By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A former Golden Eagle fan favorite and four-year sharpshooter for the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team, Aleksa Jugovic will continue his electric career in the professional ranks oversees, signing a contract with Real Canoe of Spain's LEB Oro league, the second basketball division of the Spanish basketball league system.
"Honestly, it's really like a dream come true," Jugovic said of inking his first professional deal. "It starts from your childhood when you are with your friends in the park shooting and saying names of famous players and pretending that you are one of them. Now to have a chance to compete as a professional player, it's awesome."
Tech head coach Steve Payne added, "We are very proud of A.J. for earning this great opportunity. He gets to play in one of the best leagues in Spain, which has a rich history in international basketball. We wish him the best of luck and know he will make everyone here at Tech and in the Putnam County area that supported him for so long proud."
|Jugovic pulls up for one of his 230 3-point
field goals throughout his career in a game
against Eastern Kentucky (Dec. 30, 2017).
Jugovic, a native of Leskovac, Serbia, earned the nickname "Serbian Sugar" during his Golden Eagle career, a moniker that resonated nearly immediately with the Tech faithful. And the fans' love and support during his four seasons in the purple and gold is not something the TTU alum takes lightly.
"Those were probably the four best years of my life," Jugovic exclaimed. "I can't give enough thanks to everybody involved in this program and the community for giving me a chance to play for this university. Thanks to my coaches, teammates and athletic department for believing in me, at times more than I believed in myself."
Reminiscing of his time, he remembered a story from his time in Cookeville that he felt obligated to share.
"I have to use this opportunity to tell an anecdote from my sophomore year," Jugovic recalled. "After one game, I was shooting like 0-for-9 from the 3-point line and was devastated about it. I remember [former assistant] Coach Frank Davis telling me that it happens to the best of us, that everybody believes in me, to keep working hard and that things will get better. When you have someone behind your back like that, and a group of people that truly support you, it really gives you that extra confidence and makes you want to prove yourself even more."
And prove himself he did. Jugovic racked up his historical career second all-time in program history with 230 made 3-pointers and an 87.3 free-throw shooting percentage. The guard was on pace to snap the Golden Eagle 3-point record, held by Davis, before a January 13 ankle injury against Murray State forced him to miss 10 games and play restricted minutes in five more contests.
|Jugovic celebrates while coming down from
a fastbreak dunk against Eastern Kentucky
(Dec. 30, 2017). He finished with 28 points.
Despite the untimely setback, Jugovic still finished his career 15th all-time in scoring, racking up 1,319 points. He cracked the top 10 in 3-point percentage (38.5), minutes played (3,327) and 20-point performances (22). He also set the program record for 3-point percentage in a single contest as a senior, sinking an amazing 7-of-7 attempts from downtown at New Mexico on his way to career-high 31 points.
And while the performance at The Pit was memorable, particularly with the Golden Eagles' 104-96 victory in front of nearly 10,000 crazed fans, it was the comfort of the Eblen Center and the hometown fans that Jugovic appreciated and enjoyed the most.
"Playing in the Hoop in front of all of those great fans we have, as well as my friends and family, that's what I'll miss the most," Jugovic said. "The relationships that I built in the past four years are so special. And, also, college life of course, just being surrounded by young people every day."
With his collegiate days now behind him, Jugovic may enjoy reminiscing about all the good times throughout his fantastic career, but it doesn't cloud his focus on the next step in his basketball career.
"I'm definitely looking forward to the challenge of playing at the professional level with players that are already competing with a lot of experience and talent," Jugovic explained. "I can't wait to keep working on my game even more as I try to be productive and help my team win games. The fact that my first year will be in Spain; it will be great. It's a beautiful country with huge basketball traditions and I'm familiar with the language and culture thanks to my friends from Spain that I made lifelong relationships with in my time at Tech."
Jugoivc and his Real Canoe teammates are scheduled to begin their first campaign Oct. 5 against Chocolate Trapa Palencia on their home court in Madrid.
Photos by Thomas Corhern