“I headed towards prison or death, either way it was down the wrong path,” says Andreas Jankovic, a first year Humanities student at UTM and first year center for the men’s varsity basketball team. Two major influences that saved Jankovic: a run-in with the law and mentorship from an influential activist for victims of sexual abuse.
Jankovic is the only one of his Serbian family to be born here in Canada. Both his parents and older brother immigrated from Bosnia to Toronto following the breakup of Yugoslavia and the ensuing violence and economic instability. Though he’s been back home many times, Jankovic is continually surprised at the amount of healing he sees despite some places still in ruin. “The people there, not much bothers them. They’ve seen their family and friends die. A lot of my cousin’s don’t have dads, because they died in the war. It’s becoming prosperous and there are a lot of things still going right,” says Jankovic, who’s amazed by the resilience he’s seen in the people who’ve made it through such a horrific period.
Despite the surprising growth, positivity and resilience he’d been exposed to growing up, Jankovic describes his younger self as a “nuisance.” He went from stealing from the school cafeteria to shop-lifting from a mall store. After the latter, he found himself sitting in the back of a police cruiser, at just 14 years old. “I was hanging with the wrong crowd, stealing from school and hiding things from my parents,” admits Jankovic. On a trip with his high school basketball team, St. Francis Xavier, he shoplifted from a Sport Chek where the police were called. “I remember sitting in the back of the cop car, with all my teammates staring at me. I couldn’t stop crying, thinking I was going to go to jail, or that this was going to go on my record.” Jankovic was fortunate the police officer was kind and understanding. He sat down and spoke to Andreas “He said, ‘There’s so much more you can do with your life. So much more you can do for your society, to make other people’s lives better.’”
That incident got Andreas kicked off the team. It devastated him. “It absolutely killed me. My coach was one of my teachers in school and seeing him every day was so hard. I was close to tears every time. This guy kicked me off the team and I thought my life was over! I thought basketball was over! I thought ‘what am I going to do with my life now?’” Andreas saw the experience as one of the major signs that he needed to evaluate his life and future. And he did.
Jankovic began working harder in school, and on the basketball court. He made the basketball team again the following year, making a promise to his coach that he had changed for the better and permanently. “I realized that one of the most important things in life is to surround yourself with people who are not only similar to you, but people who will elevate you. Elevate your motives, elevate you to be a better person and a better basketball player. People who have academic aspirations to go to university, or business aspirations. I stopped seeing and involving myself with the people who had negative influences on me.”
His new-found drive for better, not only for himself but for the people around him, awarded Jankovic a high-school scholarship in the U.S. At 16-years-oldf he joined his older brother, Stefan, now a professional basketball player in Europe, to live in Hawaii. Jankovic lived with his brother for a year, until his brother declared for the 2016 NBA draft. Stefan was never drafted, but he signed a contract with the Euroleague, which left Andreas alone in Hawaii. On an AU Representative Basketball team trip, he met what would be the second major influence on his life: the Zambutos.
Maile Zambuto and her family completely changed his outlook on life, and what he believed he could contribute to society around him. Maile Zambuto is the CEO of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a charity that focuses its efforts towards the healing, educating and empowering survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. “She changed my life. My parents taught me all the morals and values, being a good person and doing the right things. Maile taught me all these different perspectives. How to be politically correct, how to have a sociological perspective on life, how to adapt the locus of control. She taught me how to be true to myself, to be honest with yourself. She helped teach me about equality, what it means to be a man, and that’s okay to break the gender norms surrounding masculinity. She taught me that you don’t have to detach from yourself and your emotions to be considered masculine. She planted a seed in me, and I guess now she’s watching me grow.” says Jankovic who still keeps in contact with his second family, sometimes daily.
Jankovic continued to grow under the love and guidance of his second family. After living with them for a year, he finished his senior year of high school at an even better basketball school. And then began his first year at Orange Coast College, a community college in California. Jankovic went through a period of depression in his freshman year and made the decision to return home to Canada.
Jankovic got into contact with Assistant Coach, Jovan Pajovic, and with the help of Supervisory of Varsity and Intramural Sport, Brittany Tierney, he transferred to UTM. The decision to come to UTM wasn’t just a basketball one, but an academic one. Jankovic recognized he didn’t have enough of the drive or passion for the sport like his older brother. “To be successful in basketball, you need to really have a passion for it. People are always saying “ball is life”, but don’t put in nearly enough work to back that up. Euroleague fans are crazy. There’s a lot of pressure to perform. Not even the refs have it easy, they get spit on by fans and like players they get a lot of death threats,” explains Jankovic. Transferring from the Canadian education system to the American, and back again, was a unique experience for Jankovic.
Unlike in the U.S., Jankovic was unable to transfer the credits he’d earned at Orange Coast to his new school, UTM. He had to start from scratch, and in more ways than one. “I was struggling in high-school, getting 60s. But when I went to high school in the states it was a lot easier to get good grades. I didn’t have to study as much. Now I’m not used to all the studying I have to do, like hours every day.” But Jankovic welcomes the challenge and considers himself incredibly grateful to attend one of the top universities in the world, the top in Canada. It’s another opportunity to challenge himself. “I’m in Humanities right now, but I’m looking to transfer into something a little more challenging,” says Jankovic.
Jankovic is a strong believer in the locus of control, which is the belief of how much control one has in their lives. It was instilled in him during his time with the Zambutos and emulated in the great and influential basketball player he looks up to, LeBron James. “There are things that are out of your control. I exercised this last summer when my grandfather passed away. There are always going to be people dying, or being mean to you, or whatever. You can grieve and get upset, but at the end of the day you have to accept you can’t control those things. I just try to help out when I can and be kind to people. If I forget to hold the door open for someone it bothers me for like an hour after. You just have to try and leave a situation better than how you found it.” LeBron James is someone he looks up to. “I look up to him because he’s a strong advocate for the locus of control. But also, I just like who he is. He’s more than just a basketball player, it’s everything he does off the court that inspires me. He isn’t willing to just put his head down and dribble, ignoring the problems and injustice around him. He does everything in his power to control what he can.”
Jankovic isn’t happy with how the season turned out for UTM. “Our coaching staff is great, but we’re not playing with enough hunger to close out games. But we’re still young, and we’re still continuing to grow. In the end, it comes down to what hurts more: losing the game or not doing everything you could to help your team win.”
UTM’s varsity men’s basketball staff have a lot of faith in Jankovic, and what he can bring to their ever-growing program. “‘Be a force to be reckoned with’ is what they’re always telling me. Just be confident. Confidence is something that I’ve always struggled with. The main thing I need to do is be a confident basketball player, there are a lot of other things I can add to my game, but that’s the main thing I need.”
Jankovic, a 6’9 center for the UTM Eagles, has one special reason for why he wears #1. “It’s going to be the number I wear for UTM, the number I’ll wear my entire career here, representing our Eagles varsity program. I want to leave a legacy here, to represent UTM and to do it with morals and values that inspire future generations,” Jankovic says.