No longer barred from profiting from college basketball in the United States, top European prospects now bypass professional teams in their home countries to enroll in NCAA schools with an eye to making money in name, image and license deals ( NIL).
The latest European phenom to opt for an American college is Zvonimir Ivisic, a 7-foot-2 Croatian power forward, who announced his decision to join coach John Calipari at Kentucky on Tuesday. Ivisic, 19, played professionally in Montenegro alongside his twin brother, Tomislav.
“Received a scholarship offer from Coach Calipari to attend the University of Kentucky,” Ivisic wrote on Instagram. ‘I am excited to say that I have accepted the scholarship and will be playing there next season. Go Big Blue!
Ivisic is one of several Euros breaking from the paths laid out by Luka Doncic and Victor Wembanyama, who played professionally for elite European teams before becoming draft-eligible and joining the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, respectively. In fact, many basketball insiders have attributed part of Doncic’s and Wembanyama’s success to their decision to play against adult professionals in Europe.
But Ivisci isn’t the only one choosing college basketball over professional. Heading into the 2023-24 season, UCLA has added Aday Mara from Spain, Berke Buyuktuncel from Turkey and Jan Vide from Slovenia, while Arizona has secured commitments from Lithuanians Paulius Murauskas and Motiejus Krivas.
The latest European to opt for an American college boy is Zvonimir Ivisic, a 7-foot-2 Croatian power forward
Victor Wembanyama didn’t bother with NCAA hoops, instead opting to play professionally in France
Not that NIL’s offerings are new. Rather, they have been allowed since 2021, when the collegiate sport’s governing body lifted rules that prohibited student athletes from signing sponsorship deals or benefiting from their name or likeness.
And some players have already been paid heavily, including LeBron James’ son Bronny, who booked $6.3 million in NIL deals before his cardiac arrest last week, which has put his USC basketball career in jeopardy. .
As always, universities are still prohibited from paying student-athletes directly, but it’s the rise of NIL collectives that has helped incentivize European prospects.
Now, collectives like The 15 Club in Kentucky or UCLA’s Men of Westwood can pool donations that can be offered as part of NIL deals designed to entice recruits to join fan-favorite teams.
Zvonimir Ivisic proudly announced his decision to join John Calipari (left) in the UK this year
How much NIL deals played into Ivisic’s decision remains a mystery.
Kentucky declined to comment on Ivisic on Tuesday, telling DailyMail.com that he has not officially signed with the school yet. Spokespersons for The 15 Club did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com’s request for details about Ivisic’s current NIL deals.
But according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, who covers NBA prospects and international basketball, “Ivisic’s commitment (to Kentucky) represents a sea change.”
Givony emphasized that NIL deals allow international prospects to get six-figure deals, “completely changing the European market.”
Other basketball insiders have also noticed the change.
Chris Fisher, covering UK basketball for TheCatsPause247, noted that “the UK have made great strides in NIL”.
Although he is the size of a center, Ivisic handles the ball like a guard on the perimeter.
A Twitter account that follows European basketball prospects added: “NIL definitely has a big impact here as it can generate income that these types of players couldn’t in Europe.”
Yes, there are eligibility questions surrounding Ivisic, who has played two seasons of professional baseball, albeit barely. In 2010, Kentucky had a similar issue with Enes Kanter that went unresolved and the Turkish center was banned from playing NCAA basketball after spending the previous season with Fenerbahçe Istanbul.
But there appears to be more confidence this time around that Ivisic will be eligible, allowing the 20-year-old a chance to hone his skills against elite college competition before declaring for the NBA Draft.
And for someone who averaged 11.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game for Croatia at the recent FIBA U20 European Championship, America’s top league is a distinct possibility.