Djuricic without a senior year at Harvard after Ivy League cancels winter season

·4 min read

Danilo Djuricic had seven points and four rebounds in Harvard's 83-79 regular-season win over Yale way back on March 5. 

There was no sense of ceremony. He didn't pause to soak up the moment. Harvard was already looking ahead to the Ivy League tournament scheduled to tip off just over a week later.   

But last week, Djuricic learned that game in March was the last he would ever play for Harvard.

The Ivy League, which never played its conference tournament due to COVID-19, cancelled the winter sports season last Thursday to help mitigate the transmission of the novel coronavirus. The decision set adrift the sports aspirations of hundreds of athletes, including Djuricic, a 21-year-old from Brampton, Ont.

"It's definitely difficult," Djuricic said. "Obviously, we're a very tight-knit group. And we have great relationships with everyone on the team - it's a great group of guys."

Sports affected include men’s and women’s basketball, swimming, wrestling, fencing, and indoor track and field.  

There are numerous Canadians on Ivy League rosters, including a dozen in men's and women's basketball. Djuricic is one of four Canadians on Harvard's men's basketball team alone. 

The economics student is in his senior year. He'll graduate in May as scheduled, but has already entered the transfer portal so he can play a final season with another school in 2021-22.

"I still have a lot I want to prove, so definitely would love to play another college season," he said.

Djuricic wasn't surprised the Ivy League cancelled its season, "which is why I kind of started my recruiting process and exploring options earlier than everyone else."

"I just know that the Ivy League keeps the health and safety of student athletes at the forefront, so I felt that this (decision) was coming," said the six-foot-eight forward said.

"It still hit hard, when the news did come out, because I realized my career would be over at Harvard." 

Freshman Josh Hemmings of Toronto, Luka Sakota, a sophomore from Toronto, and Noah Kirkwood, a junior from Ottawa are the other three Canadians on the Crimson men's team.

Harvard classes went completely online for this school year, so Djuricic is living at home. He set up his room like a home office, purchasing a desk and a gaming chair for his five virtual courses. 

With rising COVID-19 cases in Ontario, gym time has been scarce. Djuricic works out with Sakota, who lives five minutes away in Etobicoke. Sakota, a 6-6 guard, has decent weightlifting equipment in his basement. The two also run hills at nearby Centennial Park.

"Now that it's getting colder, it's tougher," Djuricic said. "But that's the only thing available unless you just want to sit and do nothing inside, which isn't really helpful."

Djuricic misses the camaraderie of being on campus. 

"Not just my teammates and coaches, but the social interaction with people on campus as well, your friends that you make," he said. "I've met amazing people that I consider very dear to me, someone who would be my best man at my wedding - like that type of thing. 

"So, definitely even separate from basketball, it's tough not being on campus with the people that you've made a lot of memories with the past four years."

Kirkwood, a 6-7 guard who also played alongside Djuricic on Canada's team that won gold at the U19 world championships in Cairo in 2017, is doing his course work at home in Ottawa. 

"At home it's tough because you're away from your teammates, you're away from your friends at school, you're away from so many things," Kirkwood said. "Especially when basketball for so many guys it's . . . our happiness. We love to play. Even not being able to compete every day in practices, it's tough for me."

While the Ivy League remains the only U.S. college conference to cancel its season, there's no telling how the NCAA schedule will play out as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in the U.S. Several teams have had to pause practising due to cases.

It won't be easy to watch other teams playing, Djuricic said, but he said it'll help him in the recruitment process as he decides where to play next season. 

Meanwhile, he's looking at the positives. It's the longest he's been home since high school. He's appreciating the home cooking and being around his 16-month-old golden doodle Tesla. 

"Really gives you more of an appreciation for your family. It's good to be back with them," he said.

Missing teammates is tough, but "all those relationships will last way longer than just the four years that I was a part of the basketball team; the brotherhood lasts much longer than that."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2020. 

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press