DJ’s journey from Achilles surgery to ‘dagger’ King
When Dejan Vasiljevic felt a kick at his heel and looked back to see nothing but open court, he knew his rookie season with the Sydney Kings was over.
“I thought Bryce [Cotton] was behind me and tripped me, but when you look back and no one’s there, you know it’s your Achilles,” he recalls.
Exactly one year and one month after rupturing his Achilles tendon in that loss to Perth, “DJ” delivered the critical blow to the Tasmania JackJumpers’ hopes of levelling the NBL grand final series.
Vasiljevic found the basket from well outside the three-point line to put the Kings four points up with eight seconds on the clock, sealing their second win in the best-of-five series and the chance to claim their first title since 2005 at the Qudos Bank Arena on Wednesday night.
The 25-year-old guard endured a lengthy rehabilitation process as he watched his team fade out of finals contention in 2021, but believed a return to the big dance was possible after the off-season delivered high-profile American recruits Jaylen Adams, Jarell Martin and RJ Hunter.
“To be honest, the first three or four months, I was just focusing on myself and getting myself back to being able to run and do the basic stuff of basketball,” he says. “Once we signed Chase [Buford, Kings coach] and we brought in the imports … that’s when our focus [turned to], ‘Yeah, we could win this thing’.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, and I’m glad that we’ve prevailed and … are able to show, once we’re healthy, we’re a very hard team to stop.”
Those ups and downs include losing Hunter to a season-ending knee injury in January, and then winning the next 13 games soon after replacing him with NBA championship-winning guard Ian Clark.
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