A cacophony of whistles, buzzers, and sneaker squeaks permeates throughout a nine-court gym. A teenager with a familiar last name and a silver cross dangling from his neck clutches a basketball in one corner, far from the horde of cameras clicking across the court. He can see some of his Compton Magic teammates jockeying to get into the frame on this mid-May morning in Anaheim, California.
The teen, standing a gangly 6-foot-7, doesn’t seem to hear any of it. He dribbles side to side, staring ahead. He doesn’t break a smile, doesn’t say a word. He is keenly aware that he’s in the spotlight. People know his name. Now they want to see if he’s any good, especially since he recently picked up scholarship offers from Kentucky, Kansas, and UCLA.
Sometimes it takes referees a second to figure out who he is: “Stojakovic …” one will say. “Why do I know that name?”
“That’s Peja Stojakovic’s son,” a Magic coach will whisper, referring to the legendary Serbian 3-point shooter and three-time NBA All-Star, who starred for the Kings and won a title with the Mavericks during his 13-year career.
The boy’s name is Andrej. He goes by “Drej”—the “j” being silent. As the game begins, it’s clear the 17-year-old has a game much different than his famous dad’s. Andrej catches the ball on the wing, jabs right, then drives hard left to the rim. He continues to attack, dazzling in the open floor, weaving around defenders. He pushes the ball coast to coast, his red and yellow Adidas blurring as he zooms to the basket.
People don’t expect any of this from him. They assume he’s a catch-and-shoot sniper, like his dad. And Andrej does have that same silky shot–both have high, nearly over-the-head release points, though Peja’s is a bit more exaggerated and unorthodox. But Andrej yearns to prove that he is more athletic, more versatile, than his father. That he has his own identity—that he is his own man.
“I just have to keep showing every time I play that I can do a lot more,” Andrej says.
It motivates him, thinking about how he can distinguish himself from his father. He is working to become the best version of himself—even though he knows he is somewhat of a modern version of his dad. His dad taught him nearly everything he knows. That jumper, that footwork. That speed with which he can decipher complex offenses and defenses.
Andrej loves his dad. Knows how lucky he is to have him so present, so passionate. But Andrej is aware of how outsiders perceive him. Underestimate him. In their eyes, his story is inexplicably tied to his father’s. And it is. But Andrej aches to write his own, too.
“Proving to them that I can make it and be Andrej,” he says, “and not Peja’s son.”
Peja, 45, is now 11 years removed from his playing days. He most recently served as an assistant general manager with the Kings, but resigned a day after his longtime friend Vlade Divac did the same in 2020. He and Andrej have been inseparable since, working out nearly every day. He sees the passion, the dedication, his son has, which motivates him to match it and teach him everything he knows.
Andrej wants to impress his father: the man who inspires him, who pushes him to be great. Who sometimes makes him so frustrated while running drills that he wants to kick the ball to God knows where. But Andrej listens intently, hanging on his father’s every word. He won’t admit this to his dad, as teenagers are sometimes reluctant to do, but Andrej finds himself repeating Peja’s mantras in private:
“Being tired is in your mind.”
“If you are dreaming big, and you are not working big, those two things do not align.”
“Preparation is everything. It’s your duty to push yourself to reach your potential.”
Andrej doesn’t glance at his dad once over the course of this game in May, but he knows his dad is there. The two travel from their home in Sacramento to Southern California nearly every weekend for tournaments. With one hand in his pocket, and the other leaning against a tall crate, Peja is in full dad mode, clad in gray pants and a T-shirt with burgundy New Balances. He’s tucked away in the back of the stands, far behind the rest of the Magic parents—not just because he’s 6-foot-10 and can see over everyone. He doesn’t want to add any unnecessary attention. Andrej has enough pressure as it is.
“I see him wanting to create his own path,” Peja says.
Peja watches his son make the extra pass, working to set up his teammates. He’s beaming, but refrains from clapping or cheering. When his son makes a mistake, he doesn’t yell, either. He respects Andrej’s coaches. He knows his place.
But his mind still spins with ideas, as he tracks the flight of his son’s shot. Sometimes he feels an urgency to call out for Andrej to be more aggressive, but he keeps to himself. His son has to figure it out on his own. This is how he will learn.
“Coach, we want to see what he’s like! We’ve seen the film, we wanna see it in person!” a few opponents shouted, as Andrej walked onto the court for one of his first Magic games earlier this year. Heading into his senior year at Jesuit High School outside of Sacramento, Andrej is playing on the AAU circuit for the first time. His dad warned him that opponents might target him because of his last name.
Andrej doesn’t say anything back. Part of that is rooted in his humility as a late bloomer. He’s received almost two dozen offers from Division I schools—a surprising ascent for someone that was barely 6-foot as a freshman. He wasn’t even the best player on varsity until last season, when he sprouted six inches and exploded as a versatile scorer.
Given his late ascent, Andrej wasn’t praised much, never predicted to be a star. And so he never acted like one. He doesn’t carry himself as if he’s better than anyone else. His dad never pampered him—never made him think he was special just because he is the son of an NBA player.
Andrej has come to the realization that he can’t control his last name, but he can control his demeanor. So he pretends as if he doesn’t hear the comments, facing extraordinary expectations with grace. He doesn’t seek any handouts, any sympathy. If anything, he’s become more motivated. He simply aches to be a great basketball player and jump to the NBA one day.
He has to conduct himself professionally, given all the eyes on him. He can’t afford to lash out, or slip up. But he’s just a kid. A kid who loves going to the beach and eating Pastitsio, a Greek baked pasta dish. A kid who sometimes wishes people knew there was more to him than just basketball.
He is often asked by classmates if he feels pressure; if it’s really that hard being the son of a famous player. Andrej brushes it off. “No,” he’ll say.
But when he is alone with his thoughts, alone with the ball, reality tugs at him. “I’m not going to lie,” he says, “It’s very hard.”
So much has happened so quickly. In just over a year, he went from thinking he’d be happy to secure an offer from a mid-major to having his pick of college basketball’s blue bloods. “We knew he would kind of blow up,” says Justin Williams, his coach with the Magic. But to this degree? “I don’t think we even anticipated this.”
He is at his best when creating his shot off the dribble or pushing it in transition for an easy bucket. He has startling athleticism for the son of a 3-point legend, able to throw down poster dunks and finish in traffic amongst bigs. He can post up or face up—and hardly ever looks rattled or rushed. His basketball IQ is predictably elite. Evaluators have praised him for his floor vision and mid-range capabilities, as well as his shooting stroke and ability to move off the ball to create opportunities.
“He’s an NBA player,” says Etop Udo-Ema, Compton Magic’s cofounder and CEO. “He’s way more athletic than anybody knows. He’s got so much more to his game and a lot of people want to say, ‘Oh, it’s Peja’s kid.’ But this dude has his own game.”
Udo-Ema goes a step further: “He’s really fucking good. … I really feel like he’s going to be a one-and-done lottery pick.”
Peja and his wife, Alexandra, didn’t necessarily want Andrej to pursue basketball. They didn’t want him to carry the pressure of being Peja’s son. They rarely spoke about hoops at home. “Everybody was expecting him to play basketball,” Alexandra says, “but not us.”
Andrej was born and partially raised in Thessaloniki, Greece, where his mother is from and where his father played professionally until he came into the NBA in 1998. As a child, Andrej couldn’t understand why people would ask his dad for autographs. On the hour-long bus ride to school, he dreamt of being a soccer player. Soccer was much bigger in Greece than basketball. On the pitch he was small and smart, quick and instinctive.
Andrej’s English was fine when he first arrived in the States, as he had gone to an American school in Athens. A bigger adjustment was seeing the abundance of opportunities in America, compared to the economic turmoil he observed in Greece. He also saw that soccer wasn’t as popular in his new home. He found himself around basketball more than ever, arriving hours early to NBA arenas before his dad’s games, studying players as they worked out. By middle school, he’d serve as an alternate for two-on-two games with a retired Peja and his friends, but couldn’t really hang. He was too scrawny.
He didn’t start to take basketball more seriously until the end of his freshman year at Jesuit, around when COVID began. It wasn’t easy being an undersized player. He was so frustrated that his younger sister was taller than him, and he’d measure himself over and over, hoping to will himself into a growth spurt.
“He was very, very skilled,” says Jesuit coach Tim Kelly, “but he was just soft and not physically mature enough to play at a really high level.”
Andrej pushed himself in the weight room, always asking Jay Nacionales, Jesuit’s sports performance coordinator, for heavier lifts. And the more he played, the more basketball savvy he gained. He had watched so many different styles of basketball, in both Europe and America, that he seemed to naturally know how to flow within an offense. How to set others up. “He’s very cerebral with how he approaches things,” says Rashid “Shine” Cann, his basketball skills trainer.
Andrej received his first college offer as a sophomore, from Cal Poly, but still wasn’t the man on his team. He didn’t have the ball in his hands much, and wasn’t nearly as dynamic as he is now. He started to become one of the first to arrive at practices. Though he differs from his father in certain ways on the court, he shares his dad’s internal drive and dedication to the craft. Andrej often asks his Magic coaches, as soon as they land for out-of-state tournaments: “Can we go shoot?”
“The idea of the ball just leaving my fingertips,” Andrej says, “knowing that it’s going to go in, is just … one of the best feelings.”
As his body grew, his confidence did, too. Suddenly, around age 16 and at 6-foot-6, Andrej was dunking all over the place, springing to the basket with ease. He was no longer the teen who stood in the corner, waiting to make a play. “I was seeing a new man,” says Reid Jones, a teammate at Jesuit.
Andrej became the one asking his dad to put up extra shots, rather than the other way around. “He’s just become so laser focused,” says Drake U’u, a close family friend who worked in player development for the Kings with Peja.
“When the lights are on,” U’u says, “it’s like he takes his game to another level.”
One recent night, Andrej wouldn’t leave the gym until he drained 10 mid-range shots in a row from five spots, and then repeated the drill for 3-pointers. Peja was rebounding for him. Andrej easily tackled mid-range, and four of the spots from long range. But for some reason, he just couldn’t hit from the fifth and final spot: top of the key.
A man who worked at the gym had warned them at least three times that the gym was about to close. But Andrej kept shooting. He had to finish the last spot. But the man came back, told them it was time to go.
Andrej was frustrated with himself that he couldn’t complete the drill. Peja came over to console him: “Only 10 percent of NBA players can probably do that drill,” he said. “You were that close to completing it—which says a lot.”
Andrej could have been content, coming that close. But coming that close isn’t what Andrej is after. That isn’t what his dad taught him.
“It’s not enough,” Andrej said. He was still motivated. Excited, even if exhausted. He vowed to return to the court and stay as long as it took to finish the drill—no matter what. A voice inside him sounded so similar it’s as if a shadow whispered: “Being tired is in your mind.”
Sometimes Andrej can feel overwhelmed, navigating a recruiting landscape that is foreign to him and his father. College coaches will call at random hours of the day and night. It can get tiring, balancing recruiting, school, training, and travel. “That’s what some people don’t realize,” Andrej says. “They’re like, ‘You have so much attention. How can you not love it all the time?”
“There’s just some points where it’s just enough for a day,” he says. He feels incredibly fortunate to be in this position, a position so many players crave. It was surreal for him when Kentucky’s John Calipari called. Andrej thought to himself: “What am I even doing here?! I’m not supposed to be on the phone with Coach Calipari!” Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be so surprising for a top recruit to receive such a call, especially one with the family history Andrej has, but Andrej is still adjusting to success.
He keeps a lot of his offers, his accomplishments, to himself, not wanting to show off. When his mom realizes he’s spoken to a famous college coach, she asks, “Why didn’t you tell me?!” She wants him to enjoy what is happening. At the same time, even she can’t believe the praise being heaped upon her son. The reporters that ask for their time. She wants him to remain humble. “He’s a little bird,” she says, “that just started to fly.”
Andrej doesn’t feel satisfied with where he is. He wants to keep pushing himself to get better. And, following his son’s lead, Peja reminds Andrej that college coaches are saying the same, nice things to him that they’re saying to hundreds of kids, hoping to flatter them into choosing their school. “This is nothing,” Peja tells him. “Do not rely on someone else’s word.”
He says that not to diminish his son’s accomplishment. Quite the opposite, he’s deeply proud, excited, happy for his son. He often gets emotional in private with Alexandra while hearing Andrej talking on the phone with coaches in the other room. He won’t always let Andrej see this side of him, as he doesn’t want the praise to get to his son’s head. Worse, he doesn’t want his son to be disappointed if something doesn’t work out. He doesn’t think there are any guarantees for his son, by any stretch.
Still, Peja is so moved that his son will have the chance to attend college—something he never had the opportunity to do.
When Peja and Andrej work out, they mostly speak in Greek, as they do at home. (Andrej is working on his Serbian so he can better communicate with his grandparents.) Peja can be critical, often speaking in absolutes, such as telling Andrej that he has to be able to make 90 percent of his open shots. “If you can’t do that,” Peja says, “then you’re not a shooter.”
Once when Andrej was struggling to knock down 10 threes in a row before finishing a workout, Peja took the ball and did it himself. “See? It’s not that hard,” said Peja, who shot 40 percent from 3 over his career and twice won the 3-Point Contest at All-Star Weekend. “You should be able to do this. Look at me—I’m in a Polo.”
Peja wouldn’t push his son if he didn’t think his heart was in it. Peja was very hesitant to be involved at first, telling Andrej’s high school coaches that he didn’t want to put any pressure on Andrej. He still doesn’t want to add any burdens, but once he saw that Andrej had a genuine love for basketball, Peja was all-in on trying to help his son achieve his dreams.
“I cannot tell Peja apart from any other father. He wants the best for his son,” says Ilias Violidis, Andrej’s godfather. “He knows that Andrej is talented enough to reach the top and he pushes him in an effort to familiarize him with the pressure that NBA players face.”
Peja is trying to get him to understand that preparation is what separates who makes it. He often likens basketball to school, telling his son that he won’t be nervous for a test if he’s studied.
Peja strikes the delicate dance between pushing his son and giving him space. Being present but standing off to the side. He offers wisdom, but wants his son to think for himself. But there is no script for this, for either Peja and Andrej. Peja’s own father wasn’t a pro player. Peja himself never sought to try to play basketball to make a living. It just kind of worked out that way. He and Andrej are learning how to do this in real time, each of them trying to catch the same rhythm.
Peja can’t help but think about how different his own childhood was. “What I have experienced, I wish no one have to experience that,” Peja says.
Andrej has heard some of his father’s stories, but he can’t know what it truly felt like to be a teenager forced to flee his home in Požega, Croatia, after the Yugoslav Wars broke out in 1991.
Peja’s family lost their house, their business, and most of their belongings. Life wasn’t much easier in Belgrade, where Peja and his family settled as refugees. Peja’s parents were hard-working people who did whatever they needed to make sure Peja and his older brother were OK. Basketball became Peja’s outlet. “It kept my mind off of other problems that my parents were going through, and all the families were going through, affected by the tragedy.”
He worked hard. His own dad made sure of it. He used to make teenage Peja go to the schoolyard and make a thousand shots before he came home. Less of a late bloomer, Peja was more of a prodigy who could shine among much older players. He turned pro at 15. Peja’s pressure was performing in front of NBA scouts in Greece. Peja always tells Andrej about that, too: how much of him “making it” had to do with luck. Yes, work ethic mattered. So did performance, and production. But some part of it was, and always will be, pure happenstance. “It could have been another kid in another country,” he tells Andrej.
Peja admires the maturity with which his son is handling his newfound attention. Peja tries to keep in mind, even when his advice comes off quite direct, how hard it can be to take criticism. His honesty comes from a place of love. “I was once upon a time a young man, and it’s hard,” Peja says. “It’s hard to listen to bad things about yourself, but those are the best things if you can receive that and try to change it.”
Andrej didn’t understand his father’s approach at first. He couldn’t grasp why his dad made him do the same, monotonous drills over and over. Dribbling around cones. Pull-up shots. Catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Again and again.
Sometimes the workouts get so intense that the two don’t speak on the car ride home. But later into the evening, they melt back into their familiar roles. Andrej now understands why his dad has him shoot those shots, over and over. He sees the way it works in the games. He sees the way his own work ethic has blossomed, even if the two still bump heads. “The relationship of father and son is not always perfect,” Peja says.
Sometimes Peja doesn’t think his son is listening. Sometimes Andrej doesn’t think his father understands what it’s like to be him. Andrej doesn’t know that his dad sometimes watches his games from three courts away, gushing to U’u on the phone about a magnificent move Andrej just made. Then he’ll call Alexandra: “Oh my God. He’s doing great!” Peja will say, excitement brimming in his voice.
Sometimes Andrej will make a move, and then look over to see if his dad saw it, smiling, as if to say: “I know you saw that, right?”
Of course Peja did. He sees it all. But what makes Peja most proud has nothing to do with basketball, nothing to do with scholarship offers. It is the kindness Andrej shows his siblings, the respect he shows his teammates and coaches. Sometimes Peja sneaks a few steps behind Andrej, trying to catch a glimpse of what he’s saying to others. He can see the way his son is changing, growing.
“He’s slowly taking the life into his own hands,” Peja says.
Peja views this time together as a blessing. He says his split with the Kings happened at the right time. He can devote more time to Andrej and his two younger kids, Mila and Maksimo. Mila, 16, plays volleyball, and Maksimo, 11, runs track and plays basketball, and Peja and Alexandra make every competition they can.
“I think it’s crucial for parents to be able to have that time around their kids before they leave the house for college,” he says. “Those are our last chances to kind of give everything that we have.”