Ivica Zubac quickly became a fan favorite when the Los Angeles Lakers drafted him with their 32nd pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. From his endearing accent, jovial demeanor and genuine love for the Lakers it was easy for the 7’1 Croatian center to find his way into fans hearts. At just 19 years old and needing time to develop, Zubac has been spending time with the Los Angeles D-Fenders, where he’s averaging 16.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
After receiving a lot of questions about where Zubac’s been and when he’ll return to the Lakers, we caught up Zubac after he scored 22 points in the D-Fenders win over the Salt Lake City Stars, chatting about everything from how different the travel is in the D-League, what coaches have asked him to work on, the excitement of draining his first three-pointer and what he’s learned throughout this experience.
Q: A lot of fans don’t necessarily understand the concept of the NBA D-League or why you were sent down to the D-Fenders, can you give fans a sense of why you were sent down, what you’re learning, and how it’s helping?
Zubac: When the coach from the Lakers doesn’t see you in the rotation, when they think you’re not going to play, they think it’s best to send you down to the D-League to stay in shape, to get some conditioning, because I would sit on the bench on the road and I wouldn’t get any time to work out or anything, so they think it’s best to send me down to the D-League and to work on my game to show what I’m practicing everyday and to try some stuff, but mostly to stay in shape and condition.
Q: It sounds like you’re quite under the weather (sick)…
First day of road trip commercial planes and everything so I got sick. I played first two games, but third one I couldn’t get out of bed, I don’t know it was so bad.
Q: You just mentioned the commercial planes, a lot of people don’t realize that how you travel in the NBA is completely different than how you travel in the D-League….
Zubac: I was used to traveling like that in Europe, but now when I got to see how it feels to travel with an NBA team I don’t want to get back to commercial flights. Traveling with charters, it’s so nice, you get there 10 minutes before the flight and you can eat whatever you want, you can do whatever you want on the plane and here you’ve got to check in two hours before, and wait all day and when boarding time starts it’s usually postponed so it’s really tough, like the first day when we were traveling to Rio Grande, it took us the whole day, we were traveling whole day and it was crazy!
Q: Does it make you appreciate even more when you’re with the Lakers?
Zubac: (laughs) Yeah, every time I’m waiting there for the plane, I’m thinking I want to go back to Lakers just to fly in the charter. That’s the biggest difference, hotels are not so bad, it’s good, not like NBA, but the only thing I need is a bed, so everything else is fine, only transportation
Q: Where do you feel like you’ve been able to grow in this past week? From what I’ve seen, it looks like it’s easy for you to score…
Zubac: I feel like I can score every time I get the ball….I don’t take bad shots and I feel like I discovered that I can shoot the three. I scored two threes. It felt so good when I scored that three. I know why they’re shooting threes, all guys in the NBA, everybody, I know why, I know why.
Q: Really? Feels that much better?
Zubac: Ya, way better and one week ago, when I scored my first three, that was my first career three, so that felt good but I discovered I can run with those guys because everybody told me its different than the NBA, up and down, a lot of possessions, people are talking that I can’t play like that, I’m too slow, but I learned that I can play like that, and I got in pretty good shape. I can play 48 minutes and I learned that I can score in many ways.
Q: And how about on the defensive end?
Zubac: I feel like I can improve a lot there, because when I’m with Lakers I’m trying to focus on defense and here I’m trying to focus on offense. I don’t know why, like I have a feeling I’ve got to score every time, so I’ve got to pick it up on the defensive end, because I can do better. I got to have better energy on the defensive end.
Q: Have you gotten any feedback from coaches?
Zubac: Yeah, coaches are telling me…D-Fenders coaches, everybody is telling me I’ve got to defend better and I know that already but I’ve got to make things in my head right, so next game I’m going to focus more on defense.
Q: Before you got sent down to the D-Fenders to develop, did the Lakers tell you main things they wanted you to focus on?
Zubac: Yeah, they told me the main thing is to stay in shape and stay in condition and to work on my game, to use things that I learned in practice that I usually don’t do, so I can get some confidence.
Q: You talk to any of your Lakers teammates?
Zubac: Yeah, of course. I talk to Larry everyday. Larry is my favorite teammate. I like all the guys, but Larry helps me the most and he’s a cool guy so after every game or after my game, he texts me, I text him.
Q: A lot of Lakers fans out there are wondering when you are coming back to the Lakers…
Zubac: There’s a lot of guys who are supporting me. There a lot of fans who like me and it feels good to have that support and I just want to say to them that they have to wait for a little bit because my time is coming I’m still young, I’m still 19, and my time is coming, so we don’t have to rush everything because we have to go step by step and things are going to come automatic.