Pero Vasiljevic | Great lessons learned, some good stories in my 16 yr pro career spanning 25 teams
PICTURED: Pero would finish his pro career with his favourite team growing up, the Adelaide 36ers. Something he'd always wanted to do.
I've enjoyed been able to ask Pero to talk to featured athletes from time to time, he is someone that has truly unique insights of the game that one can gain from such diverse career at all levels, all over the planet.
I recently had the chance to spend several hours with Pero Vasiljevic looking back on his career. It is something we had spoken about doing for sometime. He had an incredibly diverse career and many ups and downs as you'd expect of such a long career, so travelled and at so many levels. There are many good stories, lessons and interesting tidbits.
This journey is a truly a remarkable one and by his own admission, he was a journeyman, using the game to experience all the basketball world has to offer at all levels. I'm not sure there would be too many Australians in history that have played at so many levels and countries in their career. His story makes for a fascinating read but also opens our eyes to the amazing world of our great, global sport.
This is a great read for athletes to learn about the various levels of basketball in Europe, lessons about playing overseas and adapting through a long professional career. Past blogger Brad Newley also discussing his European Career ("From SA to the AIS, to Europe, to the Olympics, and the NBL; Living the basketball dream") for those interested. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed hearing about it from Pero and writing about it.
His number 1 goal was to play the game at high levels for as long as he could, he was willing to go anywhere to do that and the fact they were going to pay him for it was just a bonus for him. Pay them they did setting himself up for life after basketball as well as being able to develop personality and character traits that serve him well for professional life after basketball. He would have loved to had a shot at the NBA and I believe there were times in his career where he had the talent to do this. He says regretting never having played in The league; "If you have an opportunity to get into the NBA you just got to stay there long enough to get the NBA pension and you never are forced to work for the rest of your life. " The lessons he learned along the way were to be self-sufficient, teamwork(trusting each other) makes the dream work and back yourself. You will learn and hear stories here to understand these lessons.
PICTURED: Pero playing for Slask Wroclow in the Euroleague, the 2nd ranked league in the world, behind the NBA
PERO IS AN INCREDIBLY ATHLETIC BIG MAN WHO RUNS THE FLOOR WELL, WITH STRONG LOW POST MOVES. HE IS COACHED AT A CLUB LEVEL BY THE AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL COACH WHO HAS IMPROVED PERO'S PLAY IN THE PAST 2 SEASONS. PERO ALSO HAS A GOOD OUTSIDE GAME AND CAN HIT THE THREE POINT SHOT. SCHOOLED AT KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY AND HOLDS A BOSMAN B PASSPORT.
Just a few of his achievements
Australian NBL Semifinals -02
Polish Cup Winner -04
Polish EBL Regular Season Champion -04
Polish EBL Finalist -04
French ProB Regular Season Champion -05
French ProB Champion -05
(Final Game MVP) Eurobasket.com Swedish Basketligan All-Bosmans Team -08
Swedish Basketligan Finalist -08 Swedish Basketligan Regular Season Champion -08
Australian ABA League QBL Finalist -11
Australian Central ABL Semifinals -12
Teams played in!
Here's a list of teams Pero played in during his 16-year professional career: Note each team on the list is after he changed teams so he comes back to some teams through his career as shown here.
North Adelaide Rockets, Basketball SA
Norwood Flames, Basketball SA
Simi Valey High School, US High School
Kansas State, The Big 12
Canberra Cannons, NBL
Melbourne Tigers, NBL
Forestville Eagles, Basketball SA
Melbourne Tigers, NBL
Victoria Titans, NBL
Canberra Cannons, NBL
Victoria Titans, NBL
Mighty Hawks, New Zealand
Summer League, Treviso Italy
Artialnd Dragons, Bundesliga
Bydgoszcz, Polish NBL
Slask Wroclaw, Euroleague
Forestville Eagles, Basketball SA
Brest, ProB France
Dijon, ProA France
West Sydney Razorbacks, NBL
Singapore Slingers, NBL
Chalons, ProB France
Sundsvall Dragons, Swedish NBL
Golbey Espinal Thaon Vosges, ProB France
Forestville Eagles, Basketball SA
Als Andrezieux-Boutheon, ProB France
North Adelaide Rockets, Basketball SA
Gold Coast Blaze, NBL
Rockhampton Rockets, QBL
North Adelaide Rockets, Basketball SA
Adelaide 36ers, NBL
North Adelaide Rockets
Pero is no doubt one of the best talents to have come through South Australian basketball. He was one of those raw basketballers that the game just naturally permeates their life and who they are. He takes it all in his stride and just loves the game and all a rich global sport like basketball has to offer.
I remember the practice when he started really taking to dunking as a Norwood Flames (South Australian Club team) junior. We were in the middle of 5 man weave, 3 on 2 back and suddenly out of nowhere he jumps from just inside the keyway, at the block and dunks on one of our unsuspecting teammates running back on defense, suddenly next time it happens again, then again, then again. Each time with an increasing level of velocity and aerial exploits. The drill got messed up with everyone trying to kick it to the next guy so you didn't have to be the poor kid running back in defense to have Pero's feet in your face whilst an orange thing was slamming down from above on your head.
PICTURED: Pero with his U18 junior team as number #42. Arguably the best U18 team in the country at the time. Pero experiencing winning through out most teams he played in, in his career.
From that time Pero didn't stop dunking, all the way from US High School Basketball, to a high major college program, to the NBL, to the Euro League, various national leagues across Europe, New Zealand, Singapore and the Australian Boomers (National Team) he has spent 16 years as a pro plying his trade.
VIDEO: Pero dunking in Sweeden for Sundsvall
VIDEO: Pero dunking in the NBL.
Pero would play college basketball at the high major level. Only 5 South Australian men in history had played in a power 5 conference, considered high majors. These were Pero, Marty Bartmentloo, Luke Schenscher (Past blog by Schenscher here: "Playing and winning in a Power 5 Conference School") and of course Sturt junior teammates and featured athletes Isaac White (Stanford), past blog by Isaac here ("400 days, 5 yrs of growing up"), and Lat Mayen (TCU).
Pero decided he would like to experience US High School basketball, stating "I had played in the USA on a SASI (now called NITP, South Australia's official high performance training program) tour and found the American style of game really interesting, and when I returned home to the Norwood Flames a US Coach was coaching at my club. I saw how much change he had made in my team and really decided at that point I wanted to get to the USA sooner rather than later."
Like what happens on a much more regular basis today Pero had the chance to head to the US to play High School basketball. He got an opportunity to go and play at Simi Valley High School in California on a student exchange and Pero took it up as a cultural, educational experience to study and hopefully play basketball for the school.
Before leaving for US High School Pero would speak to Jason Williams, current Sturt Coach, former 36er player, and my Assistant Coach in a number of teams over the last couple of years. Also in my opinion one of the most confidence instilling coaches in the history of junior basketball in South Australia. Jason was in the minority of the many people giving Pero advice to take risks with his selection should he get any college interest. Jason asking Pero before he was leaving for Simi Valley "what is the next step for you after High School?", Pero predicting before even setting foot in the US, "I am going to go to UCLA". Jason told Pero at that point "Chase your dreams, chase them hard and don't listen to anyone that tells you can't". As you will read further down, Pero later on being impressed that he was recruited by the school he had told Jason that he'd be going to, but disappointed years later by having not listening to Jason's advice. Advice I've heard Jason give out to quite a number of kids he and I have coached together.
Straight off the plane he got to find out what US High School Hoops is all about whilst playing an AAU game against High School standouts Jason Collins and Jaron Collins. Two twins who would eventually head to Stanford ( Isaac White's school) before heading to the NBA. Pero describes playing the 6'11''+ twin towers as a nightmare, losing by about 15 pts, Pero stating "those 2 guys were legit".
At Simi Valley play he did, surprising even himself with the impact he had in 1 yr at Simi Valley HS, firmly establishing the program on the map of California High School basketball, and himself being ranked a top 40 prospect in the whole United States.
Whilst at Simi Valley he began to get interest from US Colleges, and as you'd expect with a ranking like that the interest was heavy. Stating "When I was being told schools like Gonzaga, UCLA, Kansas State, Washington and more were in the gym to recruit me I was not sure if they were serious or not. I could not believe what was happening to me and it seemed so surreal".
John Stockton, the NBA great from the Utah Jazz, even getting involved in his recruitment when Gonzaga was chasing him hard. Unfortunately for the leading assist maker in NBA history he was not able to assist Pero. Pero, whose good friend, also from his hometown of Adelaide, in Paul Rogers, who was a player at Gonzaga at the time, had helped organise Pero to meet Stockton at a game as part of his recruitment. The time was set, the location in the gym where they were to meet was set but Pero had had to stand up Stockton, not having a ride from Simi Valley over to Pepperdine over in Malibu where Gonzaga was playing that night. Pero joking, "I still can't believe I stood up an NBA Hall of Famer for a meeting and I am still ashamed of this to this day".
Clearly Kansas State University were keen to recruit the High School prodigy. Flying in on a small 4 seater jet out of Kansas City Airport on a 30 minute flight, which ended up maybe being the roughest flight of his life for both his High School coach, him and the Kansas State Coaching staff, Pero saying "this thing was floating around like a dodgy paper plane you'd make in primary school". Pero demanded to be driven back from Kansas State University and of course, the staff obliged the recruit, desperate to keep their prized target happy with the visit. Pero was impressed stating "To visit a college town like Kansas State is was very impressive and they certainly laid it all on for the visit, even having a locker made up in the locker room with my name on it, a full uniform hanging in the locker with my name on it". Pero would eventually commit to Kansas State.
Pero remembers first getting to UCLA for his visit. Cruising down WIlshire Boulevard in the UCLA Head Coaches' sports car on the way to UCLA Coach Jim Harrick's high rise apartment. Harrick's apartment, which was overlooking Beverly Hills, was a great place for a dinner with the coach and his family. UCLA clearly wanting Pero badly, you don't get to the Head Coaches house for family dinner, as a recruit, otherwise. Harrick being the 5th most winningest coach in school history with a 76% winning percentage, just behind John Wooden, with 81% of games won, knew he wanted Pero in a Bruins uniform. At dinner Pero was keen to find out how UCLA had missed out on Stephon Marbury who had recently committed to Georgia. Harrick jokingly advising they "couldn't afford to pay his father".
The previous night he had just seen Harrick's team win a massive game. Maybe one of the most exciting finishes to any game he had watched. The game was in the Pac 10 (now Pac 12) being UCLA vs Washington. At the game he was sitting courtside with others being recruited by the school like Baron Davis (who would go on to a 13 year NBA career), Chris Burgess (who would go on to play at Duke, the NBL and now with our good friends at Utah Valley University), and they witness a fall away buzzer-beating 3 pt shot from halfway by Cameron Dollar to lock in the Pac 12 title. What a game to watch and a great chance to witness the full force of the UCLA fans at Pauley Pavillion.
VIDEO: Whilst this is not the actual buzzer beater we can imagine the crowd reaction on the night Pero was at Pawley pavilion was similar but just replace Westbrook with Baron - ahaha
Whilst on campus on the visit, cruising around with Assistant Coaches Steve Lavin (who ended up as Head Coach at the Bruins) and Lorenzo Romar (Current Head Coach of Pepperdine and Washington for many years prior to that), they bump into the famous actor (at the time) Jaleel White (AKA: Steve Urkell) and that moment was when Pero how big UCLA, being right next to Hollywood and Beverly Hills, was. To this day Pero is not sure if this random meeting was a setup by the coaches or not.
In hindsight Pero wishes he committed to UCLA. Like so many Aussies of today, many so called 'experts' jump out at you when you're "making it". They were telling him to go to a smaller school, UCLA being one of the biggest programs in the whole US at that time. With many telling him that if he went to UCLA he'd be lost in the shuffle. Hearing him speak about his decision to spurn UCLA it seems like one of his biggest regrets. He states "throughout my long professional career I was able to develop supreme confidence and independence, but at that stage of life I was a still a kid seeking guidance. I wish I had my confidence and independence that I developed through my career sometimes as if I had those traits then I would have gone to UCLA. And maybe there would be a different story to be told here today". As I state to Pero at this point "schools have 13 scholarships to give out. They do give them out for different reasons and purposes but they would rarely give out one to a kid they know will set at the end of the bench for 4 years. So if a school is chasing a kid, knows their game well then they are good enough to play at that school in that schools eyes, regardless of the level". Worthy advice before so called "experts" unwittingly give recruits poor advice.
Pero spent one and a half years with Kansas State University before getting the opportunity to move into the professional ranks.
Pero's advice on selecting schools; Back yourself and back yourself irrespective of the size of the school. You can't fail if you go to a big school and not play as much or if you go to a small school and play more there then you still can come back and play in the NBL either way, so the size of the school does not matter for that. Work ethic is important and no matter what, court time or none, you still need to maintain your work ethic at practice and in the gym. Jack White at Duke is a good example of this, not playing much at Duke but will still be an NBL player - at minimum.
Our segway into Europe begins with the conversation abou current Duke player Jack White. "These Duke boys are different man, they're different", Pero stating his thoughts on Jack. "White will be a Euro, ya gotta understand these Duke boys are different, Coach K has a little bit of magic over there in North Carolina".
Pero jumps straight into his year in the Euro League to demonstrate the assertion of "These Duke Boys" being different. He was playing for Slask Wroclaw the number 1 team in Poland and sole representative in the from the Polish National League playing in the EuroLeague competition in 2004. He had become close to one of his team mates in Lynn Greer, one of the top imports in Europe, former Temple player and all time leading scorer from the school at the time, who would go on to spend a season with the Milwaukee Bucks as well. Anyway, he and Lynn walk into the gym that a team called Efes plays out of in Istanbul, Turkey. It is still about 1.5 hours before their game. Trajan Langdon is there oncourt dripping wet, doing drills, with 3 rebounders, a passer, 4 balls and some bins. He is doing full on shooting drills. Pero quips "Langdon stops after a minute of them watching in awe comes over and daps us up. He looks me in the eye with the look of the terminator. Langdon is ready to kill". As they head to the change rooms to get ready Greer accurately states "Dem Duke boys man, dem Duke boys they are just different". Langdon went for about 28 pts and 14 assists that night according to Pero.
VIDEO: Lynn Greer, the great passer, alley oop to Pero Vasiljevic, the great dunker.
How did Pero, a kid from Adelaide, get to the 2nd best league in the world outside of the NBA? Well, he had already played 5 seasons in the NBL prior to landing in Poland, averaging 17 pts a game in his most recent NBL season but his path to the big leagues was a little like a roller coaster with more downturns than up, until he had gotten there. Here he learned that when you think all is lost, you are at rock bottom, to hang in there. Suddenly the world can take a strange turn and you can be on top of the world.
His first job in Europe came with the Artland Dragons who had just been promoted up to the top German league, the Bundesliege. The league considered in the best 5 leagues in the world at that time. He had attended a pro camp in Italy and being scouted by the Dragons at that event. He had a few options but Artland was the best one he felt, especially the chance to play in a stable, affluent country like Germany, in a very tough league. However, Pero would quickly discover the European pro basketball is about being flexible and you would never know what was around the corner. Here, in a short space of time, he would play for teams in 3 separate cities in the space of several months before ending up in the EuroLeague. This story is worth telling. It shows a good life lesson and lesson in pro sports in that when you think you have hit rock bottom if you stay focused and dedicated things can turn around incredibly quickly.
His family had just arrived in Germany, after he had been there for several weeks, to support him as he started with his new team. A few days after they arrive he gets a call from his agent. A call that every long term professional athlete in Europe is almost certain to get at least once through their career; "You're cut, you're fired, get your gear ready, get out of there. We will have something else for you soon." So suddenly Pero has to get his family out, get his gear organised and get ready to leave within 48 hours. These situations are often not entirely within your control. Pero had been dominating their training and pre-season but they were looking for a more back to the basket, banging big than the mobile athlete, run the floor, rebound and push the ball type athlete that Pero was. Like so many similar situations, as soon as you get cut you are on your own. Get out of your apartment, find your own way out of here and do it quickly. For this time it was "You're heading to Bydgoszcz, Poland. Your new team will pick you up from Gdynia".
Mission Impossible sets in.........
VIDEO: Background music to read the next section to.
"Get your family out, get your lifely possessions sorted and packed. Get to Hamburg Airport, you can take the team car to the train station to Hamburg, leave it at the train station. Head out to this town with a strange name where you will be paid to play basketball."
"I get to the train at 7 AM, exhausted after having a farewell with some local friends the night before and the journey begins".
A missed flight, 8 hours wait at Munich airport, get to Hamburg, connect to Gdynia, collected by Piotr in a small hatchback, with Piotr being 5'10'' 140 Kgs and not speaking a word of english.
Now a 5 hour drive with the interesting Piotr who did not talk the whole trip, in the pitch black darkness, with snow bucketing down and Pero thinking "I don't know what's happening, I'm going to hell or to get murdered."
"FInally, I get dropped off into some kind of compound, looking like an Army bootcamp hostel, in an old room with single bed and a small TV. It was midnight when I got in and I think to myself; Well, we'll see what happens next."
Terror and fear on his plight kicking in.
Pero continues, "Next morning I head to practice and we are training, on the way I realise there is no one at all staying in this strange compound."
Spending a week with Bydgoszcz training 2x3 hours per day, running drills like balancing 2 balls on top of each other up and down the floor, with a team of "crushed souls". After spending a week there, watching a game his new team played with 9,000 people watching whilst waiting for a clearance, hating his situation but enjoying his teammates, especially Aleksander Kuol (https://www.basketball-reference.com/euro/players/alexander-koul-1.html), who he'd followed since he had dominated with George Washington in the A10 .
At this point Pero had decided one thing, "It is time to go home, it is definitely time to go home, see what the NBL can offer me".
A lesson from Pero on this experience "These challenges, the isolation at times, the self reliance, I'm ready for anything, now in life, nothing phases me." As he says "In Europe they are different to in Australia. You don't hang out with your team mates you don't care about their lives in most cases, nor they yours. You clock in to practice, you clock out, you go your seperate ways. It is treated like a job. Not like teams I played with in Australia, nor in Brest (see below)".
After a just over a week in Bydgoszcz, and deciding he was going to explore options back home, suddenly arriving at the compound is the Head Coach from his team. Head Coach of the team says "you've been traded, you need to get your stuff and get out." "Here we go again", Pero thinks, then suddenly his life changes......
The coach continues on "You're going to the Euroleague, we've traded you". Pero realises his month of hell is over and he is heading to the Euroleague!!!
Slask Wroclaw Team Manager, Lukas shows up in a stunning suit and fine, brand new team car for Pero and says we are taking you to Wroclaw. Pero had just been signed to the number 1 team in Poland, Slask Wroclaw. "We get to my new home it is a lovely fully furnished apartment, with heated floors, 2 bedroom, 3 big screen TVs, food in the fridge", and Pero thinks "whatever I need to do to keep this gig and stay here I was going to do it".
He had gone from rock bottom to the top of the tree in the space of a week, such is life of a pro athlete in Europe.
PICTURED: Slask Wroclaw's home gym Centenial Hall, with a 10,000 seat capacity for basketball games is also actually World Heritage Listed, built in 1911.
And so Pero's Euroleague season begins. Heavily Armed Military Police controlling crowds of 10,000 plus crazed fans at the games, stadiums full of cigarette smoke, beer cans thrown at opposition teams from the crowd, flags waving, drums banging, flares in the crowd, singing crazy songs. Pero who has played all over the world in big leagues be it the NBL or Big 12 stating "the crowds in the Euroleague are like nothing else".
VIDEO: The passion and craziness of European fans and basketball is like nothing else as shown in this video. Taken from many teams in the Euroleague.
He recalls one game vs the famous Euroleague Club Olympiacos. A fair bit of rivalry had been brewing between Slask Wroclaw since Wroclaw had beaten Olympiacos at home earlier in the season. The team gets to Athens and heads to the gym they were playing in. At that time Olympiacos were playing in a temporary gym, with a 3,000 seat capacity, whilst the 15,000 seat Peace and Friendship Stadium was being renovated. Fans were squeezed into the gym like sardines on this occasion and of course they were as a loud and as passionate as ever as Olympiacos fans are known for. Pero started that game and his team mate Lynn Greer is unstoppable. The Olympiacos team includes Dalibor Bagaric, who had been with the Chicago Bulls the season before, and Branko Milisavljevic who was one of the top guards in Europe. Scores were tied at half time. The refs suddenly put their whistles away after half time. Nothing was being called other the than the odd foul for Olympiacos. After the game Pero and his team head to the change rooms and everyone's phones are ringing off the hook asking what had happened in the game. Apparently the TV feed had miraculously "broken" after half time coinciding with when the referees put their whistles away. Such is the rivalries in Euro League basketball where countries play countries in their leagues with many generations of tensions and sometimes even wars and political issues between the countries competing in a sporting arena.
VIDEO: Slask Wroclaw vs Olympiacos. This was the game that Pero and his team had won earlier in the season vs Olympiacos, with Pero in the starting 5. The 2nd time they played each other in Athens, the TV feed was "broken" at half time, you won't find that game online - ha.
VIDEO: Slask Wroclaw Vs Alba Berlin
VIDEO:Slask Wroclaw Vs Benneton Treviso
VIDEO: Crazy crowd at Olympiacos.
Outside of the crazy crowds in the EuroLeague Pero observed the following about the playing style, "You get on the fast break they rip your arm off. There are no fast breaks, everything is a walkup and grind it out in the half court. The skills of the Europeans also caught Pero's attention with all 5 men on the floor able to handle the ball and shoot 3s. Al of these Euros are guys that can shoot the ball and make it without even the ball hitting the net, regardless of what position they play".
The other observation was that Europe is different in regards to how team mates interact off the floor. Pero is a guy that craves strong relationships with team mates on and off the floor. As mentioned earlier, "Everyone is individual and they are all out for themselves. You are not mates with your team mates, you don't hangout, they don't care about your life. They treat it like a job. They checkin to work, then they checkout and you don't see our hear from them till they check back in." Because of this attitude being most prevalent amongst his European team mates Pero tended to build stronger relationships with the imports. During this part of his career, his observations of the Europeans approach to their team mates led Pero to believe that building relationships in teams is most important part of developing trust with each other.
The season after Wroclaw he signed to a team that had recruited him for some time called Brest. Brest was competing in the France LNB Pro B competition, with Pro A being the top league in France. Pro B is still a very good, professional league. "This was a division 2 team with no expectations, they had had a few good guys coming in, and I was coming back off the back of Euroleague year". At the start we came in "Everyone hated everyone in this team, then we won 18 games straight". This was maybe Pero's most enjoyable year in any professional team. He has mostly played on winning teams but this year was fun because of how the team came together and the relationships they shared that year which was unlike other European teams. It was an interesting mix of players indeed. Personalities sometimes clashed practice and there was always an edgy undertone to how this team trained. But away from practice and when they played games they became tight. Pero tell us, "in games we were so mad at each other because what had happened in practice that we would get out into games and take that anger out on the other team, then we were mates again". "Our coach seeming like he might have been drunk the whole time, we would coach ourselves, at every timeout we would let the coach scream at us in French then we would take over for the last 30 seconds of the time out with what we were going to do". For the Grand Final Evreux would bring in 2 top Italian players just for the Grand Final. Brest became underdogs with the new recruits coming in. Pero however led his team to win the Grand Final, also picking up MVP along the way with 15 pts 13 rebounds and 5 blocks for the game. Brest were promoted to the top French League Pro A the following the season.
This team in Brest had developed a strong bond with each other. This was somewhat unlike many teams that Pero had played on in Europe. This team were competitive with each other but through those competitive practices, feeling empowered and ownership over their team success they developed a deep trust for each other. Pero learning that in the high player turnover, cut throat environment, where team mates are sometimes gunning for your spot (IE your job) that is the case in Europe that teamwork and trust in each other leads to the ultimate success for that team.
That night Adidas sponsored a party on the Champs Elysees for France's Pro B and also the Pro A winners, with NBA players Antoine Walker and Stephen Jackson helping the fellas and fans celebrate the win. The Pro A winners that year being Strasborg, with current Assistant Coach at Dayton, Ricardo Greer the Pro A season MVP, also being in attendance (Ricardo always keen to hear about South Australian prospects these days), with the rest of his Strasborg team mates.
Pero closed out this European stint the season after, playing for Dijon in the Pro A level in France. He mentions he got to play, and become good friends with a player he had followed since growing up in the United States, Mario Bennett. Bennett had played at Arizona State and was a 27th NBA lottery pick, bouncing around for quite a few years in the NBA before ending up in Dijon. Pero only playing for part of the season before an opportunity opened up to come back home and play for more minutes and more cash for West Sydney. It was time to return to the NBL.
As mentioned above Pero played on many winning teams. "My more successful teams always had an edginess about themselves. We respected each other but trainings were like wars, super competitive, physical and somehow this bought us closer together in games. We knew were ultimately going to make each other better even if trainings would sometimes push over the edge". Like all long term pro athletes Pero went through great patches of individual form and not so good times. His advice when you hit a tough patch, "Go back to basics, get back to the stuff you did in U10s, get back to your core strengths. Work on those core strengths and fundamentals, put them into games and build back up from there" is Pero's advice.
Pero came into the NBL from Dijon in really good nik. You come out of a French ProA preseason and 5 games into the season in very good shape. He arrived at West Sydney and realised he had walked into a team that included one of the best players in the NBL at the time in James Harvey. "I get in for my first game with the Razorbacks and we have Harvs go for 27 pts................ in a quarter". Harvey would average 28 pts a game that season with Pero averaging a very respectable 14 pts and 7 rebounds per game that season too. "Put me in the pick and roll with the best Aussie wing in the league and it is going to be easy for me to make buckets", Pero crediting Harvey for much of his scoring that year.
The season after West Syndey he landed in Singapore. He says he went "Trajan Langdon" in Singapore. "First in the gym, last to leave the gym, going hard each and every day". He mentions he had an incentive to get it done that season thanks to Nike who had sponsored him, and as the only team in the NBL in Asia Nike had promised to develop a shoe and name it after Pero if he managed to get his team to the finals and win MVP. "The Air Pero", South East Asia release plan went into action. Pero deciding to take that offer up. Going to work, until unfortunately a knee injury which hampered him that season.
After Singapore he had another opportunity to head back to Europe, "You're over 30 and you still can get paid to play. I loved the game and wanted to be a professional as long as possible, my mindset was you pay I play and I will go anywhere to do that".
He would bounce around Europe, local teams in Premier League and NBL teams before finishing up in the NBL with his beloved home team the Adelaide 36ers, a team he had always wanted to play for, a goal he had had since the beginning closing out his professional career at home here in Adelaide.
Pippen and Magic
Towards the end of his career Pero would find himself playing in Sweeden for the Sundvall Dragons. He remembers playing with Alex Wesley and AJ Gorton in particular in this team but also one very famous player for a brief period. Wesley having played with Lynn Greer at Temple as he would find out when out for dinner one night with Wesley who takes a call, to hand the phone to Pero, to hear Greer's voice on the other end saying, "I found youuuu". But Wesley and Gorton were not "quite" as famous as his team mate that would come in for brief contract.....
One training with the Dragons their coach announces in practice they were signing another import. He told the team the import was a veteran that had played College ball and Central Arkansas. This import was 43 years old, played with the team and had 26 pts, 12 rebounds and 9 Assists. The imports name being one SCOTTIE PIPPEN, an NBA Hall of Famer.
VIDEO: Scott Pippen #33 (of course) playing for Sundsvall with Pero #4 in 2008
PICTURE: Sundsvall Dragons team with Pippen. Pero 2 to Pippen's left.
Prior to playing with Pippen, Pero also had the chance to play against another NBA Hall of Famer in Magic Johnson. Pero's team, the Canberra Cannons, playing in an exhibition games against Michigan State University, Magic's Alma Mater. Except for the exhibition Magic was suiting up with Pero and Cannons. Pero remembers Magic dominating the game rebounding above the rim, carrying the ball the length of the floor and making a great assist team mates on the break. Lakers express all over again, Magic finishing the game with 12 pts, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.
PICTURE: Canberra Cannons with Magic Johnson. Pero #4
Pero had longed dreamed to represent Australia, like most Aussie athletes. Brett Maher articulating really well in a previous blog what it means to wear the Green and Gold (Blog here: https://bit.ly/2qlvnqZ). In 2005 Pero finally got the call up and spent July August of that year playing for a highly successful Boomers team in a number of events, including the FIBA Oceania Championships.
When asked about his time with Boomers, he speaks with a lot of pride representing Australia, and how fortunate he was to have had a mentor like Brian Goorjian in his career, who had helped him grow as a professional and was the coach of the Boomers when he got the call up. Goorj having coached Pero several years earlier at Victoria Titans too in the NBL.
Pero remembers one game in particular for some funny incidents when looking back, but definately not funny at the time. It seems the recent Boomers Vs Phillipines stousche was not the worse stousche in international basketball. Pero and his team mates were in the tunnel stretching and getting ready to play during the Peurto Rico vs China game before their game vs Angola. "A scuffle breaks out which explodes and the Chinese crowd are going bananas at this point" Pero explains. "The fight spills out into the tunnel and the Peurto Rico team are fighting like gangsters on a bad day in San Juan. One guy runs straight for the Boomer's medical kit and pulls out scissors, whilst another beelines to Luke Martin, who was on crutches at the time trying to snatch his crutches from him to use as a weapon. The fight eventually ending, allowing the Boomers to get oncourt.
To get another chance to play for Brian Goorjian again since they had worked together at the Titans was also huge for Pero. Pero stating, "Goorj is the best coach I ever had and I had some great ones. He teaches guys how to be the ultimate professionals. Your sole purpose is to get better each and every practice and he pushes you harder than you've ever being pushed before. Playing games are easy when you are in a Goorj coached team because his practices are sooooo tough. The attention to detail in his defensive systems are off the charts but simple to learn and follow too. Everything is about extreme hard work and getting better. He brings us along because as soon as practice is over or our post game talk he is the funniest guy you will ever meet. His stories are a crackup, he has so many and he is one of the lads when he is not clocked on".
PICTURE: Stankovic Cup, 4 nations tournament, FIBA Oceania Championships
Life after Hoops
Of course Pero loves the 36ers these days, attends many games to support the team. A big fan of Joey Wright as a coach he is loving the way the team is playing in recent years under Joey.
Professionally, Pero is working in the car industry as a Salesman with CMI Toyota. He is loving his role and new career and found a niche for life basketball. Many customers love learning about his former career and his network in the basketball community often reaping opportunities for basketball friends and fans a like to find that special car and to "get an amazing deal". The lessons learned in his 16 years as a professional in the game of back yourself, back to basics, teamwork and overcoming adversity often being useful in his new life.
Thanks to Pero for his time and insights on his journey and how it applies to other athletes. Not just for this story but the many stories he's shared over many years of friendship.