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Zubac hopes to make dream come true with Pistons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
The Pistons were one of four teams 19-year-old center Ivica Zubac worked out for.

Auburn Hills — The seeds to a dream were sown more than a decade ago for Ivica Zubac, as he watched his cousin make a way to the NBA.

Now, Zubac is a few days away from potentially reaching his own goal of making it to the NBA.

Zubac, a 7-foot-1 center from Bosnia and Herzegovina, is one of the unknowns and hidden gems in the NBA draft, and potentially could be a first-round pick. Zubac, 19, worked out Monday morning for the Pistons, who made his short list of suitors to get a workout.

He has been in the United States only a week and has only three other workouts scheduled: Memphis, Boston and Toronto.

“(My agent) told me we were only going to select only three or four teams who are most interested, who are calling the most asking for you and watching the most in Europe and scouting me,” Zubac said. “The Pistons were one of them.”

The Pistons’ interest may not just be cursory. It’s uncertain what they’ll do with their No. 18 pick in the first round, but Zubac likely wouldn’t be around at No. 49 in the second round, so their inquiries could lean toward picking and stashing him in Europe until he’s ready to contribute.

Since his workouts began, Zubac said teams have told him that having him stay overseas was a possibility, which he’s be open to pursuing, if that was the team’s preference. But he’d certainly like to come over and start playing in the NBA right away.

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Zubac helped the Croatian team win the silver medal in the Under-19 World Championships, averaging 17.9 points and 7.9 rebounds. In that tournament, he had 12 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in a loss to the U.S.

For the Pistons, Zubac could project to be a backup center but also possesses outside range out to the 3-point line. While he’s regarded for his interior play, he said he didn’t get a chance to show his perimeter game as much in Europe.

“I have a good mid-range shot and I can shoot threes, but in Europe, coaches didn’t want me to shoot from outside because I was tall and big,” Zubac said. “They wanted me to stay in the paint and do what I do best, set screens and rebound the ball.”

In a draft that could have plenty of big men, especially toward the end of the first round, Zubac could fit with many teams because of his size and versatility. At 240 pounds, he’d likely still have to add more muscle to compete with some of the physicality in the paint, but he has a good frame with which to start.

Watching his cousin, Zoran Planinic, who was selected No. 22 overall in 2003 by the New Jersey Nets, Zubac’s dream was born when he was still just 11. Planinic played three seasons with the Nets but that helped Zubac figure out his future path — well before he had his growth spurt.

“I was really impressed by him and everybody in my hometown was, so everybody looked up to him,” Zubac said. “I started playing because he was my cousin and I wanted to play in the NBA like him.”

Zubac said the NBA player he’s most compared to is the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol, who has a versatile inside and perimeter game. If Zubac can live up to that comparison, he could establish an NBA career for himself.

Last season, Zubac had a dispute with Cibona, his Adriatic League team in Croatia, and left — he said because of playing time, and not the reported financial issues — but is looking for a fresh start in the NBA.

“I didn’t leave because of money; I left because of the minutes,” Zubac said. “The first coach was really good to me and I was really satisfied, playing a lot of minutes and practiced really hard and well. When he got fired, the other coach came and I didn’t play anything and they promised me 15 to 20 minutes and that was okay for me.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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