Hamilton, ON- Sometimes in life, we tend to want stuff now. In a fast-paced society, where traffic jams are seen as agitators or waiting for a meal at a restaurant is too much to handle, we need to remember one simple fact of life.
Patience is a virtue.
Life is not a sprint, but rather a marathon, and no one believes that more than Notre Dame‘s Canadian wingman Nikola Djogo.
If you are finding yourself looking up Notre Dame game tape from the 2016 season to find highlights of Djogo, you will be searching forever.
Djogo took a red-shirt last season to refine his craft, transition into the college game and save a year of eligibility, allowing himself the opportunity to play another four more years after the 2016-17 season.
Before coming to Notre Dame, the rising sophomore played at the Athlete Institute in Mono, Ontario, the same prep school that former NBA rookie Thon Maker, now a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, attended.
Nikola wasn’t the most highly recruited prospect coming out of high school and, at one time, looked destined to stay home and play for a Canadian University.
“I didn’t really have offers from America so CIS (Canadian Inter University Sport) was kind of like a reality, I was going to either go to Carleton or Ottawa most likely”, Djogo explained, “I went to the Athlete Institute for my post grad year, and that’s when all the offers started rolling in”.
In fact, Nikola received a scholarship from Notre Dame in a very non traditional way.
Back in 2015, when Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey made a trip up to Canada to scout Maker, a highly sought-after prospect in his own right, he walked away impressed with not only Thon, but Nikola as well.
Djogo earned a scholarship to Notre Dame shortly after, leaving Coach Brey with hope that he can pull two players out of Canada.
In an article by NDInsider.com back in 2015, Nikola was quoted saying:
‘I was just playing how I usually play that day, battling with Thon,’ Djogo said of how he caught the eyes of the Irish coaches. ‘I wasn’t nervous at all. I was confident in what I could do.’
Once at Notre Dame, Nikola didn’t play the way he knew he could. College is a different game, and he needed time to transition into the newer and faster pace game.
“I was playing pretty bad at the beginning”, Djogo laughed, “and then I started developing as the six weeks went on”.
But with veteran players high up on the depth chart, the likelihood that Djogo would see playing time was slim. He needed to show that patience he displayed when he waiting for his scholarship offers.
Last year, Head Coach Mike Brey and Nikola came to the mutual agreement that it was best for him to redshirt for the 2016-17 season.
“I was shooting in the main gym alone and it was late at night and Coach Brey walked by and we sat down and discussed the whole situation for the year”, Djogo explained. “Coach said ‘they’re in your spot (VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia) so your going to have to fight with them for minutes or you can take this redshirt and develop”.
What helped Nikola decide to sit the season out was looking at the bigger picture and understanding who he was as a player.
“I either would be on the bench in uniform, hoping to get in but probably not getting in that much, or you know sitting aside, not dressing up and just knowing I had a year to work on my craft, so it looked like the best opportunity.”
In addition to the academics and tradition, basketball development was a major factor in Djogo’s decision to go to Notre Dame.
“Obviously Notre Dame’s academics speak for themselves. The tradition is rich and it is the type of people I want to be around” Djogo stated. “The basketball program is known to develop guys and I always developed late so I mean that is what I am hoping to do at Notre Dame”.
Djogo praised his head coach on his ability to develop players who weren’t heavily recruited by powerhouse schools.
“Coach Brey is developing players and then he is building that to the team he is leading to the top every single year”, Djogo explained. “Think of guys like Matty Farrell, Steve Vasturia, Bonzie Colson, look at them now and look at them when they first came. I mean, they are obviously all great players but they weren’t guys that you know Kentucky was fighting over and they come to Notre Dame and they work hard and develop and they focus on grinding and all of a sudden, now they are four year guys who are one of the best players in all of America”.
Djogo even gave insight on the on going relationship between balancing academics and athletics in collegiate athletics.
“Academics (at Notre Dame) play so much of a focus where as like at other schools you would be able to focus 100% on athletics where here it’s more like, you know 60:40, 70:30” Djogo explained. “But, we have a great academic team and advisors that make sure we are doing our job and we’re staying on top of things”.
Now a year later, there is only one thing on Djogo’s mind.
“I’m just looking forward to playing, finally getting on the court and getting to experience technically my first year” Djogo chuckled.
Coach Brey sees Djogo as the hybrid between guard and forward, someone who can shoot and handle the ball but also provide help around the rim.
“He wants me to play the 2 and the 3, stretch the floor with my jump shot. I’m athletic, so I can drive and play above the rim so he just wants me to do a bit of everything and basically evolve as a player and kind of solidify my own spot within that 2 and 3”.
Djogo expects his Notre Dame squad to not skip a beat and continue to do what they do best.
“We’re going to have a young, fast, up and down team, moving in transition, playing defense, locking down guys and obviously moving the ball well like we always do”.
The Irish have been known for their fast and dynamic offense, and Djogo doesn’t believe his squad needs the blue chip, one-and-done players to make their team better and efficient.
“Everyone says how our offense is so smooth and like free flowing and we pass the ball well, but how you get to that point is by playing with guys a lot, so I mean if you are a one and done program you got guys playing for a year there is no way you can gel and create that chemistry,” Djogo explained. “Our system isn’t designed for one and done players”.
With top players like Steve Vasturia and VJ Beachem both graduated, Notre Dame will need to rely on the Canadian hybrid to step up and compliment a strong back court led by Matt Farrell and fill the void left by the departing seniors.
“We have no ceiling” Djogo mentioned on the potential of this year’s Notre Dame team. “We are going to be scary good again, and skies the limit.”
“I mean, I would be dumb to say that we wouldn’t be playing for a national championship by the end of the year”.
But Djogo and his team know from what Mike Brey has constantly preached to them, that you have to take it one game at a time.
Remember, life and the 2017 college basketball season are both a marathon, not a sprint.