<
>

'I'm ready': Kings' Vasiljevic primed for more expansive role ahead of Boomers swing, Kings campaign

play
36ers coach Bruton on Kai Sotto's growth, future role & social media noise (2:31)

Adelaide head coach C.J. Bruton discusses where he wants to see Kai Sotto's game rise to, amid the hype that surrounds the 36ers' young big. (2:31)

Coming off a successful return from a ruptured Achilles that ended with an NBL championship, Sydney Kings guard Dejan Vasiljevic had earned a few weeks of rest.

Instead, he immediately suited up for Diamond Valley in NBL1 and sandwiched around a Summer League campaign with the Phoenix Suns, before an early call from Boomers head coach Brian Goorjian added another couple of legs to a packed offseason itinerary.

"He called me on a Sunday morning. He woke me up. Goorj gets up early, I think it was like 7:30 on a Sunday," Vasiljevic smiled, as he told ESPN after Sydney practice last week.

The 25-year-old is now with the Australian squad in Bahrain ahead of the next World Cup qualifier, before the team will jet back to Victoria for a game against Iran in Bendigo on Monday night.

"I'm racking up the Qantas miles, man, that's the most important thing," he joked.

Unable to commit to the Boomers for the previous window in Melbourne, Vasiljevic wasted no time accepting the opportunity this time around, even if it will slice a week from NBL preseason ahead of opening night in just over a month.

"It was too much in a little space of time (last window)," he said. "I didn't want to be one foot in and one foot out when it came to the Boomers, so I thought I'd step aside for that window. I told Goorj that next time an opportunity comes I'll happily put my hand up."

From the NBL contingent, Vasiljevic will make his debut along with Luke Travers from the Perth Wildcats.

The pair of matchups open the second round of the Asia qualifying region, with Australia carrying a perfect 6-0 record into this week's window. In total, there are six games left to play in qualification, with a pair of games in both November and February ahead the World Cup in August 2023.

With NBA talent unavailable, Vasiljevic will likely carry a scoring burden, in a role he is expected to fulfil on a new look Sydney roster for NBL23.

"I expect a big jump from DJ this year. Coming back from injury he had to fit his way into that line-up (last season)," Sydney head coach Chase Buford told ESPN.

"To be fair, they all did that, but I think losing Jaylen (Adams), scoring will be a premium with this group and DJ is really the one who can provide that in bunches."

SpatialJam.com listed Vasiljevic's USG% at 22, the fifth highest mark at the club behind Adams, Jarrell Martin, Ian Clark and Xavier Cooks. Of that star quartet, only Cooks will return for the upcoming season.

Naturally, new imports Derrick Walton Jr., Tim Soares and Justin Simon will absorb some of the departing offensive load, though Vasiljevic is confident he is ready to accept a more expansive role.

"We won a championship last year so you can't really complain but I think I'm ready to take on more opportunity, but Chase is the coach, whatever he wants me to do I'll do," he said.

"I feel like I can do it, we'll just see what happens. I think the coaches have put a bit more pressure on me to score and make plays. Jaylen was our head of the snake type of guy, so we had to let him lead us.

"Obviously, we have the best power forward in the league with Cooks. I think shooting wise the emphasis will be on me and Derrick to put the ball in the hole. We have Justin Simon who is an athletic guy and Xavier does a bit of everything so it will be interesting."

Admittedly tired after leaning into a gruelling offseason schedule, the sharpshooter wouldn't change anything given his physical capabilities 12 months earlier. A late dash to Las Vegas to join the Phoenix Suns' Summer League squad proving to be a particularly worthwhile leg of the journey.

"This time last year I was coming back from the US, in hotel quarantine and all I was able to do was the basic calf raises, riding the bike, but now I've got a full offseason into a preseason. It's been hectic but it's helped me condition myself and be prepared for game one," he said.

"I was with a great organisation (in Vegas) with a great culture in the Phoenix Suns. I got to meet a few of the guys and talk with them. They have a similar type of culture to what we have at the Kings now. You can see why they're so successful, the coaching staff was great with me.

"Once you go out there, you hit a few shots and just perform. You start to open eyes, not just with Phoenix but with other coaches. (Veteran NBA coach) Alvin Gentry came over to me after a game when we played Sacramento and he said 'man, they need to get you more shots'. It's not just opening eyes with Phoenix, it's all around the league. I think I did well based on the opportunity I had."

After his Boomers swing, the focus will quickly switch back to the NBL, with a growing list of contenders drawing a smile from Vasiljevic as he ponders the challenge of bringing back-to-back championships to the harbour city.

"I think it's going to be a very competitive season," he said. "Adelaide is spending money, Brisbane the same. I look forward to matching up with guys from Adelaide, Perth has a good squad as well, especially now with John Rillie.

"I enjoy playing in the NBL because it has high level talent, I can't wait to get started."