Dusan Ristic is standing on a sidewalk at the intersection of Campbell Avenue and Sixth Street, a long 3-pointer from McKale Center. As he waits for a red light to clear, a half-dozen people honk.
“Duuuuce!” they shout.
He waves to a car going south on Campbell. Then he waves to a car turning right onto Sixth Street.
This is a daily routine for Ristic, who walks to McKale Center from his apartment on the edge of campus.
In attempt to learn English after moving to Tucson in 2014, Ristic sometimes watched “Taxi Driver,” a 1976 movie starring Robert De Niro. It’s the “Are you talking to me?” movie.
In Tucson, they are talking to Dusan.
On Senior Night at McKale Center, Ristic wore a white undershirt beneath his jersey. The last player to wear a T-shirt under his Arizona uniform was, who, Chris Mills in 1993?
People buzzed. What’s with Duce’s T-shirt?
Over the last few months, Ristic’s popularity has climbed to the top of the charts like a Bruno Mars song. The feeling is mutual; no way was Dusan Ristic going to play his last game in Tucson without a proper “dovidenja” — that’s goodbye in Serbian.
The 7-foot senior from Novi Sad, Serbia, had someone prepare a T-shirt that said:
And it wasn’t a rush job, either. Ristic took care to have a “hacek” — a squiggly mark — placed above the “s” in “Dusan.”
As he explained earlier this year, the s in Dusan has a “sh” sound. By Senior Night it stood for Showman. At the final buzzer of a victory over Cal, Ristic stood at center court, removed his jersey and put his “Dusan Loves Tucson” shirt on display.
This lovefest was triggered Jan. 27 when Utah was rallying at McKale Center, attempting to knock the Wildcats out of first place. Until that night, Ristic had made one 3-point basket in two seasons.
With 1:29 remaining, Arizona holding a tight 69-68 lead, Ristic shot from 20 feet.
On the sideline, Sean Miller did some kind of a crazy dance move you might’ve seen from Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld.”
It swished. Ristic scored a career-high 23 points. When he walked into the media room that night, he didn’t even wait for a question.
“You guys always ask me if this way my best game ever,” he said, smiling. “I think this is my best game at Arizona so far. I just wanted to answer the question in advance for you guys.”
Ordinarily, the UA’s claustrophobic media room is not the place for laughs. But as Ristic’s career developed, so did his personality. The young man practiced English by watching De Niro and became one of the most quotable UA basketball players since Jason Terry.
After Ristic’s 3-point special against Utah, Miller said, candidly, “Dusan hasn’t always had great confidence playing here.”
Then it all seemed to change. Ristic scored 21 at Washington, 16 against USC and 21 against Stanford. He’s already scored more points than beloved ex-Cats Mike Bibby and Gilbert Arenas. On Monday, he was selected to the All-Pac-12 second team. The coaches who vote for the all-star teams also recognized Ristic’s clutch play down the stretch.
But there’s more. In a season jarred by an FBI investigation into college basketball, Ristic’s development and maturity shouts about the good side of college basketball.
When Ristic first left Serbia to play at a prep academy near Wichita, Kansas, he told the Star that rather than play in the EuroLeague, “I want an education when I’m finished with basketball. I’m going to need to do something.”
One of the real triumphs of this Arizona basketball season has been to watch Ristic grow amid the chaos.
Isn’t that what college basketball is supposed to do? Help young men prepare for the real world?
After a suspenseful press conference in which Miller announced he “had done nothing wrong,” Arizona beat Stanford. It is customary for the UA to send two or three players into the media room to answer a few questions.
But this time they sent one. Ristic. If that isn’t trust, what is?
For about five minutes in a room jammed with 23 reporters and seven TV cameras, Ristic — the young man from Serbia who couldn’t speak English four years ago — answered all the tough questions to put the week’s theatrics into perspective.
As much as Ristic’s special night delivered a victory over Utah, and as much as the Wildcats need him in attempt to win the Pac-12 Tournament, Dusan Ristic’s finest moment as an Arizona basketball player might’ve been when he stepped in front of all the microphones and represented his team, his coach and his university.
If college basketball is supposed to be a place where boys become men, Dusan Ristic has already earned a degree.