A Faithful Path

July 7, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Were you viewing from a distance with no knowledge of back stories, it would appear that the path of Aljosa Piric has wandered all over the maps of geography and life. He hasn’t traveled by standard schedule.

Yet there has always been aim.

As he became the men’s tennis coach head coach at Old Dominion about a week ago with a modest three years of experience as a college assistant – all at Georgia Tech — Piric set quite a pace relative to others.

For the young Bosnian man, that was normal; he’s long been ahead of schedule.

“I knew he would move on, I didn’t know how quickly,” said Tech coach Kenny Thorne, himself a quick mover years earlier. “I think it’s a testament to what he did with our program.”

Piric and Thorne were intertwined far beyond the past three years.

While Thorne was playing professionally around the world in the mid-1990s, Piric and a couple of his similarly-young, tennis-playing peers traveled about half a world to live with Thorne’s parents in Richmond, Va.

Standard? Hardly.

Thorne’s parents did not know the young men, just that they were tennis players looking to escape the Bosnian-Serbian war. Before long, it began to feel like Thorne had a younger brother. As he said, “Aljosa is just an incredible person; he became like a member of the family.”

After attending high school in the area, Piric played tennis for the University of Richmond and after earning a degree in business management he moved into the “real” world.

Again, the idea of a schedule quickly fell away. He was in the field of risk analysis. Before long, he did some personal analysis, and then took a calculated risk.

“After getting a job in business, I realized that was not the profession I wanted to be in,” Piric said. “A couple years in I started missing [tennis]. I got a part-time job teaching at a tennis academy [in Stamford, Conn.]

“I realized that’s absolutely something I wanted to do. It was so much more rewarding for me seeing these kids grow and take things to heart and implement them in their lives. Then, one thing led to another . . . “

As he came off the professional tour in the late `90s, Thorne debated the business world before an opening as an assistant arose at Tech. Soon thereafter, the head coach’s job came open and he took it, well ahead of schedule.

Readers of Sting Daily will recall that Thorne – the standing national coach of the year, by the way – speaks not only of improving tennis players and winning matches, but also of connecting with young people and impacting their lives. In this regard, he and Piric truly appear to be brothers.

“It’s more about using tennis as a tool to teach these kids bigger principles,” said the new ODU coach. “College coaching is the ultimate, really, because . . . it’s an amazingly influential time in their lives.”

Conversation with Thorne a few years ago led to a job at Tech, and now a bigger job at Old Dominion, in Norfolk, Va., not far from Piric’s Richmond stomping grounds. Don’t mistake this for Piric falling into clover. He has inherited a tough situation.

Old Dominion has four players (three seniors and a junior), and while he plans to make his full move north in about a week, there may not be enough time before school starts in the fall to fill out a full roster in time for the fall season although he said ODU will play in five tournaments.

“We’re a little bit behind,” Piric said. “My first priority will be recruiting and hiring an assistant coach. We’re going to hit it pretty hard. Our goal is to be ready in January; that’s the start of the spring season. I’m excited to go back to a place where I have roots and getting that program where it needs to be.”

It’s all relative. Piric may be behind for the moment, but that likely won’t last. He has a knack for setting his own schedule.

“That was one of the things . . . I wanted an assistant who had a passion for tennis, but had a passion for changing lives at the same time,” the Tech head coach said. “He absolutely knew that he wanted to go into college tennis coaching. He’s going to do a great job.”

It has been a pleasure getting to know Aljosa Piric. I will never forget tagging along with the men’s tennis team in the spring when they went to swim with whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium. That was not on Piric’s schedule, nor his bucket list, which he appeared to ponder that day. But he did it, and brought joy to himself and others in the process.

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