Denton: Teammates Helping Lift Vucevic's Confidence (Part 2)


By John Denton
December 6, 2012

``It helps me a lot talking to him. He played professionally for 24 years, so he definitely knows a lot about the game even though he didn’t play in the NBA,’’ Nikola said of his dad, who played on Yugoslavia’s National Team alongside of Hall of Famer Drazen Petrovic. ``He gets to watch almost every game and he tells me what I need to improve on and every day he teaches me. I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for him.’’

And what kinds of critiques did his father have after he played passively against Garnett and Duncan in losses last week? Against Boston and Garnett, he managed just six points and three rebounds, while he had only two points and five boards versus Duncan and the Spurs.

``He told me to just keep my head up and it was going to happen for me,’’ Vucevic said of his talks with his father. ``I don’t think I was playing that bad, but offensively I wasn’t aggressive and I was kind of passive. I knew I had to come back and turn it around. I also just kept believing in myself and it’s paying off now.’’

It’s certainly paying off for the Magic, who firmly believe that their young 7-footer has the potential to someday be an NBA all-star. He already has seven double-doubles this season and is averaging 9.9 points and 9.0 rebounds a night. He’s 18th in the NBA in total rebounding (9.0), 18th in defensive rebounding (6.3), 21st in offensive rebounding (2.7) and 19th double-doubles (seven).

``I know I can do it, but I also know that some games I’m going to struggle offensively. I try not to let that get me down,’’ said Vucevic, who played collegiately at USC for three seasons before spending his rookie season in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers. ``I keep practicing to stay on top of my game. And my coaches and teammates still believe in me.’’

Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn has rammed home that belief in Vucevic by stressing almost daily his confidence in his big center’s skills. Vaughn said if the Magic are going to continue to win games and defy the critics that they need Vucevic playing aggressively and with confidence.

``I believe in him and I believe in his abilities. I tell him that and it’s honest and true,’’ Vaughn said. ``I tell him that to his face and I’ll keep telling him that. He is a good basketball player, he’s going to get better and he’s going to be with us.

``Sometimes you don’t overstress things to complicate them and put unwanted pressure on the situation,’’ Vaughn continued, referring to how he deals with difficult nights for Vucevic. ``It’s just as simple as me saying that I believe in his abilities. I see him make that jump hook, duck in (for post-ups) and I see you rebound the basketball and I tell him to do it in the game. I know he’s playing against first-tier centers now, but he can still do it. It’s an honest belief in another human being and that’s my job as a coach.’’

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