A Day To Remember
Jackets host Clemson in finale, final career home game for Vuckovic, Sweeney
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Katarina Vuckovic will never forget March 2, 2014. That was the first Senior Day she witnessed at Georgia Tech. It wasn’t as much the game — an 84-74 win over Boston College, as what happened prior to it.
“‘The Senior Stories’ in the locker room, that’s when everybody gets emotional,” Vuckovic recalled. “We go around and everybody tells a story, what they’re going to miss.”
She’s since been through two more, each of those special.
On Thursday night at McCamish Pavilion, in that hour or so prior to the 7 p.m. tipoff against Clemson in the 2017 home finale, Vuckovic will take part in her final “Senior Stories.” She’ll again be quiet, but this time, for a different reason. It’ll be all about her and teammate Cha’Ron Sweeney.
“I get to listen and they all get to talk,” she said and smiled. “It’s crazy. I always imagined how that day will be. It’s always really emotional. I don’t know if I want to go through that but I’m excited.”
What Vuckovic should expect to hear is how far she has come since that ‘13-14 season. It’s a coming of age story head coach MaChelle Joseph has seen and enjoyed every step of the way.
“It’s obviously bittersweet for me because over these last four years Kat has been a rock in this program. She is the epitome of our core values,” Joseph said. “You couldn’t ask for more of a total person than Katarina Vuckovic. She’s an achiever in the classroom. She’s an achiever on the court, in the community. She’s everything that we want every women’s basketball student-athlete to be at Georgia Tech.
“I’m very proud of her growth and development,” she added. “She went from not saying a word as a freshman — for a year I didn’t even know she could talk — and she went to giving the most eloquent speech I’ve ever heard at the endowment dinner last year. So the development in her as a human being over the four years has been so impressive.”
Joseph hadn’t even touched the on-court contributions, which go beyond and much deeper than simple numbers.
“Kat’s just really unselfish,” Joseph said. “No matter what role I’ve asked her to play over her four-year career, she’s done it. If I asked her to come off the bench she comes off the bench. If I ask her to play 40 minutes she plays 40 minutes. She’s played everything from point guard to center for us. She jumps center and plays two-guard. She’s a great teammate. She’s just one of those people that you can always count on.”
One thing not even Joseph counted on, but came to relish was Vuckovic’s personality and sense of humor, often overshadowed by her quiet nature.
It was something that was there all along and she masterfully used to her advantage.
“My first practice I actually had trouble realizing what was going on, understanding what Coach (Joseph) was calling out,” Vuckovic recalled. “In practice she always wants us to repeat calls. There was one drill we never knew what she was saying until our English got better. So we would just open our mouths and pretend we were saying something. I just told her last night, ‘Coach, there was one drill we never knew what you were saying.’”
Joseph got a kick out of the confession.
“It’s a bail-out drill that they say what they’re going to do. She didn’t understand what we were saying,” she recalled with a laugh. “It was just basic stuff but I think because I talk so fast it was hard for her to understand sometimes. Kat has a real dry sense of humor. Her first year anytime I would challenge her she would just smile at me. I never knew what she was thinking. One of the things I’ll always remember about her is she doesn’t get high, she doesn’t get low. She’s the most consistent player, actually consistent person that I’ve ever been around.”
One area in which Vuckovic has been especially consistent, one that’s the same in any language, is her caring and consideration for others.
“Kat always puts everyone else before herself,” Joseph said. “She has deep feelings and she cares very much for every one of her teammates, her coaches and the people around her. She has done so much to give back to not only our community outside of Georgia Tech but also in the Athletic Association and in our community at Georgia Tech.”
Vuckovic’s tireless commitment to community service as part of Athletes In Action and, for the last two years, on the Georgia Tech Student-Athlete Advisory Board (S.A.A.B.), led to her being named one of five D-I basketball players to the 2016 Allstate WBCA Good Works team at last season’s Women’s Final Four. This year, her recognition has gone even further as Vuckovic has been named a semifinalist for this year’s Wooden Citizenship Cup.
Kat would like to finish her career with one more win over Clemson. The Yellow Jackets are 6-2 career vs. the Tigers, with both losses coming by one point. Vuckovic had a 10-point, eight-rebound game against them in the Jan. 29 62-61 loss and has been red hot since, averaging 8.0 points, on 37.5 percent shooting (39.1 from three), 4.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 35.1 minutes per games since, twice playing the full 40 minutes and one other time playing 39.
“That actually happened last year, too, Clemson was my wake-up game,” said Vuckovic, who is averaging 7.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 blocks (including a career-best three on Feb. 22, 2015) and 1.4 steals in 24.0 minutes career against them. “I don’t know. Every year we play Clemson two times a year every year. So it’s kind of like a rivalry but we have been dominating it. I hope we’re going to do that on Thursday.”
“I hope for Kat’s sake, that she has her best game of her career tomorrow,” said Joseph. “It’s always great to play well on Senior Night and if anybody deserves that Katarina Vuckovic deserves that.”
Sweeney also will be playing her final collegiate home game.
“It means a lot because it’s the last home game that I’ll ever play,” said Sweeney, a graduate student, who has played a key reserve role for Tech after coming from Eastern Michigan, which she left as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Thursday will be the first Senior Day, for Sweeney, who is pursuing her master’s in building construction, as she never got to go through one at EMU, having graduated in three years.
“I’m excited for her for that opportunity,” said Joseph. “I’m really impressed with Cha academically and her commitment. She’s been a high-achiever in her graduate program here at Georgia Tech.
“I think the one thing for Cha is just having an idea what it’s like to play at a whole other level (in the ACC),” Joseph said. “Coming from a mid-major and being the go-to player, and then having to learn how to be a role player that’s been a really tough challenge for her. But I’m really proud of her and the way she’s persevered. I think it’s been a life lesson for her and down the road I think it’s going to something she’ll be able to draw from.”
On Thursday night, the Jackets will honor both its seniors prior to tipoff. A sentimental night for all.