Center of Attention

Sophomore Big Man Ante Zizic Opening Eyes in Vegas
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Center of Attention

Sophomore Big Man Ante Zizic Opening Eyes in Vegas

The poor kid. Ante Zizic just turned old enough to drink a beer or play blackjack and he’s already being called a “dinosaur.”

But that’s what happens when you play a position that, in today’s NBA, is almost a blast from the past.

Popularized by the Golden State Warriors, today’s NBA has gone away from the traditional center – instead favoring players who can stretch the floor. Today’s game is about stretch-4s, combo-guards, floor-spacers and swingmen. Seven-footers routinely have the green light from beyond the arc. Kevin Love – not exactly the Artis Gilmore-type – started 48 games in the middle for the Eastern Conference Champs last season.

(Ironically, it was the Warriors who recently landed one of the league’s true remaining centers – and maybe its best (DeMarcus Cousins) – in free agency.)

Ante Zizic might be a throwback player – a down-on-the-block, back-to-the-basket big man – but that doesn’t mean his skill-set is obsolete. In fact, through the first two games of Summer League – and a strong but brief showing late last season – the 21-year-old center has shown that he can pile up all kinds of production.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 7: Ante Zizic #41 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks the ball against the Chicago Bulls during the 2018 Las Vegas Summer League on July 7, 2018 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

As the Cavs split their first two contests in Vegas – topping the Wizards on Friday before falling to the Bulls on Saturday, the “new” Big Z is averaging 20.5 points and 12.5 rebounds through the first three games of Vegas Summer League, shooting 63 percent (19-of-30) from the floor.

(Zizic got Monday’s matchup against the Pacers off for rest.)

He has shown the footwork and patience of a five-year veteran, he’s finishing strong with both hands and his assertiveness in the post has been tangible so far in Vegas.

”One of my goals (this offseason) was to be patient in the post because before I was always in a rush,” said Zizic. “So now I'm picking my pace and it seems good.”

If his field goal percentage numbers are good, it’s because Cleveland’s Numeral 41 – (chosen because of his birthday, January 4) – doesn’t stray out to the three-point line unless it’s to set a screen or track down a long rebound. And although he’s proven himself a solid passer, he won’t be triggering the offense, like fellow former Adriatic Leaguer, Nikola Jokic.

Zizic plays center. The Five.

After being named the 2015-16 Adriatic League Top Prospect – an honor previously given to impressive recent imports like Nikola Jokic and Dario Saric – the native of Split, Croatia was taken with the 23rd pick of the 2016 Draft by Boston and, by March of last season, was the only roster player remaining from last summer’s blockbuster trade with the Celtics.

(The Wine & Gold have since tabbed Collin Sexton with the pick acquired in the deal.)

Cracking the rotation on a veteran-laden squad like last year’s Cavs wasn’t easy. Zizic racked up 46 DNP-CDs early in the campaign, but kept working with then-assistant Vitaly Potapenko in Cleveland and was very productive in Canton – averaging 16.3 points and 9.4 boards in 18 games with the Charge.

"Over the past season, I was preparing -- working on my body, working on my game, working on everything ..."


When Zizic finally did get his shot – with Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson nursing injuries – he was aggressive and confident. The game didn’t seem too big or fast for him.

In 32 appearances, he shot 73 percent from the floor (49-of-67) – netting five games in double-figures, including a 15-point performance on 7-of-9 shooting against the Lakers in early March and a 20-point showing on 7-of-9 shooting in the regular season finale against the Knicks.

"Over the past season, I was preparing -- working on my body, working on my game, working on everything, actually," said Zizic, who was heading directly from the gym to watch his friend Stipe Miocic attempt to defend his heavyweight title. "So I feel much more ready for the league now."

Zizic has had a really nice run for the Wine & Gold here in the desert – and this past Saturday was especially interesting.

After 9 a.m. shootaround at the Cox Pavilion, he returned to the hotel where he watched Croatia top Russia on a 4-3 penalty shootout in the 2018 World Cup (“It was the first time I didn’t take a (pregame) nap,” joked Zizic.) In the early evening, he notched his second straight double-double, notching 25 points and 11 boards against Chicago.

Following the game, Cleveland’s young big went directly to the T-Mobile Arena to support his friend and fellow countryman, Stipe Miocic, tangle with Daniel Cormier for the UFC heavyweight championship – (which didn’t work out as well as they both would’ve hoped).

”It's been tough because he hasn't really played a lot,” said Coach James Posey after Saturday’s performance. “He was in the G League for a little bit, played some games down there, but even when he had the opportunity for us, he played well. He put in the work all season long for this moment right here and he's taking advantage of it.”

Big Z will be back in action when Summer League’s next round tips off later this week – banging in the post, moving bodies and doing what he does best: playing the position as it was originally designed.

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Ante Zizic Feature - July 10, 2018

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