Exactly one decade ago, Vasilije Micic was preparing to become a pro at age 16. Considered one of the most talented young point guards on the continent at the time, he went on to have a great first season playing against grown men.
Today, the Anadolu Efes Istanbul star and All-EuroLeague point guard is entering his sixth Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season with the prime of his career still ahead of him. It may not seem surprising that this great talent from the basketball-loving country of Serbia has achieved such success. But a closer look reveals that Micic had a unique journey to stardom, one that involved overcoming a major injury at a young age, and later deciding to leave the EuroLeague just four years ago in order to improve enough to return to an important role in it
"Everyone has his own journey," Micic says. "My story, for me, is a nice example that a lot of things in life are possible."
"My story, for me, is a nice example that a lot of things in life are possible."
Micic's first pro season back in 2010 was with Mega Basket Belgrade, the breeding ground of such stars as former EuroLeague champ Nikola Pekovic, former All-EuroLeague center Boban Marjanovic, and NBA superstar Nikola Jokic. Micic nearly averaged double-digits in scoring as Mega reached the final stage of the Serbian League. His second season started even better, with Micic averaging 15.8 points. But during a game in late November, six weeks short of his 18th birthday, it all came crashing down when Micic tore his ACL.
"It was a mental shock", Micic recalls. "Everything shut off in a day. From being in the Serbian media every week to the point where no one was calling me anymore. It is hard to describe what kind of shock it is for a young player when everyone forgets about you all of a sudden."
Nine years later, his story obviously has had a happy ending, but that wasn't how it felt at the time, however.
"I could easily not have come back from it, which happens to many who suffer such an injury, especially at such a young age, because they do not recover from the injury in their own head," Micic says. "That's besides the physical part, all the pain, all the complex recovery and treatment after the surgery."
He worked hard on his recovery, and took it as a life lesson.
"The worst scenario I would ever wish for myself is if I remained a talent that never used his potential."
"I learned a lot, and at 17 years old I already started investing in my body, taking care of it," he says. "It was not the best thing at 17 years of age to think if I have to hit the ice tub, how many therapies I have left. At that age you should enjoy basketball, practice with players from your generation and sometime go out with your friends. I was doing recovery and listening to my body."
Micic thinks that one silver lining was getting hurt in November, giving him plenty of time for quality recovery before his first game back, eight months and 20 days after knee surgery.
"It was not easy," he recalls. "Fear is a big factor in getting back to doing the same moves and steps you did before the surgery. But I think I was brave, and that bravery helped me recover quicker. Not only to recover, but to recover and restore confidence in yourself."
From the outside, Micic seemed not to have skipped a beat. Two more impressive years with Mega led him to FC Bayern Munich, where he made his EuroLeague debut in 2014 at age 20. A season later, following an elbow injury, Bayern loaned him to Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, whom Micic helped to reach the EuroLeague playoffs a few months later.
"Zvezda and Coach Dejan Radonjic helped me a lot," Micic says. "I got there without any confidence and he gave me a chance even though he knew I would be playing up and down."
Nonetheless, Micic did not have a significant role yet, and he wanted more. In 2016, weeks after finishing the EuroLeague playoffs, Micic made an unusual decision. He had offers to sign with EuroLeague teams, but he decided take a sizeable step back.
"I did not want to stay in the EuroLeague just for the purpose of lingering around at this level," Micic explains. "I thought I had something in me, and that if I show it on the court, that – and only that – would be the measure of the level of my performance. The worst scenario I would ever wish for myself is to remain a talent who never used his potential."
To get the playing time he felt he needed, Micic joined just-promoted Tofas Bursa of the Turkish League, a team he knew little about. Even people close to him questioned the move, but Micic calls it a key moment of his career.
"I got the best outcome that I could ever imagine," he says. "That was the moment when I started to believe again in myself, and my game started again to be visible on the basketball court."
Micic improved his outside shot and regained confidence. A successful season at Tofas led him back to the EuroLeague, where he immediately helped Zalgiris Kaunas reach the 2018 Final Four, the club's first of this century. He purposely chose Zalgiris as the destination for his EuroLeague return and credits his head coach in Kaunas, Sarunas Jasikevicius, with helping him improve by understanding the game better.
"The intention was to prove myself by playing, but a year in Zalgiris with Saras helped me mature," he says. "It feels like I spent five years playing in that one season on the EuroLeague level; that's how much I feel like I learned. Saras molded me and simplified basketball for me so much. Basketball feels so simple for me now, I feel like I am a veteran with 20 years of experience. Saras summarized it all for me so nicely. Basketball now sometimes feels so slow and easy."
Micic signed next with Efes, where he took his game to another level and reached All-EuroLeague status while helping lead the team to the 2019 championship game. Efes became dominant last season, holding first place from mid-November until the pandemic intervened while Micic compiled EuroLeague career highs of 14.5 points and 5.8 assists per game.
"Saras molded me and simplified basketball for me so much."
After a long break, Micic is now delighted to be back to running the Efes offense, with his prime years still ahead of him 10 years after his brush with major injury.
"I know am still just 26 and I am very happy that things turned out for me the way they did, so maybe my story can be a good example for some up-and-coming talent, some kid in a similar situation, not to give up but to stay himself. Sacrifice, but keep working," he concludes.
"You make a decision, you stay behind it and move forward with it and go to work. That's what has been the story in my career in the last five years, and it made the success is even sweeter."