of the great young big men, Brook Lopez. It seems like Mr. Prokhorov and the Nets are focused on building a championship team, and I am excited to be part of the foundation for that.
What are some things that you will be focusing on this summer as you train and prepare for the next season?
I will be working on improving my game. I took about a week off after the season ended, but now I’m focused on getting back to it. The main things that I’m working on basketball-wise are attacking the rim and getting to the rim and drawing fouls. People in the league respect me as a perimeter shooter, but I want to develop an in between game where I can shoot off the dribble, pull up and have even more of a mid-range game. Also, defensively I want to continue to get stronger and quicker on defense.
When you step onto the court, you seem to have a certain fire in your eyes that seems to take over your whole being and never allows you to give up on a quest for winning no matter what. Are there certain things that you do before a game to mentally prepare to bring you to this point and how do you feel you’ve developed this fearless fighting spirit?
I appreciate that as a compliment from the fans and everybody. I prepare myself for every game, since you always play different opponents and try to stay focused on the challenge ahead. The fire in my eyes is something that you know, if I have it, I don’t ever want that fire to ever stop burning (laughs) once I step in the game. I hope it represents the passion I always have for the game, and the one thing that I really can’ t stand is losing, so I always will do my best on the court with my teammates and try to win.
You made several clutch catch and shoot buzzer shots this season where it seems like you don’t even have time to think about it. Those are not like once in a while, luck kinds of shots, they are like one of your specialties that you’ve developed. What do you attribute your accuracy for those?
That’s something I’ve always kind of lived for ever since I turned pro when I was fifteen. I just live for the last couple of minutes of the game and when the game is on the line. I love that. I had the opportunity to play in the championship with the Lakers, and to gain that experience. One of the traits of my personality and playing style is that I’m able to stay calm under pressure and in those end of game moments, some people lose their composure, but the game really slows down for me, which allows me to make big plays in critical moments. Those final minute experiences are also some of the things I had the opportunity to bring to the Nets. I’m also very fortunate my teammates and my coaches have given me the opportunity to get that last shot. Like I said, I just don’t like to lose, and every time the game is on the line I will do anything just to get that last shot because that is what it is all about, winning, and especially winning in moments like this. That last shot, there’s nothing better than that. I think all competitive people live for that, and I was fortunate enough to be involved in a couple of them so I really like that.
You are probably one of the most efficient basketball players I have ever watched, meaning when you play basketball you seem to give it your all and hustle in every aspect of the game whether it’s during offense, defense or even when you are resting on the sidelines and cheering for your team. Is there any part of the game that is your favorite or do you just love it all?
Well I appreciate it, thank you for the recognition. I’m never going to give up until the last second, and to me, that’s part of being a good teammate. There’s aspects of that whether you’re on the court at that moment, or cheering on your teammates, and you have to know how to contribute from both spots. Whenever I’m on the court I’m gonna give everything I got. Basketball is a game that not just one guy can win it, and it’s like everyone has to be on the same page 24/7. I feel like my off the court life reflects that too – having strong family and friendship ties, and close relationships helps define your character and that is something I bring from off the court onto the court, and from on the court off of the court. Whether it is relationships with teammates and coaches or friends and family.
You’ve seemed to develop a good rapport with your Nets teammates. Would you give us some insight to some of the personalities of your Nets teammates?
Well it is a little younger team than where I was before… everyone is kind of new to the league and learning a lot and obviously the big trade we had with Deron Williams was something that really helped us to bring the franchise in the right direction in trying to win a championship like the owner Mr Prokhorov has in mind. You know it’s great to have a point guard like that. And then you have Jordan who was on the same team with me on the Lakers, we know each other very well and we have fun playing together. We have Brook Lopez who is one of the great centers in the league. And then you have players like Stephen Graham, he didn’t play that much but he also is one of the big personalities on the team. But all I can say about my teammates is that they are a really amazing group of guys and they were great to me from day one when I got there.
You’ve had the opportunity to play basketball all over the world and you also speak many different languages. From your perspective as a player, what things can you foresee in developing a global NBA?
Yeah, well obviously the game is becoming very global and the players are coming from all over the world and that is very exciting. An exciting thing is that I had an opportunity to play in Europe this season twice with two different teams and just to see the fan base how it increased from the first time to the second time is incredible. Obviously speaking different languages helps in communicating with many different people all over the world, and again I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for all of the emails from all different countries and sometimes basketball can bring you to some better things in life also. I have had some interesting things off the court happen because of basketball, so that’s fun. It’s interesting that the sport of basketball transcends cultures so powerfully, and I think that one of Mr. Prokhorov’s visions is to make the Nets a globally relevant team, and that’s an exciting vision.
You’ve already achieved a lot in your professional and personal life at a young age, are there any other goals that you have in your life that you can share with us?
I’ve already achieved a lot in my professional and personal life and I’m still young?
(laughs) Yes, and you’re still young…..
(laughs) I’m not that young, anymore though. (laughs) Well you know I’ve always believed in life that hard work pays off and I live by that philosophy that if you work, better things will happen so I had goals in my life for what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be and one of those things was winning an NBA championship. Then I got two and now that I got two, I want to win another one. Nobody back then believed me when I had a dream as a kid about winning a NBA championship. After I got the first one, I wanted to win a second one and people were like, oh yeah whatever, good luck, you know, but then the second one happened so now I want to go towards the third one and find an opportunity where I can do my best because I have a feeling I haven’t achieved my best yet as I am growing with maturity on and off the court and everything and I want to find a way to win another one and then who knows, but right now I am aiming to get a third one. And then off the court I’m obviously happy. I have found someone that understands also my ups and downs and everything and we are both athletes so that is one of the things that certainly really helped me through the season and on the court. As I mature and understand business, I am also excited to look for entrepreneurial opportunities to continue to grow in my understanding and knowledge of the business world.
If you didn’t become a basketball player, what do you think you would have become?
Oh, that’s a tough question… I honestly don’t know because in basketball once you turn professional and once you have these dreams you need so much energy and focus and you gotta give 100% percent if you want to get to where your goals are, so I never really had a second option. But a lot of people told me, like maybe a businessman, lawyer or something different. It probably wouldn’t be in the sports industry, even though I love sports. And probably when I’m done with basketball, I’m probably going to do something that is involved in sports because it is just something that has been a big part of my life, and all of my life I have been involved in sports and I have had the opportunity to be around it for so long.
Now that you’ve lived on the east coast for a while, have you found any places in particular that you like to hang out?
I really like New York it’s a great city I’ve been out there a couple of times and had fun. I have some friends there from before so they were helping me out with my transition there and I lived in a city called Hoboken which is across the river and it’s a very cool little town and I had fun and good times.
Have you found an equivalent to In-N-Out burgers on the east coast?
No, there are no In-N-Out Burgers on the east coast. That’s somewhere I have to go when I come to visit the west coast.
Well, maybe some of your fans who read this interview can give you some suggestions for hamburgers on the east coast….
As a famous NBA player, you have an opportunity to meet all kinds of athletes, fans and people in general. Is there a personality trait that impresses you the most in a person?
Well to me, I don’t really get impressed by material things. I like people as they are. I like humble people that in a way appreciate the basic things in life and realize that life is very precious. But to be honest with you, I don’t really know how to answer this because I just think everyone is kind of special in his or her own way, and it is just the world we live in.
Is there anything you would like to say to your fans?
Well I want to say that I really appreciate the support especially in the transition when I was traded, you know I got a lot of fan mail and it was very nice. It was very nice to see people out there that don’t forget about me especially coming back to LA, people come up to me and they say nice things like they will always follow me and to be recognized for good things was very much appreciated. I want to say a big hello to everyone and tell them to enjoy the next year because it should be a very interesting year.