Playing For a Good Cause
By Christy Cabrera Chirinos
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Like so many across the world, Dejan Vasiljevic was moved by the images.
Families fleeing their homes. Animals in need of rescue. Acres and acres of land destroyed.
As bushfires ravaged large swaths of his native Australia, Vasiljevic couldn’t help but feel like he had to do something, find some way to help. But what could reasonably do for his homeland while playing college basketball on the other side of the world?
It didn’t take long before he found inspiration – in tennis.
“It all started with Nick Kyrgios, the tennis player from Australia. He said for every ace, he’d donate $200 and he had a really good summer of tennis,” said Vasiljevic, a senior guard for the Hurricanes. “So, I felt like I should do something while I’m away from Australia and overseas.”
That something? Vasiljevic – one of the top perimeter shooters in the Atlantic Coast Conference – decided he would donate $5 to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service for every 3-pointer he made during conference play.
He took to social media to share the idea for his fundraiser and before long, Vasiljevic discovered more support than he could have initially imagined he’d get.
Some of his fellow college basketball players, including Arizona’s Josh Green, created similar fundraisers. Several of his Hurricanes teammates donated to the cause. So, too, did Miami coach Jim Larrañaga and former Hurricanes standouts Lonnie Walker IV and Angel Rodriguez. More than a few Hurricanes basketball fans who’ve cheered Vasiljevic throughout his four-year career also lent their support.
Additionally, helping Vasiljevic amplify his message were ESPN’s Jay Bilas, Holly Rowe and Dan Shulman, who not only donated to the guard’s GoFundMe site, but shared his efforts during a national television broadcast when the Hurricanes hosted ACC foe Duke last month.
It’s support that has meant the world to him, Vasiljevic said.
“It shows just how loyal our fans really are. It’s not just on the court or on the field. It’s off the court,” he said. “They know that you’re a Cane for life and a lot of people have said that to me and they’ve shared it multiple times. Some of them have said, ‘Hey, we’ll keep donating as much as we can,’ and I just say, ‘You don’t have to. One donation, if that’s as much as you can give, that’s worth it.’ Everyone’s just been unbelievable. That’s all I can say.”
While conditions in Australia have improved in recent weeks and the bushfires are seemingly no longer front page news in the United States, Vasiljevic knows there is still need back home.
Although his immediate family is safe, several family friends have been impacted in various ways. And so, Vasiljevic is determined to continue raisings funds and awareness with the hopes of surpassing his fundraising goal of $10,000.
With six regular-season games left on the schedule, Vasiljevic – who is averaging 14 points per game and is Miami’s second-leading scorer – has already connected on a team-high 59 3-pointers and his average of 2.5 treys per game ranks sixth in the ACC.
Ahead of the Hurricanes’ game Saturday against Wake Forest, Vasiljevic has raised more than $9,500 and he hopes his fundraiser can extend into the postseason and through his birthday in April.
“I want to do as much as I can before I leave,” he said simply.
Vasiljevic’s efforts, along with the way he has inspired some of his teammates, have come as no surprise to Larrañaga and others around the Miami program.
They’ve seen his willingness to lead for years. Now, it’s being put to a cause bigger than basketball.
“DJ has been such a leader for our program, almost since Day One. I heard he and Bruce Brown were playing one-on-one from like the first day, and battling each other. But they were also great friends off the court,” Larrañaga said. “DJ is a great competitor and when he decided that he was going to give back to his community in Australia, he was going to compete to do that. He was going to reach out to a lot of different people and his teammates have such respect for him, they wanted to do whatever they could to help him and his project.”
To learn more about Dejan Vasiljevic’s fundraiser or donate to his efforts, click HERE.