When winter weather hits, Basketball Operations Director Ivan Vujic saves the day
The only time Ivan Vujic wasn’t glued to his phone last week was when he was getting an average of four hours of sleep.
Vujic, DePaul’s Director of Basketball Operations, was busy handling DePaul’s rescheduling of their game against Providence. Originally scheduled for Tuesday, the Blue Demons found out Monday that the game was being postponed because of a heavy snowstorm on the East Coast.
What followed was one of a series of projections, knowing the right people and constant communication before the game was then rescheduled for Thursday afternoon.
“I can’t count how many emails, phone calls, text messages, you name it,” Vujic said. “You are completely plugged in. You’re checking your email every few minutes. You need to make sure there are no new updates.”
Vujic, a 6-foot-11 Croatian who played college basketball at Vincennes University from 1996 to 1998 and then at Valparaiso from 1999 to 2000, lived up to a task as tall as he is. The 37-year-old director said he never dealt with having to reschedule a regular season game before. One of Vujic’s first tasks was to be in contact with a company representative from the charter plane that DePaul flies with.
“You have to figure out the forecast,” Vujic said. “You’ve got to check the Providence airport. There was no clear answer. You have to estimate what time the storm was going to die down so we could land.”
Vujic said that Providence’s side of the job was much harder because they had to deal with rescheduling staff members at the arena, what was happening at the campus and making sure the roads were clear.
But that didn’t mean Vujic didn’t have his hands full either. There was a lot of reshuffling for DePaul too, which included the fact that they stayed on campus for an extra two days.
The delay caused Vujic to coordinate meal times and practice hours all while being in flux with when DePaul-Providence was supposed to happen.
“It’s not stressful, it’s what we do,” Vujic said. “I don’t mind it at all. Is it easy? It’s not easy, but I don’t’ mind it. I’m tuned in.”
Considering it was an away game, Vujic said that Providence also spent much more money because they had to pay to clear their parking lots and sidewalks. Vujic didn’t disclose the cost on DePaul’s end for the postponed game.
Vujic’s work behind the scenes meant players got time to focus on the task of preparing for Providence longer, while also getting more rest.
“It’s an advantage for us because we get an extra day to practice, an extra day for scouting,” guard Aaron Simpson said on Tuesday, the day the Blue Demons were supposed to be playing the Friars.
“The extra day was good,” forward Forrest Robinson said. “We’re just ready to get going on the road and get the win.”
Head coach Oliver Purnell added on Tuesday that the extra time also had a downside.
“It’s half on one end and a dozen on the other,” Purnell said. “If we play the game on Thursday, which it looks like we’re going to do weather permitting, then it squeezes you to the next game on Saturday against Villanova. But you can’t control that.”
Purnell turned out to be right as DePaul ended up losing to Providence after the
game was rescheduled, and the Blue Demons faded in the second half against Villanova.
Yet at the time, the Blue Demons didn’t know exactly when they were flying out, even if they had a general idea on when the game would be. In fact, Vujic didn’t confirm that DePaul was cleared to fly out for Thursday’s game until 8 a.m. on Wednesday for a 2:30 p.m. takeoff.
There was so much waiting in limbo, but Vujic said the most important thing was having the right people to contact. As the saying goes, Vujic “knows a guy.” In this case, there were many.
“You need to call professional people that are accessible 24/7,” Vujic said. “You have to reach people like the hotel or charter. People in the Big East are also really helpful. They’re really accommodating to the traveling school.”
Having the ability to adapt is something Vujic said he’s learned through years of micromanaging. He said he’s often had to change the itinerary on road trips to accommodate the coaching staff or the players.
It’s part of his role as Director of Basketball Operations, a job he’s held twice at DePaul. Vujic served under former head coach Jerry Wainwright from 2006 to 2008 and then returned to DePaul in 2013 after serving as an assistant coach at Northwestern for five years.
Even with the hectic week aside, Vujic said he’s happy to be back.
“I love Chicago and there’s a big Croatian community,” Vujic said. “I knew Mrs. (DePaul athletic director) Jean (Lenti-Ponsetto) and everybody. I felt like it was my home. I was grateful coach gave me another opportunity.
“And so here I am, taking care of business,” he said. “I’m really fortunate.”