42° Good Morning
42° Good Morning

Sasha Vujacic brings competitive fire to Knicks

John Wall of the Washington Wizards and Sasha

John Wall of the Washington Wizards and Sasha Vujacic of the New York Knicks battle for a loose ball during the first half at Verizon Center on Oct. 9, 2015 in Washington. Credit: Getty Images / Patrick Smith

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - The incident occurred nearly eight years ago, but neither player forgot it. Carmelo Anthony said Sasha Vujacic brought it up to him right away when they saw each other at the Knicks' facility.

Anthony, then with the Nuggets, choked the Lakers' Vujacic during a game and was ejected. Anthony clearly was not a fan of Vujacic then, but he likes having the very competitive Slovenian guard as a teammate now.

"I hated Sasha," Anthony said after practice Sunday. "I hated Sasha. We got into it a couple of times. He was one of them little dirty players, sneaky, grab your jersey, foul you after the play. He was speaking in his language, and now I understand what he was saying to me -- it makes me hate him even more back then.

"Having him on my team is a big plus, knowing how feisty he is. He's a vet. He knows how to play the game. He knows the system. I think having him is a big plus."

Except for two games with the Clippers in the 2013-14 season, Vujacic had been out of the NBA and playing overseas since 2011. The Knicks surprised some by signing him to a guaranteed deal during the summer, but team president Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher know him well. One was his coach and the other his teammate on two Lakers championship teams.

Vujacic has made an immediate impact with his competitive fire and is expected to start at shooting guard for the third straight preseason game Monday night against Philadelphia with Arron Afflalo still out because of a strained left hamstring. He's also been a mentor to rookie Kristaps Porzingis.

"That's a little scary," Fisher said jokingly.

But Fisher has acknowledged that the 31-year-old Vujacic is more mature now than he was when they were teammates and a better player. "I think he's helped a lot of our guys to feel more comfortable with what we're trying to do offensively because Sasha recognizes where the shots are, where the plays are that can be made," Fisher said. "He's kind of a guy you can copy offensively in terms of when you're open, you should be shooting the ball, you don't have to second-guess yourself, just go out and play with some confidence. That's who he is.

"He's been really good for us not just in terms of performing, just his presence, his voice. He's a really competitive guy. He makes practice competitive as well."

When Afflalo returns, Vujacic should be one of the first guards off the bench. Fisher likes his versatility to play and defend different spots. He can be annoying as a defender, as Anthony can attest.

Vujacic's best statistical season was in 2010-11 with the Lakers and Nets. He averaged 9.8 points overall, including 11.4 in extended minutes in 56 games with the Nets. But Vujacic believes his overall game is better now.

"I feel sharper, to be honest," he said. "I've heard that when you're in your early 30s, you're in your prime for a guard. So I feel great.

"I was really young when I got to the league and I had the pleasure to learn from the best. When you learn from the best, you pick up a couple of things that can help later on, and I feel very, very young, to be honest with you, and I'm very excited with what we have here."

Notes & quotes: Jackson, who promised to be more involved and "present" for Fisher, interacted with players at the end of practice, giving them tips . . . Kevin Seraphin (sore right knee) is doubtful for Monday night's game.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

New York Sports