From Citluk to the NBA: Story of Ivica Zubac

Total Croatia News

October 23, 2019 – The 22-year old Croatian basketball player Ivica Zubac dreamt of playing for the local Brotnja team in his hometown of Čitluk in front of 1,000 people, but that never became a reality. Today, a different dream turned into reality.

First, Zubac was drafted in June 2016 to the Los Angeles Lakers, but now he is a member of their rival, the Los Angeles Clippers, and is ready to take the NBA by storm. 

Many NBA fans hadn’t heard of Ivica Zubac before 23 June 2016 when the Lakers selected the 7’1″ center as the 32nd pick in the Draft, but this season he should be the Clippers’ starting center. 

Zubac grew up in Citluk, a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina that is just east of the Croatian border. Even though he has duel citizenship, Zubac identifies 100 percent as a Croatian. 

“I live in the part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where we are the only Croatians, and we are the proudest in the world,” said Zubac for in February 2017. “Croatia means everything to us.” 

At the age of 7, Zubac started practicing together with older kids up to age 15. Just like everyone from his town, he wanted to be just like Zoran Planinic, a former professional basketball player who played for the New Jersey Nets in the NBA and who happens to be Zubac’s second cousin on his father’s side. 

Soon enough, with a lot of practice, Zubac started playing really good and scoring 30 or 40 points per game for Brotnjo where he used to play as a youngster. His good performances didn’t go unnoticed as Cibona, a top Croatian League club, invited him to play in a tournament when he was 13. 

Zubac said in 2017: “So we went to a tournament in Hungary, and I didn’t do much. I scored like two points in five games, and I was thinking, ‘Oh man, I didn’t do good, they aren’t going to take me.’ But then they called me for another tournament in the middle of the season and I played better. And then for another tournament, and I played better again. Then they asked me to move there and start high school in Croatia. 

When I started to play basketball, the gym in Citluk was always full of 1,000 people, and my only dream was to play in front of those people with Brotjo for the senior team.” 

Zubac didn’t start well as for his first two years, nobody paid attention to him. When he was 15, he started playing better. However, he had an injury and missed a year. He started slowly coming back at the age of 17 when Cibona loaned him to a Croatian First Division Team, Velika 

Gorica, where he averaged 16 or 17 points per game. He was brought back to Cibona on loan, but still didn’t play much. Unexpectedly, that summer came his arrival moment. 

Zubac explained two years ago: “I was supposed to be the backup center for the Croatian National Team at the Under 19 World Championships. But the expected starter got injured, and I started and played really good. I think I was the second or third scorer in the championships. We made it to the final and barely lost to the USA in overtime. After that, everybody knew. I realized, wow, I (really) can go to the NBA one day.” 

The following season, Cibona promised Zubac that he would play a lot, but he sprained his MCL and was out for two months. On his return, he didn’t play much, so he asked his agent to change the team, and in February 2016, Zubac joined Mega Leks in the Serbian League. A few months later, he entered the Draft, despite a lot of scouts telling him to stay one more year in Europe. 

“But I told my agent my dream was to play in the NBA, in the best league against the best players. I wanted to prove myself. And I didn’t want to waste a year. A lot of things could happen. I could get injured, who knows? So I said I’m going to the NBA right now, as soon as they draft me,” Zubac said in 2017. 

Zubac was selected as the 32nd overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft by the Lakers. On 7 July, he signed with the Lakers and joined the team for the 2016 NBA Summer League. In his rookie season, he started only 11 games but managed to write his name in the history books. 

On 13 March 2017, in a 129-101 loss to the Denver Nuggets, Zubac became the youngest player in the Lakers history with 25 points in a double-double. That night at the age of 19, he scored 25 points and made 11 rebounds and achieved history, but Zubac still put his team first. 

“The record means nothing, I scored 25, but we lost by 30 points. It does not mean anything. I would score 5 points and contribute to a win than score 25 and lose”, Zubac said that night. 

Two weeks later, he was ruled out for the rest of the season with a high ankle sprain in his right ankle. The following season, Zubac had multiple assignments with the South Bay Lakers, the Lakers’ NBA G League affiliate, due to limited playing time in the regular season. 

In his last season for the Lakers, Zubac appeared in 33 games (12 starts), averaging career-highs in points (8.5), rebounds (4.9), field goal percentage (.580) and free-throw percentage (.864) in 15.6 minutes. 

However, the Croatian didn’t stick with Lakers for too long as the Clippers acquired him and forward Michael Beasley from Lakers in exchange for center Mike Muscala in February of this year. This season, Zubac should be the Clippers’ starting center and he already began the season on a positive note. In the last night’s opening game of the season, Zubac was a starter for the Clippers in their 112–102 win over his former team, Lakers. The Croatian had eight points on perfect 4/4 shooting in 10 minutes spent on the court.

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