Jerald Davis, an AAU coach who has run Chicago Hoops Express for 25 years, has coached Angela Dugalić for more than three years and has become good friends with her entire family.
It took more than two for him to say her last name right.
Dugalić is of Serbian descent – both of her parents are Serbian and moved to the Chicago area in 1998 to escape war – and has an easily-butchered name for an American audience. The Class of 2020 Oregon commit has heard it all, from “Du-gaal-itch” to “Doo-gaal-each.”
“Every time somebody tells me, ‘How do you actually say it,’ I tell them, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ and just keep going,” Dugalić said.
Her name is properly pronounced, “Doo-gal-lich,” with emphasis on the first syllable and the accent on the final letter creating a similar sound to the first symbol of the word, “chair.”
But Dugalić won’t encounter mispronunciations this summer.
Today, May 28, she is flying to Serbia to not only see her extended family, but to try out for the Serbia National Team, an opportunity at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and one that flatters Dugalić.
“It’s a really big honor because I get to represent my country,” she said. “(Serbian Women’s National Team head coach) Marina Maljković is one of the best women’s basketball coaches that they’ve ever had. It’s a big honor for me to be under their wing and to learn how they play basketball.”
The tryouts are in Belgrade from June 4-14, and Dugalić will remain in Serbia for a few days after before returning to her family home in Des Plaines, Illinois.
She won’t have any trouble fitting in. The player has been there three times, last in 2013 and has a whole host of family members still in the country. Although she was born in America, Dugalić’s first language is technically Serbian, and she required ESL classes when she was a young child. Serbian is the main tongue spoken in the family home, but there are a few exceptions.
“At home, I always speak Serbian, unless it’s with my brother. Usually we speak in English,” she said. “Usually if we talk fast enough, my parents won’t understand some things.”
Dugalić said her Serbian heritage is important to her, and her parents have carried pieces of their home country with them in raising their children. With that background, it makes sense why she doesn’t care how people say her name.
“I think you have to understand, with her mom and dad coming from Serbia, they have raised Angela and her brother to truly appreciate anything and everything that comes their way,” Davis explained. “In that appreciation for life and people and things and being very, very humble, I don’t think they really sweat the small stuff, you know?”
Davis has spent plenty of time around the family to see how they behave and knows how close they are. He also knows how important her family in Serbia is to Dugalić, which includes three grandparents and her father’s sister and her four-child family.
“Angela is very, very proud of her Serbian heritage,” Davis said. “I think she’s as excited to try out for this team as she is to see her family.”
Those relatives have tried to watch Dugalić play her high school ball in the past, but time differences and other restrictions didn’t allow them to watch her in the state tournament. But they’ve seen plenty of highlights that Dugalić’s dad has sent them, and if Dugalić were to play a game in Serbia, you can bet they’d be in attendance.
It will be difficult for Dugalić to find a roster spot. She will compete against the best adult female basketball players in all of Serbia, a tough challenge for any 17-year-old. But even if she doesn’t make the team, the experience and potential to participate in the future as her game continues to mature are exciting.
That’s not what Dugalić is thinking about, though. She said that in Serbia, people aren’t often afforded the ability to pursue education and athletics, only one or the other. In America, she’s been doing both for most of her life and plans to continue that in college at Oregon. That’s a blessing she doesn’t want to waste.
“To have both those opportunities and to have the background that I have, it makes me feel good about myself,” Dugalić said. “My parents, I just want to make them proud, and I want to make my family in Serbia proud.”