University of Miami

Far away from backyard kangaroos, Aussie guard DJ Vasiljevic leading UM on, off court

University of Miami's Dejan Vasiljevic (4) goes for a layup while Wofford College's Nathan Hoover (10) guards during the first quarter of a Hoophall Miami Invitational 2016 basketball game at the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami on Sat., Dec. 3, 2016.
University of Miami's Dejan Vasiljevic (4) goes for a layup while Wofford College's Nathan Hoover (10) guards during the first quarter of a Hoophall Miami Invitational 2016 basketball game at the AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami on Sat., Dec. 3, 2016. For the Miami Herald

Once his teammates got past the questions about kangaroos and koala bears and began to understand his accent, they realized what University of Miami coaches discovered the moment they started recruiting Dejan “DJ” Vasiljevic: This Aussie can play.

The Australian freshman combo guard can shoot the three-pointer like nobody’s business; and now, after a few months under the tutelage of coach Jim Larrañaga, he can defend, too.

The coaching staff of 20th-ranked Notre Dame, Miami’s home opponent on Thursday night, surely has warned the Fighting Irish to be aware of No. 4.

Vasiljevic led the Hurricanes with 18 points on six three-pointers in a loss at Syracuse last week. He has come in off the bench and provided a spark in every game this season and is a big reason why UM is 11-3.

“He’s a very mature, conscientious young man,” Larrañaga said. “When he first arrived, I said offensively he’d have no trouble because he’s smart, can shoot, can handle. His challenge would be on the defensive end of the floor. But I’ve been very, very impressed with how he’s been able to defend.”

His teammates are equally impressed.

“DJ spreads the floor for me,” said starting freshman guard Bruce Brown, who averages 10.9 points and 7.3 rebounds. “Every time he’s on the floor, Coach L is telling me to find him. He makes shots. I love assists, so every time I’m pushing the ball, I’ve got to know where DJ is because he’s going to run to the three-point line, and he makes it most of the time.”

Vasiljevic, a Canadian native of Serbian roots, moved to Melbourne, Australia, at age 6. Both of his parents were semi-pro handball players, but his love was basketball. He starred on the Australian U17 and U19 national teams, and UM coaches noticed him when he played against Yale and California when those teams traveled Down Under in the summer of 2015.

UM assistant coach Adam Fisher flew down to meet him and “fell in love with the kid,” Larrañaga said. “He told me we really need to make a push for DJ.”

Larrañaga never saw Vasiljevic play in person before offering him a scholarship, but he had a strong hunch from phone calls and video.

His intuition proved right.

Vasiljevic, who is studying business management and economics, quickly emerged as a leader. He feels comfortable offering senior Davon Reed shooting tips, suggests plays to the coaching staff, and keeps the freshmen in line.

Thursday: UM men vs. No. 20 Notre Dame

When/where: 7 p.m.; Watsco Center, UM campus.

TV/radio: ESPN; WQAM 560, WURN 1040, WVUM 90.5 FM.

Records: UM 11-3, 1-1 ACC; Notre Dame 14-2, 3-0.

Scouting report: The Hurricanes have won 21 games in a row at home and are 8-0 at home this season. … They beat Notre Dame 68-50 last season. … The Irish are experienced and excellent free-throw shooters. … UM will be wearing throwback uniforms from the 1960s.

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