It’s the trip he can’t wait to make.
After all, that’s where he and the rest of the Wright State team will travel to on Aug. 2 for a 10-day tour that will take them to Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome.
It’s not Italy.
While Aleksandar Dozic certainly is looking forward to the trip – besides seeing the sights, playing three games against Italian teams and bonding with his new teammates, he might be able to see his parents should they make the 80-minute flight to Rome from his home in Montenegro – that is not the destination he most wants to get to with his fellow Raiders this season.
That trip, he hopes, will come 7 ½ months from now.
It’s one he was unable to make while spending four seasons and playing in 83 college games at two other schools – Marshall and Marist – before coming to Wright State this summer as a grad student transfer.
“It’s my fifth year, my last year, and I wanted to come somewhere where we had a chance to get to the NCAA Tournament,” the 6-foot-9 Dozic said as he sat just off the Mills Morgan Center court after practice the other day. “I want to go to March Madness.
“That’s why I chose Wright State. This team is stacked this year. It probably will be picked to win the league and I want to be part of that.”
He began his college career – after spending a season at Don Bosco Prep near Valparaiso, Indiana – at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, where he played in 23 games as a freshman and averaged 1.4 points per game as the Thundering Herd went 18-17.
He then spent three years at Marist College in New York, but had to sit out the first season to meet NCAA transfer rules. Over the next two seasons, he played in 60 games, started 18 and averaged 7.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. But the team struggled to win, going 12-19 last season and 6-25 the year before.
After getting his degree at Marist and adding his name to the grad transfer list, he said he was contacted by some 30 schools.
“Not all of them were actually going to offer me,” he said. “Some just call and say, ‘We like you. We’re going to stay in touch.’ But then they don’t call back.
“I rushed my decisions when I went to Marshall and Marist, but this time I took a long time. I visited some other schools, but when I came here I liked it. I liked the players and coaches and I knew.
“I said, ‘I’m done, I want to come here.’”
Education in the U.S.
Back home in Podgorica, Montenegro – the capital of his small Balkans nation on the Adriatic Sea— Dozic’s father is an electrical engineer who still plays some recreational basketball. His older brother, Stefan, also played the sport and eventually Aleksandar followed suit and soon it was evident that he had real potential.
He played on a club team in his city and eventually for various age-group national teams which took him to places like Romania, France, Czech Republic, Turkey, Macedonia and Greece.
But after high schooI he said he was “reluctant” to follow his hoops dream to the United States:
“I wanted to go to Spain and play professionally, but my parents pushed me to go to the U.S. and get an education.
“In Europe, if you play professional basketball, you practice twice a day and you can’t have school. That’s just how it is. The USA was the only option to have an education, get a diploma and play at a high level of basketball.”
Still, when it was time to leave home, he admitted: “I was nervous and scared. I was only 18. I spoke English – we had studied it in school – but my conversational English was not that good.”
He ended up at Don Bosco because the school had a couple of connections to Montenegro. After averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds in his one season there, he was recruited by several schools, including Wright State, then coached by Billy Donlon.
“I picked Marshall because they had two guys from Serbia and one from Bosnia, so we all spoke he same language,” he said.
He played behind two talented seniors there and though he said he was the sixth man for a while, his minutes dwindled and so did his happiness.
When he decided to transfer, schools like the University of California Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and South Carolina Upstate showed real interest, but he chose Marist because it had several foreign players – from Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and later Finland and Italy — on the roster.
“At that time I was still young and I made a quick choice,” he said. “I felt I wanted to have some other foreign players on the roster with me.
“It was a good school and I don’t regret a thing. The academics are good there. The campus is beautiful and I met a lot of good people. A lot of them are still my friends.”.
At Marist, he also met his girlfriend, Janelle Solviletti, a distance runner from Massachusetts who captained the Red Foxes women’s track and field and cross country teams. Now graduated, she lives in Boston, where she’s a writer and runs for New Balance.
Although he thought he’d narrowed his post-grad choices to UC San Diego and Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Dozic said he was surprised by the way Wright State fit everything he was looking for.
“When I came to visit, I talked to Bill Wampler,” he said of the Raiders’ 6-foot-6 senior forward who transferred here three seasons ago from Drake.
“I told him, ‘All I care about is being around good people and winning.’
“And I think I found both here.”
A deep, talented roster
As you watched practice Friday – the NCAA permits teams taking international trips in the summer 10 practice days to prepare – one thing stood out:
The Raiders have a lot of talented players this year.
“We’re super deep,” coach Scott Nagy admitted. “We have 12 eligible guys on scholarship this year and Tim has to sit out a year. (Tim Finke, a 6-foot-6 guard from Grand Canyon University, who’s sidelined a season to meet NCAA transfer stipulations.)
“We’ve never had depth like this since I’ve been here. We had good players before, but we had to rely pretty much on seven guys. Now we’ve got a lot of good players and we’re going to have some really good players on our team who just don’t see a lot of time on the floor. Those are decisions we’ll have to make.”
He said he believes having a full roster has more benefits than just providing options when a player is lost to injury or even foul trouble.
With a short roster, he said players can get comfortable – even lackadaisical — because they know they’re always going to get to play.
“Twelve guys also takes care of some attitude issues,” he said. “It forces you to show up and compete every day. There’s a little bit of fear: “If I don’t work hard, someone will take my place.’ So it keeps everybody on edge and makes everybody play harder. It makes everybody better.”
While Nagy compared him to Parker Ernsthausen, the fifth-year player on last year’s team known for his defensive chops – he said Dozic needs to work on his own ability to defend:
“He’s probably more polished offensively than Parker and I think he will score better, but he’s not as good defensively and needs to get much better on that end.”
Dozic understands the situation: “I know I have to step up on defense and that’s what I’m working on. With all the good guys we have, it’s not going to be easy getting minutes. We all know that, so it’s going to be a long preseason to see who ends up playing.”
Nagy said that situation prompts one question he now hears repeatedly:
“I get asked all the time now, ‘How you gonna keep all those guys happy?’
“And I say all the time, ‘That’s not my job.’ It never has been my job to keep players happy. People are ether happy or they are not.
“My job is helping our guys grow up –and part of growing up is realizing sometimes you don’t always get what you want – and it’s also for me to make the best decisions I can in terms of my experience and help us win basketball games within the framework of our culture.
“If kids are happy or unhappy, it mostly relies on them, not me.”
He said a trip like the one they’re about to take – schools are permitted one international trip every four years – hopefully will help on that front. It could help players develop a chemistry and build a bond – things they can draw on as the season progresses:
“That camaraderie could be pretty important for our team. You want guys to be able to put other people before themselves and make us better as a team all around.”
And if that happens, Dozic believes he’ll finally get that trip he really wants:
“My whole career, the goal for me is to win a ring and go to March Madness. And I think I can achieve that here.”