Nikola Djogo once doubted his ability to play basketball beyond high school.
During his ninth grade year, Djogo and his AAU teammates tried out for the local provincial team, essentially a feeder into the Canadian national program. Consider it like playing for your home state with an opportunity to later get into the national team.
Djogo participated in the open tryout along with his teammates, hoping it would be a springboard to bigger things. He was the only one that didn’t get invited back for another tryout.
“I was the only one that didn’t make it,” Djogo said. “The only guy on my entire team. That was kind of a low point in my basketball career.”
Around that time Djogo considered dropping basketball altogether.
But then a few things started to happen. First of all, he grew. Djogo entered high school at about 5-foot-8. He’ll leave it checking in around 6-7. His guard skills carried over and eventually Djogo would play at youth levels of the Canadian national team.
He eventually left home as well, enrolling at the prestigious Athlete Institute for this season to continue honing his skills alongside other top prospects.
Djogo will spend this season traveling Canada and the United States playing top prep school competition with Athlete Institute, which includes five-star forward Thon Maker as its top player.
“My AAU coach put me through all kinds of mental games when I was younger because I was one of the stars of the team,” Djogo said. “He said to truly be great you have to react from being at the bottom. You have to have that selflessness in you to work your way from the bottom and get back to the top. From the grade 9 to grade 10 year, I wasn’t playing a lot of minutes and I was feeling like I wanted to quit basketball in general. But I stayed with it. I believed in myself and I came through that.”
Sticking with basketball and riding out the process also led Djogo to Notre Dame.
Head coach Mike Brey got a look at Djogo in September while on a recruiting trip to meet with Maker. Brey offered Djogo within 24 hours of that visit, got him on campus a few weeks later and scored a commitment soon after that.
Djogo will sign with the Irish on Wednesday as part of a three-man recruiting haul that includes four-star point guard Temple Gibbs and power forward John Mooney.
He plans to not only bring a versatile skill set but an edge to show well for the rise of high level basketball in his home country, which he knows well from having played for the national team.
Djogo is quick to point out recent No. 1 overall picks in the NBA Draft include Andrew Wiggins (2014) and Anthony Bennett (2013), both Canadian prospects that played their college ball in the United States before moving on to the professional ranks.
“The U.S. people say a silver medal for Canada is like a gold,” Djogo said. “They talk about how we’re all about participation and it’s not a real desire to win, just playing the sport. It’s the whole nice, Canadian vibe, right? We pride ourselves on the rise of basketball. There’s a ton of great players coming out of here.”
Signing with Notre Dame represents the culmination of Djojo’s unique journey through the Canadian national team program and onto college basketball at its highest level on this continent.
It makes that dubious moment early in his high school career seem like a lifetime ago.
“I always had belief in myself,” Djogo said. “That’s something I think every player at the next level I’m going to should have and does have. My development, I’m a late bloomer. My development went like that through a lot of my recruiting. I obviously appreciate everything, all the programs involved. Top programs like Notre Dame, I always knew I could go to a program like this one.”