The next interview in our series “Meeting Top International Prospects with NetScouts Basketball” is Igor Milicic Jr., a Polish 6-foot-9 versatile player who has the size and skills to be a perfect fit for the modern era of non-positional basketball.
His father, Igor Milicic, was a Croatian national team player and a longtime head coach of Anwil Wloclavek, a Polish First Division basketball team which played also in the Basketball Champions League in Europe. Milicic is now coaching BM Slam Stal Ostrow, one of the top teams in Poland’s first league. We scouted his son in Munich at the ANGT in January, 2020. Playing for U18 Ratiopharm Ulm, we were impressed by Milicic’s versatility and level of confidence handling the ball given his height. The 2020 ANGT Munich was definitely the international breakout for him. After that event his constant imрrоvement established himself as one of the top 2021 European recruits.
Playing for Orange Academy Ulm in the German Third Division this season, Milicic averages 13.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists, while taking little more than five shots from long distance a game, making 35-of-108 shots on threes in 21 games. Milicic’s solid performance, great work ethic and high upside even earned him some appearances on the senior team of Ratiopharm Ulm. Eventually he got an invitation from the national senior team of Poland in the FIBA Eurobasket qualifying window in February, where he made his debut.
Milicic has recently decided that he will continue his future development by playing college basketball in the USA next year, as he committed to Virginia.
Despite his busy schedule, the best Polish recruit was able to share with us his thoughts on a variety of subjects. Check out the interview below:
Hello Igor! Hope you and your family are doing well in these wild times. Congratulations on your commitment to Virginia! Can you share with us more about how you’ve been spending this year given the impacts of COVID-19? What was your approach and main focus in improving your skill set?
When the first lockdown came, my family quickly moved to Poland to spend this wild time with my dad. We were super careful at that time. The only positive thing about being there was that my dad had an access to the local club’s basketball facility. Me and my brothers were going to practice with our dad every day for at least 2 hours. There were people opening the gym only for us and we were parking our car literally in the gym, just not to have contact with strangers. We were working on everything! Starting with ball handling, going to passing, conditioning, shooting and defending, ending with learning new ways to get to the rim with multiple moves. It was a 2-month basketball camp. I think that was the time when I took my game to the whole other level.
How did you start playing basketball? How big of an impact did your father have? And what kind of advice do you receive from him?
I started playing basketball very naturally. My dad never pushed or told me to start playing basketball, but this beautiful sport was always in my life. We were attending all his games and it just became a part of my life at very young age. Then I decided that I want to start practicing as well and I was really good at it as a very young boy. After that as I got older I had much more questions about basketball and I could always reach out to him and my dad would always give me the best answer he could. If I ever needed him, he would always help, whether it was basketball related or not, he would always try to make me happy.
Playing for one of the best youth programs in Germany, Ratiopharm Ulm, you had your international breakout performance at the 2020 ANGT in Munich, the best U18 club tournament in Europe. What was your mentality going into the event and how did that tournament change your perception of yourself and the game?
That tournament definitely spread my name to the basketball world and more people got aware of me and my game. It was an honor to be a part of such a big event that takes place just once a year and many top players took part in it in the past years. To be honest I was looking forward to this event for months prior and when it finally happened, I was ready for it. I had a breakout season in U19 German league, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds a game, so I was really confident coming to the ANGT. I don’t want to sound cocky or over-confident but I felt like I would play well in that tournament. I think one of my biggest advantages is that I play better when it’s big game. So, to answer your question, I don’t think that my ANGT performance changed me or my perception of my game in any way, I was just happy that it happened and it gave me a huge amount of confidence to see that I am able to compete or even be better than top players in my age group.
Recently you’ve been among the several European youngsters who had the chance to practice and eventually make a debut for their national senior teams at the FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Qualifiers. Tell us more about that experience, what it felt to represent Poland at the highest level at such a young age and what are the lessons you took from it?
It was the biggest thing that happened in my life so far! It’s not usual for an 18-year-old to make it to the national senior team and I did it. I feel like it was the biggest appreciation of all the work that I put into basketball. I gained a huge amount of experience there just being around the best players and coaches from Poland. Everybody was really kind and helpful, there was no discrimination because I was the youngest player. It was quite the opposite; everybody was ready to help me learn everything as soon as possible. It was really amazing to represent my country and to be a part of the European championship qualifiers. As the game was coming closer and closer, I was getting more excited with each second. I couldn’t stop smiling. But when the game started, all emotions went aside and all of my focus went to basketball. There was no stress when I got on the court, the only thing in my mind was to just do what I normally do and everything will be fine.
Throughout the season you’ve been putting solid numbers playing for Orange Academy in German Pro B. You also received some playing time for the senior team of Ratiopharm Ulm. What are the lessons and advantages a college recruit can gain while playing at those levels in Germany?
The most important thing is that basketball in the States is way different than in Europe. I feel like playing here and gaining experience with the pro team gives me a huge advantage in terms of knowing and understanding the game.
Mostly considered as a late bloomer, you’ve ended up being on the radar of high and mid-major teams, several of them ACC teams. What do you think you can bring up to the table playing for Virginia and what style of basketball and position you think fits you the best?
I think I can bring a lot even in my freshman year. The way that I learned to play here in Europe allows me to be a step ahead of many domestic USA players. Right now, I’m practicing regularly with the first team and on the roster, there are some big college names such as Aric Holman, Troy Caupain, John Petrucelli and last but not least – the former “Wahoo” Isaiah Wilkins. They all graduated college and played professionally for few years already and I get to compete with them daily. Here in Ulm I played mostly on the perimeter as a shooting guard or small forward so I think that’s where I feel the best. I am tall but my ball control and footwork are on a really high level and that allows me to play more like a guard than a big man and I think that is my biggest advantage over the other competitors.
We were looking for a situation where I can trust a coach and see myself playing long term in his system. I think Coach Tony Bennett is a person that I can trust, he will do everything to make me and the team better. Another thing that was great about UVA is that most players in my position are leaving and I will have a chance to play an important role from the start. Education was also taken into account.
Which aspects of your game will you be looking to improve the most over the summer? What are your expectations for your first season in college?
I think I have to improve my body the most. I have to be more explosive and stronger coming into next season. I already have the skill and the moves so I think that getting my body better will make everything much easier. Finishing, blowing by the defense and defending. Everything will come easier if I’m more athletic. But apart from that I can always improve my shooting. Right now, I consider myself as a really good shooter but if I want to get to that elite level there are thousand shots to be taken to get there.
What are your long-term goals, where do you envision yourself playing in five years?
My goal is to work as hard as I can as often as I can. So that in five years I am the best version that I could possibly be. If it’s NBA it will be a dream come true, if it’s Euroleague it will be perfectly fine. I just want to be sure that I did everything to reach my full potential or even get over it.
In Europe there is Vladimir Lucic from Bayern Munich. I love watching him play, he never gives up and always gives 100% on the floor. I could see myself playing like him in few years. From the NBA there are many active guys as well as some all-time greats like Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady. But from the current NBA players I love watching Jason Tatum and Brooklyn’s duo – Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. I often watch their highlights and brake out each move they do into pieces. I look most at Durant, all the shifts, drags and hesitations. I’m trying to apply his moves to my bag.
Would you name one player whose style of game you consider is closest to yours?
Kevin Durant and Vladimir Lucic
Which is your best on-court memory so far?
Definitely playing for the national team! I don’t think there is anything that can beat representing your country on the national stage unless it’s any kind of championship that you win with them.
What is your basketball schedule in a normal day?
Practice in the morning before the school starts at 6:30. After school I like to grab some food and go to the gym to shoot before our team practice and weight session. After practice I also stay to shoot with the gun a little more unless I am really tired or I have to study. So basically, sometimes I leave the house at 5:40 AM and come back at 10 PM.
I don’t really have free time during the week, so I can’t do some activities that require a lot of time but when I have an off day, I like to spend it with my friends or family. I have two younger brothers who I can always play with, so I am never bored.
Thanks for your time Igor! We hope you have a successful and healthy end to this wild season!