Lithuanian powerhouse Zalgiris Kaunas is having its best Turkish Airlines EuroLeague campaign this century. For a team that has shown loads of character throughout the season, a big part of that success has been the steady play of its point guards. No other team has two players among Top 15 in assists – as Zalgiris does with Kevin Pangos and Vasilije Micic and among those elite passers, no player has fewer starts than Micic, who has come off the bench in 21 of 25 contests this season. Averaging 7.3 points and dishing 4.4 assists, not to mention setting his own single-game career highs in eight categories this season, the 24-year old Micic is developing these days into one of the continent's finest playmakers.
That, in itself, is surprising, because as a child, Micic seemed destined for a career in another sport – alpine skiing. "Skiing is my first and biggest love," Micic says. "But I also love basketball."
Vasilije grew up with his family on the mountain of Kopaonik in central Serbia. His father had a job there, and being surrounded by lifts and slopes, it was only logical for him and his older sister Nina to get into ski sports. She did snowboarding and Vasilije got into skiing.
"I was really good, really talented," Micic recalls. "I would spend six months a year on the slopes." Indeed, he was a four-time Serbian champion and a two-time Balkans champion in the slalom and giant slalom.
However, on the very same mountain, he was introduced to the sport in which he now stars. Kopaonik is a traditional host to a big YUBAC basketball camp, and Micic liked it so much that he took part in all the camp's shifts one summer. Then, in 2003, when his family moved to the Serbian capital of Belgrade, Vasilije joined a local basketball club OKK Beograd.
"The change to basketball was spontaneous because we moved to a big city," Micic says.
Living far away from the mountains, it was tough to find enough time to ski, but it would have been far easier for Micic to give up skiing if he wasn't so good at it.
"In 2006, after a two-year hiatus from skiing, I just showed up at the state championships and finished second in giant slalom," he recalled.
The next year he needed to choose between two sports, however, because he was showing a great promise bouncing the orange ball in a basketball-crazy country.
"The results in basketball, when I was a kid, where coming really fast," Micic says. "I felt I had potential."
That's when the decision came.
"Skiing needs a lot of sacrifices, even more than basketball," he explains. "You have to spend all your time on the snow. One summer a basketball coach from OKK Belgrade told me I am really talented and I should play basketball some more."
Basketball and alpine skiing seem like two completely opposite sports, but Micic does not necessarily feel that way. He knows that he brings onto the basketball floor a lot of what he learned in skiing.
"My biggest advantage, I thought, was the feeling that I have to change my rhythm," Micic says. "It is something that comes from skiing, getting low to approach the gates. And that was the immediate positive comment I received [in basketball], when a coach told me how naturally I manage to change direction and change the rhythm. I could not understand it, because it comes, well, natural to me."
At 1.95 meters, Micic would likely be the tallest skier on the slopes, but in basketball, his size brings all kinds of advantages, especially for the point guard position he plays.
"I managed to keep the coordination [from skiing], despite growing to the height where I am at right now and playing playmaker," he says.
This year, he is enjoying his best season. His 4.4 assists per game rank 12th in the EuroLeague ahead of Round 26. His total of 111 assists are tied for eighth place and his 7.85 assists per 40 minute are ninth. All of those are career-high marks for Micic, who is in his first season with Zalgiris, but in his third in the EuroLeague. He made his competition debut in 2014 as a 20-year old with FC Bayern Munich, but his first season was cut short by a knee injury. He then split the 2015-16 season between Bayern and Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade.
Over the past decade, as Vasilije was building his basketball career, his sister Nina stayed in snowboarding and went on to have an extremely successful career at it. She was a four-time world champion in youth categories; she was a silver-medalist at the European Youth Winter Olympic Festival; and at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, she became Serbia's first-ever Olympic snowboarder.
Vasilije could not travel to support her at those Olympics, but was on hand for some of Nina's earlier medal-winning runs. He not only admired her success, but has always used it as a great motivation.
"I always got motivation from what my sister did," he said. "In my eyes, what I was accomplishing was nothing compared to what she was doing, even though it wasn't nothing. When I was a state champ, she was a world champion.
"But that always pushed me to be better. When she finished second in the European Youth Olympics, which was a huge accomplishment, the first such winter sports medal for Serbia at the time, that was what really pushed me even more. To practice harder. So I made my senior debut as a 16-year old with Mega Vizura. That's when two of us became even closer and continued to feed off each other."
In recent years, Nina finished her pro career and found after snowboarding, while Vasilije's basketball career is now taking off. Last summer, Micic helped Serbia win the silver medal at EuroBasket 2017 and now he has an important role in Zalgiris's attempt to end its long EuroLeague Playoffs drought.
He has fully devoted himself to basketball for more than a decade now, which also prevents him from going skiing due to the risk of injury. However, he does admit that he dreams of the day that he will fly on two skis once again.
"For me, skiing, especially recreational, is the most beautiful sport. I grew up on the mountain, where all is wonderful, safe, and there is all this snow for skiing," Vasilije says. "The first day I finish my basketball career, I am going to pay an arrangement somewhere and go skiing for two months."