Mia Vuksic: What it Means to Be a Jayhawk

by Mia Vuksic

Back home in Sibenik, before I left the playground, I’d always throw up one last shot and watch it go through the hoop. The entire time, I’d be saying to myself, “I need to make it to college. I have to make it.”

I guess I hit that shot enough times that it finally happened.

Being from such a small city, you sometimes wonder what’s possible. But seeing others that played on the exact same playground as me make it to the NBA motivated me. My goal was to go to college, get an education, and come back home to play professionally.

Never in my wildest dreams, though, did I think I’d get an opportunity to play for a historic basketball program like Kansas. When that offer came on the table, I jumped on it immediately—and that was that.

I didn’t need to be sold on that one.

Kansas Jayhawks

A slight change in plans

I couldn’t wait to tell my mom after I said yes to the offer.

It was just so exciting, and quite frankly, unbelievable. I was just a small kid from a small town. To make something like that happen isn’t normal, you know? It isn’t an everyday thing.

I think about that all of the time, whether it’s a good day or a bad one. Just knowing the unlikely path I traveled to get here motivates me every time I step onto the court.

And speaking of an unlikely path, let me tell you about my first trip to the US. It didn’t necessarily go as planned.

Before flying out, I took a COVID test that ended up coming back positive. The problem was, I didn’t find out about the result until I landed in the US.

I was quite shocked, to be honest. I mean, I didn’t feel sick or anything.

So, I called Coach Brandon and told him about the entire situation.

It wasn’t ideal. Here I was in a completely different country, all by myself. I had no clue what to do next.

I knew I couldn’t get back on the plane. So, I was stuck in Atlanta for the whole night. The staff at KU made sure I had a hotel room, and Coach Brandon told he’d come for me the next day. I just remember sitting up in that room and crying through the night.

I called my mom at 2:00 AM to tell her about the situation, and as you can imagine, she was quite stressed. We both were.

I’ll be honest, it meant a lot to me for Coach Brandon to come pick me up and drive another 13 hours back in the same direction. It just gave me the perspective that people cared about me beyond just being a basketball player here.

And mom saw it the same way.

The stranger at the airport

Everything just fell into place once I arrived on campus.

I instantly felt at peace that I’d finally made it. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be my last issue at an airport, and it also wouldn’t be the last time KU helped me out in a desperate situation.

After year one was in the books, I was looking forward to traveling home last summer. I just missed my family and wanted to go back and spend some time with them. But of course, I ran into a flight delay.

I landed in Chicago and knew there was no way I’d catch my connecting flight anymore.

So, I was looking around for help. Soon, I spotted someone with KU shoes.

I walked up to this complete stranger and said, “Hey sir, can you help me, please?”

Well, as it turned out, this person wearing the KU shoes was no other than our new Athletics Director, Travis Goff.

He literally picked up my bag for me, and we ran through the airport for at least 10 minutes straight. “Don’t worry, you’re not going to be late for your flight,” he told me.

It was crazy. What are the odds of that even happening?

I was the last person to board the plane that day, and I was completely out of breath.

But he was right. I made it just in time.

Finally, a Jayhawk

The willingness for this university to go above and beyond to help me out in those situations means everything to me. And I believe those two stories are great examples of what it means to be a Jayhawk. You don’t just wear a uniform; you join a family. Every time I walk into the locker room, I feel like I’m part of something bigger. It reminds me of how much of a privilege it really is to be a part of this program.

I always think about all of the other international players out there that would love to be where I’m at right now. It just motivates me and gives me another reason to give it 100 percent every single day.

Because not long ago, I was just another girl with a dream playing against the boys on the playground back home in Sibenik.

And now I’m actually living my dream. All thanks to the Jayhawks.

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