Just a week ago, Filip Rebrača has chosen Iowa as his next college destination. The North Dakota grad transfer has been a highly productive offensive piece in these last three seasons, averaging 16.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists as a junior. Here’s our Q&A with one of the most interesting European players in the Division I landscape.
As expected, you had a long list of schools reaching out to you as soon as you entered the transfer portal, with many high-majors involved in your recruitment (Minnesota, South Carolina, Virginia Tech among others). Which aspects led you to choose Iowa?
There are three aspects. One is school, of course: as an international student, I have to take in-person classes to be eligible to stay in the United States, and Iowa has a master program that offers that. Basketball-wise, I wanted to go to a team with a winning culture. You know, Iowa recently had a really big winning culture, with Luka Garza and all he has achieved. So I wanted to be part of a winning team and contribute to that. Finally, I wanted a team that could develop my perimeter skills more. Not saying that I’ve been always playing on the perimeter, but I wanted to be on a team that would allow me to shoot a little bit more threes and develop my drive. That’s Coach Fran McCaffery’s vision for me.
During the last season, you appeared to be a proper floor spacer, but there have been some ups and downs between your first and your second year: how your jumpshot has progressed throughout the time?
My first year I was brought in as a 4/5, so they wanted me to space the floor. My sophomore year, when the new coaching staff came in, I played primarily the 5 and they wanted me to have a really heavy post presence. So I didn’t get to shoot a lot, and even when I did, I was inconsistent, I couldn’t get a feel for the three. And finally this year, with us losing a lot of senior players, I thought I had to take a big step and so I had a much bigger role on offense. I thought that I couldn’t just be a presence in the paint but that I had to be a consistent shooter as well. So I always thought I could shoot, except that in my sophomore year I didn’t really had the system to shoot with.
🇷🇸 Filip Rebrača put up two double doubles over the weekend in a split between North Dakota and Omaha
22 PTS – 7/15 2P – 2/4 3P – 2/3 FT – 13 REB – 2 AST – 2 STL
— CBB Europe (@CBB_Europe) February 22, 2021
How do you see your adjustment to a tough conference like the Big Ten in terms a physicality? Is there already a workout plan that the Iowa coaching staff has proposed to you for the offseason?
I do understand that I’ll play in a more physical conference this upcoming year, and I understand that I have to gain weight. I’m 225 pounds but I feel that I need to be at least 230-235 to be effective. We still haven’t communicated about what they want me to do during the summer. I’m supposed to be there in June, so I have the whole month of May to prepare and being in Serbia. I already talked with my dad and we have a program set for me. So I’m already making some preparation by myself, but then I’ll also connect with Iowa’s S&C staff and see what they want me to do.
Should we expect to see you play more the 4 or the 5?
When I talked to Coach McCaffery, he said that even if I do play the 5, it’s not traditional 5 stuff. He wants me to do a little bit of everything, that’s why he’s bringing me in. He likes that I can be in the post, play with my back to the basket, I can shoot, I can drive. So I’m not saying that I’m going to be always outside like a 4, but there are always going to be times when I’m going to be in the post posting up.
After all, Luka Garza played many PnP possessions. Speaking of Garza, when the news of your commitment came out, he had an enthusiastic reaction on twitter. Have you had the chance to talk to him prior to your final choice?
Yes, I did. He gave me a phone call like a week and a half before my announcement and we talked for good fifteen minutes. It was good stuff. I got to hear why he thinks Iowa would be such a great fit for me. He said that, with him gone, the team needs an experienced guy. We just had a good conversation, I was asking about the coaching system and whatnot: he explained it to me really well and it just made more comfortable picking Iowa in the end.
Speaking of reactions on twitter by Iowa players, Joe Wieskamp had a very different one. That was a pretty funny photoshop “controversy”.
First off, I did not make that. There were people on twitter saying “At least he can play basketball better than he can photoshop”. I’m not going to say who made the photoshop, I don’t want to throw the person under the bus [laughs]. There were other funny photoshops in the comments. It was good fun, we were just messing around.
Ay bro it was on short notice 😂
— Filip Rebraca (@FRebraca) April 22, 2021
Let’s take a quick step back in time. You were under recruited out of prep school, and North Dakota was your only Division I offer…
My only offer in general: I had no D1, D2 or D3 offers except for North Dakota.
Which is really strange, considering that you had an impact right away as a freshman in college. What was the reason for that?
I can’t really explain it. I think it was because I went to a British school system and I needed to do some exams, so technically before I finished those exams I had only 3 years of eligibility. So I feel that a lot of college coaches were like “He’s coming out of prep school, he’s an older guy, do we want a guy that potentially could have only 3 years?”. But I believed in myself, that I could pass these exams, and when I passed them I regained my fourth year of eligibility. North Dakota was the only one that trusted me. They took me and few months later I got the results.
Dani Mihailović is the one coach that gave you that chance in D1. How was it to be in the US and play college basketball with a fellow Serbian on the coaching staff?
It was really good. You know, having a person that I could talk to everyday in my own language. There are also some Serbian families here in Grand Fork, so sometimes Dani and I would go visit them, have dinner, have Serbian food and stuff like that. It’s really good, it makes being thousands of kilometers away a little bit easier. But you know, they were not the only ones: I had few other Europeans on my team. Marko Coudreau, who is half French half Serbian, Davids Atelbauers from Latvia, and Gertautas Urbonavicius from Lithuania. We had a kind of Eastern European connection which was really good to have, being so far away from home.
🇷🇸 Filip Rebrača with a great second half (18 points), leading North Dakota to a comeback win over Western Illinois (trailing by 19 in the first half)
— CBB Europe (@CBB_Europe) January 30, 2021
Your father Željko has had a great pro career back in the day: what’s your relationship between you two from a basketball point of view?
It’s like tough love, I would say. He congratulates me only when I really do my best or when really good things happen to me. But even if I have a good game, he’s gonna be like “Hey, you could’ve done this better, you could’ve done that better”. He’s always the one that pulls me down to earth when everyone else lift me up. I really appreciate that because not everyone does that, coming from a person that knows so much about basketball. Sometimes you just want to hear “Great job man”, but I feel like he helped me to develop in a lot of mental aspects of basketball, just try to push myself more and more.
Is there any advice in particular that he gave you that stuck with you?
I wouldn’t say there’s only one, but you know he’s all about hard work and being in the gym for hours and hours. I could be in the gym for four hours and he would be like “Ha! I was in the gym six hours today”. I could be six hours in the gym, he would spend eight hours [laughs]. But that’s one thing that always stuck with me, that I just need to be in the gym non-stop.