Husky star overcomes obstacles leading up to breakout season

Husky star overcomes obstacles leading up to breakout season
Redshirt junior guard Vasa Pusica takes a jump shot in a Nov. 30 game against Harvard. / Photo by Patrick Leung

By Irvin Zhang, news staff

When his journey began, Vasa Pusica moved nearly 9,000 miles from his home in Serbia to Bel Aire, Kansas, where he attended one of the nation’s top high school basketball programs. Now in his third year of collegiate play, the redshirt junior is having a career year and hopes to lead the Huskies to the tournament for just the second time since 1991.

The Serbia native and business major said he has been passionate about pursuing new heights in basketball from an early age. He put his talent and potential on display during the International Basketball Conference’s European Under-18 Championships, averaging 7.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists during his nine-game run.

In pursuit of college offers, Pusica and his parents decided he should move to the United States, where he enrolled in Sunrise Christian Academy for his senior year of high school. He averaged 9.3 points per game against many Division I-bound athletes, strengthening both his self-confidence and his ability to play at the collegiate level.

“In high school, I was always confident I could play at a Division I level because I was going against guys who were going to high-major schools,” Pusica said. “I never had a problem playing against or competing with them. I knew that I could play at the college level.”

Pusica chose to play for the University of San Diego, a school he said was his first love. As a true freshman, he was given a lot of playing time, averaging 15 minutes a night. After his freshman year, a losing season for the team, the university decided to move forward with a different coach.

“A new coach came in along with a new offensive system and my role was changed,” Pusica said. “Even though I played more, I didn’t enjoy playing for that coaching staff.”

The disappointment led Pusica to seek out another school to transfer to. The search ultimately brought him to the Huskies, who needed a point guard to replace their graduating star TJ Williams.

Pusica addresses the media after the Huskies’ 77-61 win against Harvard in Matthews Arena on Nov. 30. / Photo by Patrick Leung

“We watched all his games and possessions and we were really impressed with what we saw,” head coach Bill Coen said. “We were graduating TJ Williams who was the [CAA] player of the year and our starting point guard. We knew we were going to have to fill that void. To be able to have an experienced player not only on the collegiate level but on the international level, we were really excited about that.”

Because of NCAA transfer rules, Pusica had to redshirt — or sit out from games — his first year at Northeastern. But he said that restriction gave him time to get adjusted to the system here at Northeastern, so he’s become acclimated to the offensive system.

“We play a system that I feel like I fit into,” Pusica said. “Our offense is a ball screen-based offense. It’s something I’m good at; reading defenses, getting guys open shots. I really feel like I can do it all from the pick and roll.”

Pusica currently leads the Huskies in scoring, averaging 16 points. He’s helped lead the Huskies to a three-way tie for first place within the CAA with a 7-3 conference record.

“My freshman year, I was able to shoot, able to pass, able to do all the things I’m doing now,” Pusica said. “It’s just now I think I’m doing at a higher level than before. I’m not even thinking about next season right now. All I’m thinking about is winning the championship this year. I’m all about winning.”

Reflecting on the year he’s had, Pusica said he attributes his success to the learning experiences he’s had along the way, from leaving Serbia for the United States to eventually ending up at Northeastern.

“I think all the obstacles that I was going through, with living so far from my family for five years — especially those early years — and then going from San Diego to here, it makes you grow up,” Pusica said. “I think all of these experiences have shaped me, made me a better person and a better player.”

Coen said he believes there’s still a lot Pusica can do to improve before he reaches his ceiling, primarily in his defense and rebounding.

“Like most college players, the fact that he’s playing so many minutes, the tendency is for him to rest on the defensive side of the ball,” Coen said. “At his size, we also feel like he can be a better rebounder because when he rebounds, there is no outlet and we can start our fastbreak. He’s got great vision in the open court. The better he becomes as a rebounder, the better an offensive team we become. If he gets better marginally in those areas, we get better exponentially.”

Coen said he’s happy to be able to coach Pusica and has high hopes for him in the next two years.

“My goal for him as his coach is threefold,” Coen said. “I’d first love to see him get his college degree, which will serve him well in life after basketball. I’d like to see him lead us to the postseason. I’d like to see him at the end of his time here to be a professional basketball player. If he can do those three things, I think he’ll look back at his time at Northeastern very positively.”

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