Serbian Aleksa Jugovic had two goals when he arrived in Chattanooga in the fall.
He wanted to play basketball – and play well – at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy and earn a scholarship to play college hoops.
Jugovic walked onto the court for his first game with the Hawks on Nov. 21 and scored a game-high 19 points in a 71-49 win over East Hamilton at Tennessee Temple University’s McGilvray Gym.
Within two months Jugovic, 18, signed a scholarship with Tennessee Tech University.
“My game is proof that I’m doing a good job,” he said. “When I came here my primary goal was to get a scholarship and I get if after two months in America. It happened very fast for me. I’m really excited.”
On Thursday, Jugovic showed why the Golden Eagles signed him by scoring a game-high 27 points – tying his season high – and leading the Hawks to a 64-51 triumph over McCallie’s Blue Tornado at McGilvray Gym.
“Since I was a little boy – I was 7 when I started playing basketball – I always paid attention to my shooting ability and have my shot right so I can score,” said the 6-foot-3-inch Jugovic, who was the Hawks’ answer to any threat the Blue Tornado mounted.
Jugovic hit six field goals, almost matched that with four 3-pointers and went 3-for-3 from the free-throw line.
Jugovic can beat almost any defense. He can grab a pass and practically get off a shot in the same motion without a hand in his face. He can drive the lane with the quickness and agility of a much smaller player for a high-percentage shot or pass to open teammates and let them score.
Against McCallie, Jugovic scored eight first-quarter points, put up eight in the second period, added two in the third and finished strong with nine in the fourth. He had four of the Hawks’ six 3s.
“After two shots I felt like I was going,” said Jugovic, who handles the English language about as well as he does a basketball for a team dominated by international players. “It was a tight game after that and I felt like I needed to take responsibility and keep my team going. As a point guard I want to make all my teammates happy, but I also want to shoot the ball. Anytime the team needs me to shoot, I’ll take the shot.
“But the point guard needs to bring a lot of energy to his teammates. Sometimes if not in the mood to score, need to pay attention to passing and getting other teammates involved.”
Hawks coach Zach Ferrell basically knew one thing about Jugovic before he completed his basketball/academic journey from Serbia.
“I knew he played on his Serbian National Team,” said Ferrell, who has guided the Hawks to a 21-1 record – their only loss was to Covenant Ministries (60-51) on Dec. 17 – in his first season. “It has been amazing to watch his work ethic, preparation, competitiveness and drive to be the best every time he steps on the floor.”
Jugovic was at his best Thursday.
He drained a 3 from the right wing 44 seconds into the game, helping the Hawks to a 7-0 start. Another Jugovic 3 pushed the lead to 12-5. Then it was a jumper in the lane for a 16-7 advantage.
In the second period when the Blue Tornado (5-9) went on an 11-0 run to take a 22-20 lead, Jugovic outscored McCallie 9-2 and pushed the Hawks into a 28-24 halftime lead.
After McCallie sliced the Hawks’ lead to 31-30 early in the third period, Jugovic was directing the Hawks' 14-2 run from the point until he hit a driving layup and then delivered an over-the-head, blind pass to Vilius Nauseda, a junior from Lithuania, for a layup to cap the spurt.
When McCallie’s Chauncey Alford caught fire with five of his eight points in a 1-minute, 19-second stretch and Winston Whitener and JaVaughn Craig added field goals, it was Jugovic who stemmed the tide with seven straight points to give the Hawks a 57-47 lead with 2:13 remaining.
Nauseda scored two buckets off McCallie turnovers in 21 seconds and Hamilton Heights, which has won six straight games since the loss to Covenant, had the victory secured at 61-47.
“(Jugovic) is the key to their team,” McCallie coach Dan Wadley said. “He’s an awfully good player, certainly one of the best we’ve played all year. He made them go and we tried different guys on him (defensively).”
The Hawks’ collective defensive effort – they’re relentless and terribly effective with a tremendous size and length advantage over most opposing teams – held McCallie to nine points in the third period and took a 45-33 lead into the final eight minutes of play.
“Their size and length really hurt us,” Wadley said. “We got nothing inside at times, but I thought we made them feel uncomfortable at times. They had to work for this win. It wasn’t just given to them. Our kids didn’t roll over for them.
“The difference tonight was we made five turnovers in the first half and 14 in the second. We preach all the time how important every possession is, so if we cut that down we can be a pretty good team.”
In the end, Jugovic was too much for the Blue Tornado.
Ezekiel Balogun scored 14 points for the Hawks.
“This game helps us a ton,” Ferrell said. “McCallie will always fight every moment, no matter the score. Their kids are athletic and strong and that’s different from what a lot of our kids saw before they got here.”
Craig led McCallie with 13 points. Adrian Thomas and Whitener each scored 11.
The Blue Tornado opens Division II East/Middle Region play on Saturday, hosting Ensworth, which lost to Hamilton Heights 59-38 on Dec. 19.
“We’re ready,” Wadley said. “According to coachT.com, we’ve played the second-toughest schedule in the state in Division II-AA and that’s not counting North Cobb Christian, Hamilton Heights and St. Pius. Add them and we’ve played the toughest schedule in the state.”
North Cobb, Hamilton Heights and St. Pius have a combined 52-3 record.
Hamilton Heights girls 47, Girls Preparatory School 45: The Bruisers (12-4) led for most of the game until the Lady Hawks (11-7) got their offense on track in the fourth quarter.
Hamilton Heights got the upper hand at 40-39 on Augusta Kievisaite’s layup with 7:39 left in the game. GPS’ Sydney Shutters made a layup to put the Bruisers back out front, 41-40, 35 seconds after Kievisaite’s bucket.
Nina Vukosavljevic and Kievisaite scored on short jumpers to give the Lady Hawks a 44-41 cushion.
The Bruisers’ Kara Ware, who scored a game-high 21 points, made two free throws and Vukosavljevic answered with a fast-break layup and the Lady Hawks maintained a three-point lead.
Ware hit a close-range shot, slicing the deficit to 46-45 with 1:49 left.
Vukosavljevic made 1 of 2 free throws.
GPS had one last chance to tie the game with a field goal or win it with a 3.
Akia Harris drove the lane, but her shot was blocked by Kievisaite at the final buzzer. Kievisaite paced Hamilton Heights with 15 points.
“We decided to play defense in the second half,” Lady Hawks coach Keisha Hunt said. “In the first half we were terrible. Defense is the key to everything for us. Our hard work and conditioning over the holiday break paid off. We played the same five girls the entire second half.”
The Lady Hawks held GPS to 12 points in the second and third quarters.
Harris scored 11 points for the Bruisers.
McCallie 11 13 9 18 – 51
Hamilton Heights 20 8 17 19 – 64
McCallie (51) – Fritz 1, Moxey, JaVaughn Craig 13, Adrian Thomas 11, Winston Whitener 11, Alford 8, Baird 1, Clark 2, Atkins 2, Walker 2, McDonald.
Hamilton Heights (64) – Roknic 4, Duran 2, Nauseda 6, Huyler, Vaitkus 6, Aleksa Jugovic 27, Ezekiel Balogun 14, Adheke, Ado 5.
3-Point Goals: McCallie 5 (Craig 3, Thomas, Whitener); Hamilton Heights 7 (Jugovic 4, Waitkus 2, Balogun).
Girls Preparatory School 16 17 6 6 – 45
Hamilton Heights 13 8 17 9 – 47
Girls Preparatory School (45) – Akia Harris 11, Shutters 9, Williams, Kara Ware 21, Crownover 2, Morgan, Spears 2, McCurdy.
Hamilton Heights (47) – Paulauskaite 4, Balogun 6, Vukosavljevic 9, Zalkauskaite, Monyei, Kasciunaite 5, Plentauskaite, Augusta Kievisaite 15, Hunt 8.
3-Point Goals: Girls Preparatory School 1 (Shutters); Hamilton Heights 2 (Kasciunaite, Kievisaite).
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)