Before each of his first three seasons with the Arizona Wildcats, Dusan Ristic has added something to his game.

The 7-foot senior has worked on his strength, defense and mobility. And, in 2016, he even sweated it out in sand pits and a boxing ring.

“He’s one of the hardest workers we’ve ever had, and that continues,” UA coach Sean Miller said.

But the task this summer was a little different. This time, Ristic mostly worked on his heart.

Ristic spent a full seven weeks at home with friends and family in Serbia, by far the longest stretch since he arrived in 2014, and longer even than most U.S.-based Arizona players spend at home in the offseason.

“He hasn’t been home a lot,” Miller said. “It was nice to see him stay at home as long as he did.”

Of course, Ristic isn’t the sort of guy Miller has to worry about in taking that much time off. In fact, basketball was still something of a full-time job, even in Serbia.

Ristic said he worked out five days a week in Belgrade with other basketball-playing friends, and spent weekends just over an hour away in his hometown of Novi Sad, driving home on Friday afternoons and then back again to Belgrade on Monday mornings.

“It’s like Phoenix to Tucson,” Ristic said of the commute. “I have a lot of friends in Belgrade. A lot of my friends are basketball players, so I stayed with them. A lot of us would get together to work out and it was fun. It was not only a chance to see my friends and family, but also improve on my game.”

Ristic declined to say specifically what he worked on the most this summer, saying he just wanted to show it next season. Last season, Ristic shot 55.6 percent from the field while averaging 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds.

“All three years here I was adding some new stuff and trying to improve my game and my weaknesses,” Ristic said. “I use the knowledge of the previous three years and then I kept working hard. So hopefully this year I’m gonna show it on the court.”

Since Ristic returned to Tucson for the UA’s second summer session last month, going through UA’s 10 full practices in advance of their Spanish exhibition swing, he’s also had a couple of new challenges thrown at him, too.

Namely, freshmen DeAndre Ayton and Ira Lee. The 7-foot Ayton is the highest-rated recruit ever at Arizona, and he’s expected to team with Ristic in an immense, skilled frontcourt next season.

“Playing against DeAndre, I really don’t know how to explain,” Ristic said. “He’s a little bit different than I’ve had (to face) in the past, compared to Chance (Comanche) and Kaleb (Tarczewski). He’s much bigger than Kaleb and Chance, so it’s going to help all the big guys. Playing against him is going to help me and him both.”

Lee, meanwhile, is a high-motor power forward who has already been testing Ristic’s defense.

“He’s really something,” Ristic said of Lee. “He’s really physical around the basket. I like his aggressiveness there.”

Ristic says he probably won’t get to spend anymore time with his family during UA’s exhibition trip to Spain, since his parents will still be 1,200 miles away and too busy with their own work. But he’ll get more time to hang with his teammates and look forward to his final season.

“I’m really excited,” Ristic said. “This is a special place, U of A. I’ve had an amazing three years here and I’m extremely excited to have an opportunity to do something special. We as a team have a really talented, great group of guys. I’m really optimistic about this season.”

Rim shots

  • moved Arizona to the No. 1 spot in its team 2018 recruiting rankings after the Wildcats received a commitment from five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly on Tuesday. UA also has commitments from four-star guard Brandon Williams and four-star forward Shareef O’Neal.
  • Former UA star Damon Stoudamire tweeted an upbeat reference to the possibility of Quinerly and Williams playing together, referring to himself and Khalid Reeves, as well as the late 1990s combo of Mike Bibby and Jason Terry. “2 PG’s can play together. It’s today’s basketball,” he tweeted. “Reeves/Stoudamire, Jet/Bibby. All Lotto’s! BTW Reeves made me better! #facts”
  • Arizona will depart for Barcelona today, arriving on Friday morning before taking a four-hour bus ride to Valencia. The UA will practice Saturday and open its exhibition schedule Sunday at 10 a.m. Arizona time against a collection of players who will be called “Combinado Valenciano.”

Sportswriter for the Arizona Daily Star covering Arizona Wildcats basketball