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Arizona basketball: Dusan Ristic a changed man after a year and a half in Tucson

A remarkable transformation for the Serbian product

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

It's tough for any of us to make the transition to college. If you've done it, remember back to how difficult some days were while you were getting used to being totally responsible for everything in your life?

Now imagine doing it halfway around the world, not knowing any of the language of that place, and trying to become a high-profile athlete at one of the country's top programs in that sport.

That's what Dusan Ristic has had to do, and he's done it with remarkable poise and ability.

"When I came here, I didn't know any English," he said about the biggest transition he had to make. "That was the biggest part that was most difficult for me."

"I've gotten used to it by now," Ristic continued. "I've been through the hardest part. After a year and a half, I'm much more comfortable with studying for school, doing exams."

It's a little more than the language too. Tucson's a big change from Novi Sad, Serbia for anyone, let alone an 18-year-old looking to make his way into a career of basketball.

"I love Tucson," Ristic told me at Arizona Wildcats media day. "It's my hometown. It's my favorite city. I've met a lot of people in Tucson. I've done a lot of different things in the city, and I'm proud to be here."

As a freshman, Dusan showed a lot of offensive ability, but was a bit of a liability on the defensive end, which cost him some playing time in crucial games.

"When I came here, the first couple of months, it was pretty difficult for me," Ristic said of trying to learn Miller's defensive scheme. "It was all new, and right now, I can say that I'm much more comfortable."

"I made huge progress from day one from the first practice to the last one, and (Kaleb Tarczewski)'s role was to push me every time and to show me the right way because he has experience. But I'm really happy to have Kaleb here to help me."

As Sean Miller has pointed out repeatedly, Ristic has transformed his body, gaining 30+ pounds of muscle while still being listed at 245 pounds thanks to shedding a lot of fat as well.

"I've been working on almost everything," the sophomore said of his offseason. "My shot, my post game, my defense, quickness, explosiveness. Just about everything."

"He's so much more athletic and so much more physical in the post," Tarczewski added about his teammate's improvement. "And just that understanding of going from being a freshman to a sophomore. The game slows down, and it becomes a lot easier for you, and I think that he's going to be a huge part of the team this year."

With Dusan improved on the defensive end, could we see a "twin towers" kind of lineup? Sean Miller certainly didn't rule it out, and Arizona's senior center wants it too.

"Absolutely, it would be dynamic," Kaleb said through a smile. "We've been working on it in practice, so it's gonna be fun."

Ristic became most famous last year for throwing his arms up in a triangle after making a three, and that caught fire amongst the Arizona fans immediately.

"I liked it because it used to be an inside joke with my friends back in Serbia," he joked. "They like (that it caught on) too."

Being one of the few non-seniors for Arizona down low this year, it'll be interesting to see how much he progresses on both ends of the floor, particularly on defense. If the Red-Blue Game was any indication, Ristic could be in for an enormous jump from year one to year two.