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Blind Faith

Jan. 28, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– When meeting a Georgia Tech tennis player from Serbia, it seems natural to ask about how he was recruited, but Dusan Miljevic makes it clear quickly that Tech did not recruit him.

“I found Georgia Tech,” said the junior from Novi Sad, Serbia. “When I was looking at colleges, I wanted a great engineering school, a college in a big city, and a college where there were good athletics so that I could continue my tennis career.”

Miljevic did (and does) his homework before contacting college coaches.

Before he could become a Yellow Jacket, coach Kenny Thorne would need more. He did not, however, make the trip overseas to see Miljevic before signing him up. He left that to assistant coach Aljosa Piric. Why? Well, Piric is a native of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This story is not about these once-upon-a-time near neighbors, nor the tense relations that their republics and others in the region have shared over decades; that story – which may prove a doozy – might come another day.

Miljevic’s back story (stories, really) is atypical in so many ways that it would require a paperback to cover them. He did not make a recruiting visit to Tech. He never set foot in the United States until he began school on The Flats.

Imagine yourself in that situation. Miljevic had studied English growing up so language was not a big adjustment; you have to listen closely to him, in fact, to detect an accent that might tip you toward his origin. He did not feel right at home, however. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t oh-so-happy.

“My first day in the United States was my first day in class,” he said. “I remember being amazed at how nice the campus was just walking around and being happy to be here. I was so happy just walking around. It was a great day for me, a great first semester really.”

Having played a modest role in his freshman and sophomore seasons, Miljevic’s stepping up. In the fall, he was 13-5 in singles, and he advanced to the quarterfinals of the Southern Intercollegiate Championship. He’s won a pair of straight-set matches the past two weeks as well.

All of this is made more interesting by the fact he might have been a soccer player if not for bombs.

Miljevic, 22, played tennis and soccer growing up until the NATO airstrikes of 1999 on the Republic of Yugoslavia, most of which focused on the Republic of Serbia.

“It’s not a nice story, but when I was 11 I chose tennis,” he said. “I was playing both, and there was a war when the U.S. bombed Serbia for political reasons. The soccer team fell apart, and tennis was the place to be. All my friends were there, and I was there all day, and I just got into tennis.”

If you’ve forgotten, or didn’t know, those bombings were not approved by the United Nations general assembly, nor did the President of the United States have congressional approval to involve U.S. forces.

The actions – which resulted in high civilian casualties relative to military casualties — were controversial on multiple levels even though they are widely considered to have prompted the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, and perhaps to have triggered the eventual downfall of oft-loathed Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic.

Miljevic doesn’t really go there. Maybe that’s a conversation for another day, maybe not.

There are more angles here than in Miljevic’s game, which has morphed since he left the clay courts of Europe and moved to hard courts. More inclined now than as a younger player to move to the net, and rely on a serve-and-volley game, he’s big on tennis yet bigger still on his future.

He said he’ll graduate in May, 2013, and wants to immediately seek a Masters degree in civil engineering and/or management. His twin brother Filip, who plays at Illinois State, majors in finance and international business. They both think big, and consider each other best friends.

In all this there is Tech, which Miljevic chose almost blindly with already great results.

The Yellow Jackets are ranked No. 23 nationally and arcing upward over the past year-plus and Miljevic is having the time of his life. With two players from Colombia, one from Spain, one from South Africa, two from Georgia, one from Florida, one from Maine and Miljevic, they’re an eclectic bunch.

Five of the nine live together . . . another story to come.

“We are so close. We are like family,” Miljevic said. “We really want to do well not just because of us, but because of others. It’s `our’ success. I can say I’ve had a very interesting college experience considering Tech is not a social school. Here, people study and play sports, especially if they’re athletes.

“We do a lot of things together, try to do different things. I really think this is the time of your life no matter how serious you are about what you’re doing.”

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