By Stefan Djordjevic/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Before the coronavirus outbreak hit the basketball world hard and stopped it almost completely for at least a month but who knows how much longer, Astana’s Dusan Ristic has been putting on his best season so far.
The 24-year-old Serbian big is one of the two players (Lokomotiv’s Alan Williams is the other) in the league currently averaging a double-double. He has been posting 15.7 points and 10.9 rebounds (league-high) over 18 games and his PIR of 22.3 is second only to Khimki’s Alexey Shved.
Ristic went into the season, not with some crazy high expectations but with a clear goal to simply just get better and show he belongs in the top echelon of basketball: “To be honest, going into this season my goals were to get better as a basketball player, by playing against the best teams in Europe, to regain my confidence and show myself that I can play at the highest level in Europe,” he told Eurohoops.
His motivation to “regain confidence” and prove what he can do probably means more when one considers that he didn’t get too big of a chance with Crvena Zvezda last season, his first since returning from the US and four years with Arizona Wildcats.
He is thankful for the experience he got with Crvena Zvezda and believes the trust he received from Astana coach Emil Rajkovic pushed him to reach the level he is at right now: “I believe it’s a combination of both. I do have a bigger role and more responsibility from my coach, which automatically requires me to perform at my best. I also believe that my experience at Red Star last year helped me become a better player and has given me the opportunity to get adjusted to the European style of the game.”
Ristic’s effort didn’t go unnoticed in the league and he earned a place on the World Stars’ roster for the VTB All-Star Game (he was also one of Eurohoops’ picks). The Serb was satisfied with the whole event and cherishes the opportunity to get in close touch with some of Europe’s best:
“During the break, I had a great opportunity to be a part of the VTB All-Star Game. It was a great event, very well organized, and just being able to share the locker room and talk to some of the best players in Europe was a great experience for me. After that, I went back to Astana where I continued to prepare for the last and most important part of the season.”
The most important part of the season indeed. Astana has been racing for the playoff spot with seven other squads. They are all within one win record-wise and there’s not much left to go in the regular season. In Astana’s case, six more games: “My team goal for this year is to help us make it to the playoffs. Right now we’re in a specific situation, and we’ll need to finish strong this last part of the season in order for us to be able to achieve our goal.”
That will have to wait, however, for the crisis to pass but Ristic understands the “smart and responsible” decision by the league. Safety first.
Smart and responsible decision by the league. Hope the situation will get better soon and the league will be resumed when it’s safe for all the participants. https://t.co/clgMhezbSi
— Dušan Ristić (@ristic_dusan) March 13, 2020
On the other hand, despite grabbing the spotlight in VTB, Ristic didn’t end up on Igor Kokoskov’s list of players for the EuroBasket qualifiers. The young center was hopeful to get a chance – or the very least some recognition – but he didn’t let it get to him and will use it as the fuel to work harder, improve further and reach new heights.
“I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t hoping to be considered for the national team or, at least see my name on the roster of the national team, considering that I’ve been having a pretty solid year. However, I didn’t take it too personally. I used it more as a motivation to work harder and get better. I’m trying to play basketball as long as my body allows me, so hopefully one day I’ll be able to get a chance to represent my country. One step at a time,” he said.
As Dusan said, he plans to play as long as possible. But before setting on a professional basketball journey, he was also thinking about what he would after his career ends. It was not the only but certainly one of the reasons he decided to spend four years in the US and the University of Arizona.
What does he think about that decision now, looking back at it? “Absolutely the best decision I could’ve made” along with “It’s crucial to see the bigger picture” would summarize it perfectly:
“Going to college was absolutely the best decision I could’ve made at that moment. Not only from a basketball perspective but also academically. I not only became a better basketball player, but I also have a long term investment in my personal growth and education. It might’ve slowed down my European career a little bit, meaning that I’m not at the level that I believe I can be, but I will get there. Sometimes when making important decisions whether in life or career, it’s crucial to see the bigger picture.”
He, of course, still keeps an eye on the Arizona Wildcats: “I still follow college basketball and Arizona of course. They had some unfortunate losses this year, but they have a good team and a really talented freshmen class. It’ll be interesting to watch them in the NCAA tournament.”
After all, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and his pinned tweet confirms his thoughts.
Thank you Arizona! 🐻⬇️ pic.twitter.com/Y5W5MXnxTq
— Dušan Ristić (@ristic_dusan) March 4, 2018
During his four years there, Ristic had a chance to play alongside the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft – Deandre Ayton. In his previous interview with Eurohoops, Dusan gave his former teammate an advantage over Luka Doncic in front of the Draft but he admits nobody could predict Luka dominating the league as he is right now:
“I mean, let’s be realistic. We all know who Luka was and what he had accomplished before his NBA career started. Even with knowing that, no one would’ve predicted that he would’ve been dominating the game of the NBA like he’s dominating at this moment,” he said but also noted that Ayton is doing some damage as well. “On the other hand, Deandre was a more secure pick, and even though he’s in the shadow of Luka, he’s playing really well, and doing some historical things.”
He also added that while he follows the NBA, watching EuroLeague basketball more enjoyable for him: “I follow the NBA, but I can say that I enjoy watching EuroLeague more because of the competition and the style of the game. In my opinion, It’s more true to real basketball than the NBA at this moment.”
Ristic is one of the players who experienced both the ABA League and VTB League, and in his opinion, the latter is definitely at a higher level but there also some key difference in the style each league brings to the table:
“VTB league is definitely a better league than the ABA league in terms of competition. Apparently, the teams have bigger budgets, therefore they’re able to bring better foreigners. The VTB League is faster and it’s played on more possessions, while the ABA league is slower-paced and more physical. The referees allow more contact during the game in the ABA league,” he said and also mentioned that traveling to different time zones can be hard to get used to when playing in VTB.
The young center is playing for Astana on a loan and is under contract with Crvena Zvezda until the summer of 2021. The possibility of him returning to Belgrade is certainly high after a season like this but there will be other chances, without a doubt.
He himself, however, doesn’t like to plan too far ahead. Do what you can now and you’ll get rewarded later: “I’m focused on the current season and trying to help Astana reach its goals and reach my personal goals as well. I’m not looking that far into the future. I’m a firm believer that if you take care of your present challenges patiently and the right way, the future success will come inevitably.”
Photo Credit: VTB United League