East Troy High School’s A.J. Vukovich scores in the Feb. 21 game against Brodhead. Vukovich topped the 2,000-point mark in the Feb. 18 and was named to the All-Southern Lakes Newspapers Co-Player of the Year. (Eric Kramer photo)

By Mike Ramczyk

Correspondent

Not too many players earn a scholarship to play Division 1 collegiately in one sport and also make all state in another sport.

East Troy senior AJ Vukovich is not your average player.

The 6-foot-4 athletic inside-outside presence has been the motor for the past few years for the East Troy boys basketball squad, one of the most dominant sports programs in the area.

In his senior campaign, he went out with a bang, averaging 27 points and 13 rebounds per game.

Vukovich, 18, of Mukwonago, helped lead the state-ranked Trojans to a regional final and earned WBCA Division 3 all-state honors and his second straight Rock Valley Conference player of the year honor in the process.

Vukovich is also a Division 1 baseball commit to the University of Louisville.

For his efforts on the court, Vukovich is the 2020 Southern Lakes Newspapers co-Player of the Year along with Elkhorn’s Jordan Johnson.

Along with his considerable talent, Vukovich is the ultimate team player, according to his coach.

“Obviously he is a special athlete,” said East Troy head coach Darryl Rayfield. “AJ’s true selfless ability to be happy about team success is what I will remember about him as a person.

“It has never been about merely scoring points, but he is able to able to affect a game in many ways. He’s a difference-maker. He lifts his team to another level. He consistently performed at such a high level this year and the past four years.”

Southern Lakes Newspapers recently caught up with Vukovich:

SLN: How does it feel to be named player of the year and receive all your basketball awards?

AV: It feels really good, all of the awards I have ever received have been a testament to my hard work and my coaches putting me in situations to succeed. I have worked hard to be a good high school basketball player ever since the third grade and without the support of my teammates and coaches, none of this would’ve been possible.

SLN: Are you disappointed the season ended before state? Looking back, how nice was it to get the whole season in before coronavirus took over?

AV: I would have been more disappointed if we were still in the tournament. I think it would have been more painful to end my career another step closer to state and being told we can’t play.

It’s an inconvenient situation for everyone, but all we can do is follow the rules and keep being safe so everyone can get back to doing what they love.

SLN: With no school and nothing going on, what have you been doing during quarantine?

AV: I’ve pretty much been getting up and trying to get my schoolwork done in the morning. My dad and I have been practicing baseball over at the diamonds they have at a nearby park. Other than that I try to stay in shape by lifting weights in my basement and running on the treadmill. I also spend a lot of my nights playing video games like Fortnite and NBA.

SLN: How excited are you to play D1 baseball at Louisville? Have you considered playing college basketball?

AV: I’m pretty excited to be moving onto the next chapter of my life. Louisville saw me at a tournament in Florida when I was a freshman with Hitters Baseball Academy. I played pretty well playing two years up and they asked me when I got back if I wanted to visit. I went and it felt like a great fit, they have a great baseball tradition and really good coaches that will take my game to the next level. I’m really looking forward to getting to work down there.

I used to think about playing college basketball when I was a freshman but then my baseball game just sort of took off, so I pretty much went full steam ahead with baseball. I think it would be really fun to play college basketball as well but my heart is with baseball. I used to play for the Wisconsin Playground Warriors with Jalen Johnson, Johnny Davis, etc., so I know that’s something I could’ve done.

SLN: You averaged 27 points and 13 rebounds per game and were able to surpass 2,000 career points. Why was your season so successful?

AV: My season was successful because of all of the work I put in when nobody is watching. It all started in the East Troy Hoops Club with Randy Jones. He runs a great youth program which I would recommend to any kids in the Southern Lakes who want to become better basketball players.

I used to be in the gym with him every day, and I learned so many things from him and Coach Rayfield that made me a better player. It’s cool to surpass so many achievements but ultimately my only goal was to win a state championship, I would take that over any of my records any day.

SLN: Where did your love for basketball come from?

AV: My love for the game of basketball started at a young age. My older sister Morgan played basketball for Mukwonago, so I grew up going to all her games and being around basketball. I loved just going out in the driveway and spending hours working on moves and perfecting my game.

As I got older, I worked a lot with my dad and he got me working with great coaches to elevate my game. I would go watch the great East Troy teams that came before me, and I wanted to be as good as the Nate Dodges and Tanner Plombs. It was a goal of mine to play in front of big crowds and dominate, so that’s where my drive for the game came from.

SLN: Talk about East Troy basketball. What will you miss the most?

AV: East Troy is a special community for basketball. It was one of the highlights of my life so far being able to play for this community and the rest of the guys I grew up playing with. It was a very special time, and it is something different putting that uniform on and playing for this community.

SLN: What aspect of your game has come the easiest, and what have you had to work on the most?

AV: The offensive side has always come easier for me. I was a great shooter growing up and when I reached my sophomore year, I got a lot stronger and used that to my advantage to be a big, skilled guard that can handle the ball and slash and finish.

The part I needed to work on was defense. I got a lot better thanks to the help of coaches, but that was probably the part of my game I needed to work on the most.

SLN: What advice would you give to young kids who are trying to be the next AJ Vukovich?

AV: The advice I would give is to just don’t try to be someone you’re not. Take what you’re good at and run with it. Have fun and work hard, because you never know where sports can take you.

Kids should have goals they dream about and use those to motivate themselves. I would tell those kids to ask themselves where they want to be when they’re older and work as hard as possible to try to get there. Get 1 percent better everyday and do things the other guys you play with don’t do, practice outside of practice.

Meet AJ Vukovich

Basketball is: a team sport.

I am player of the year because: My coaches put me in great positions to succeed and I took advantage of those opportunities

Favorite movie: “Rocky 4” or “Hoosiers”

Favorite song: “Anything” by Polo G or Kodak

Pregame food ritual: Either a chicken and rice bowl from Qdoba or Popeye’s chicken tenders

Favorite Social Media: Instagram

If I could have dinner with one person dead or alive, who would it be and why? Christian Yelich, I would love to just talk baseball with him and hit. He’s my favorite player, and I think we have very similar playing styles.

 

 

 
 

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