Grad transfer Filip Rebraca brings versatility to Iowa men’s basketball

The Serbian shares a hometown, and some traits on the court, with NBA MVP and Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic.


Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Spor

Mar 10, 2020; Sioux Falls, SD, USA; North Dakota Fighting Hawks forward Filip Rebraca (12) drives against North Dakota State Bison forward Rocky Kreuser (34) in the first half at Denny Sanford Premier Center. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Read, Summer Editor

Filip Rebraca, an offseason addition to the Iowa men’s basketball program, shares the same hometown as Nikola Jokic, this year’s NBA most valuable player.

Jokic, despite being a 6-foot-11, 284-pound center, is known for his versatility — whether it be his pinpoint passing or his ability to hit shots from 3-point range. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery envisions Rebraca, the program’s only transfer portal addition this offseason, providing the same sorts of benefits to the Hawkeyes.

“He fits in perfectly,” McCaffery said. “He’s a really skilled 6-foot-9 player that can handle it, shoot it, rebound it, drive it, and he can pass. He gives us a lot of versatility… I will encourage Filip to shoot the ball from the outside, drive and kick to guys that are open. He’s a perfect fit for our transition and our motion game.”

Rebraca, a 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward who will also see time at center next season, entered the NCAA transfer portal after three seasons at North Dakota and committed to Iowa on April 22.

The Sombor, Serbia, native, 22, is four years younger than Jokic, the Denver Nuggets star. But seeing the two together on a basketball court during summers in their home country isn’t rare.

“I’m not saying we’re best friends, but we always greet each other and always talk about how we’re doing and what-not,” Rebraca said in his introductory Zoom conference as a Hawkeye. “When we were younger, we used to practice during the summer.

“[Jokic] is a once-in-a-generation type player. But I would say some of my post moves might resemble his.”

Seeing Rebraca on a basketball court in general isn’t uncommon.

The son of former professional basketball player Zeljko Rebraca, who played professionally in Europe and in the NBA, Filip Rebraca spent his childhood in Italy, Greece, Detroit, and Los Angeles before spending the first three years of his college career in Grand Forks.

A constant among all those stops was Rebraca spending enough time in the gym to please his father, no matter how hard that might be.

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“I still talk to him like really almost every day about practices and what I need to do,” Rebraca said. “He’s always been telling me I need to be in the gym 24/7. If I’ve been in the gym three hours, he says ’Oh, back in my day I was in the gym four or five hours.’ If I went in the gym for four hours, he was in the gym for eight hours.

“He’s always just telling me that hard work is the No. 1 thing.”

Rebraca said he enjoyed his time in North Dakota, even though he described the winters there as “probably the most brutal thing I’ve ever experienced.” But Rebraca prefers the faster-paced lifestyle of Iowa City, similar to how he wanted to play in Iowa’s up-tempo offense.

The Hawkeyes led the Big Ten in points per game last season (83.7) and ranked No. 3 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per’s metrics.

“Iowa likes to play fast, and that’s not really something we did in North Dakota,” Rebraca said. “It’s a very free-flowing offense. Everyone is engaged, everyone has a role to play, everyone can make decisions and make plays. I think this is the best and most fun brand of basketball.”

Iowa will be without Luka Garza, the reigning national player of the year and the men’s basketball program’s all-time leading scorer, moving forward. Jack Nunge, the team’s top rebounder off the bench last season, transferred to Xavier in April.

Rebraca averaged 16.8 points (50.6 percent shooting from the field and 36.6 percent from 3-point range) and 7.6 rebounds per game for North Dakota in 2020-21. He will be partially responsible for filling Iowa’s void in the post next season. And potentially beyond.

Part of the reason Rebraca transferred to Iowa (he was also pursued heavily by Minnesota) was to join the university’s two-year master’s program in finance.

So, despite being a graduate transfer, Hawkeye fans may get two years out of Rebraca on the court. And if he has even some of the traits of his superstar friend Jokic, that’s not a bad thing at all for McCaffery’s team.

“I don’t want to leave things unfinished,” Rebraca said. “My plan is for two years. If I have an exceptional season and I have an opportunity to go play pro or earn a lot of money, I guess, that’s always something you have to take into consideration. But I’m strongly leaning toward staying here for two years.”

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