Having a 7-2 Big Man Like “Big Z” Could Be Huge for Cats in NCAA


Kentucky assistant coach Chin Coleman believes that every good team has an X factor who can “completely change the direction of a game” at any given moment

For Kentucky, it might be more of a Z factor with the way freshman Zvonimir Ivisic has started to play more consistently. The 7-2 Croatian had to wait two extra months to be admitted at Kentucky and then spent close to three more months waiting to be cleared by the NCAA to play.

“Z could have a huge impact beyond SEC play. SEC play is brutal and really physical. I think once we get outside of our conference (and in the NCAA Tournament) we will pay different teams with different styles and I think Z will be able to take advantage of that,” Coleman said.

The 225-pound Ivisic has been bullied at times by older, stronger SEC players but in the last two weeks has tried to play more physically and it has paid off. He had 18 points, five rebounds and four blocks against Alabama in 18 minutes. He played 21 minutes in the win at Mississippi State and had two points, four rebounds and three blocks. He came back against Arkansas with 12 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and one steal in 19 minutes.

“Z is giving them good minutes and making it more difficult take him off the floor,” UK Radio Network analyst Jack Givens said. “He needs to be more aggressive on offense. He knows if makes a play to hurt the team he might have to come out, so I understand some hesitation on his part. But if he gets 20 minutes a game he will have some big games.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari has seen his improvement but continues to stress the need to improve on defense. Against Mississippi State Calipari said he “got thrown to the floor three times” but fought and did block shots.

“The best thing is, if (Ivisic) rolls to the rim, he is big. He catches and reacts quickly. You can throw it to him and he can make the right play,” Calipari said.

Ivisic is UK’s most skilled center. He can handle the ball. He can knock down 3-pointers. He can block shots. He can make pinpoint, quick passes.

“He’s just got a good natural feel for the game,” freshman guard D.J. Wagner said. “Sometimes he might pass the ball, and you might not even know it’s coming, but you’re gonna be open.”

Wagner knows Calipari has been “preaching” to all the players to play more physical on defense but has especially preached that to Ivisic.

“We’ve got to play a little bit more physically and that’s going to help us win more games. So that’s what he’s been doing. He’s been playing more physical. He’s been following his defensive principles and it’s been showing,” Wagner said.

Ivisic knows his limitations and understood when Calipari told him if he played better defense, he would play. If not, he would not play often. Ivisic has tried to use better technique but also knows more than anything he has to “put more effort” into defense.

“Coach Cal said we can score 200 (points) but if we do not play defense we would lose anyway,” Ivisic said.

Ivisic is a perfect teammate. He understands Ugonna Onyenso or Aaron Bradshaw are playing better, they will play instead of him.

“We just cheer for each other. Doesn’t matter who’s in. Of course, we all want to play, but it is what it is,” Ivisic said. “If I don’t play, I really enjoy watching them play. There is so much talent on this team.”

Yet the wild card in postseason play could be Ivisic because of his unique skill set.

“Big Z gives them a chance in the NCAA Tournament. He has the best basketball IQ, best size and best skill of all the bigs. He could be the one to carry them,” CBS-TV analyst Clark Kellogg said after UK beat Arkansas.

“He is the unicorn,” Seth Davis, another CBS Sports voice, said. “He is the one who can separate them. He doesn’t have to be great. He just needs to be good.”