Zvonimir Ivisic is the first former Kentucky player to follow John Calipari to Arkansas

Cameron Drummond, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Basketball

Zvonimir Ivisic is the first Kentucky basketball player to follow former UK head coach John Calipari to Arkansas.

On Monday night, Ivisic committed to Calipari and the Razorbacks out of the NCAA transfer portal. Ivisic, a 7-foot-2 player from Croatia, entered his name into the portal Saturday, one day before Kentucky formally introduced new head coach Mark Pope.

Pope met with Ivisic on Monday morning. Ivisic announced his transfer to Arkansas in a social media post, which referenced that meeting with Pope.

“Today I met with Coach Pope and had a great meeting with him,” Ivisic wrote. “He’s an amazing guy and a great coach and he will do big things here! After our conversation I informed him that I will not be returning to Kentucky.”

Known to most Kentucky fans as “Big Z,” Ivisic played in only 15 games as a freshman during the 2023-24 Kentucky basketball season. He averaged 5.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots in 11.7 minutes per game, and shot 57.7% from the field and 37.5% from 3-point range.

Ivisic’s arrival at Kentucky was a saga in and of itself: He was a late commit to Kentucky’s top-ranked 2023 recruiting class, pledging to come to Lexington in August. Ivisic previously played at SC Derby, a Montenegrin basketball club.

Ivisic then had a delayed arrival to UK’s campus and sat out games while an NCAA investigation into his amateur status took place. Plenty of chatter during the early stage of Kentucky’s season was dedicated to trying to “Free Big Z.”

A T-shirt featuring that phrase was displayed by UK players prior to Kentucky’s first SEC game of the season at Florida.

Ivisic finally made his Kentucky basketball debut in a Jan. 20 home win over Georgia, and what a debut it was: Ivisic erupted for 13 points in just 16 minutes.

The 20-year-old went on to score 18 points in another high-scoring home win over Alabama later in the season. Those two contests were his highest-scoring games as a Wildcat.

While Ivisic’s offensive potential was clear thanks to his passing and floor spacing ability, his playing time was often limited as the result of on-court defensive shortcomings and off-court physical ailments and illnesses that impacted his practice time.

Ivisic had previously entered his name in the NBA draft twice, before pulling his name out. This meant that if he entered his name a third time, he would have been forced to stay in the 2024 NBA draft.


So instead, Ivisic will following his former head coach to Fayetteville. Calipari was officially unveiled as the Arkansas head coach last week, and will reportedly take most of his assistant coaches with him to the Razorbacks program.

“I made the lifetime decision to come to college for few reasons. Main ones to win a national championship and go to the NBA,” Ivisic’s social media post said. “Monumental part of that decision was Coach Cal, and no one does both of those at the same time than him.”

Ivisic is now the second player from the 2023-24 Kentucky team to transfer to a new school. Earlier Monday, fellow 7-footer Aaron Bradshaw committed to Ohio State out of the transfer portal.

Pope, who was introduced in front of a packed Rupp Arena crowd on Sunday, has basically a blank slate to work with as far as his first Kentucky basketball roster is concerned.

In addition to Bradshaw and Ivisic, the other members of last season’s Kentucky team in the NCAA transfer portal are Joey Hart, Adou Thiero and D.J. Wagner.

Also from last season’s squad, Rob Dillingham and Justin Edwards have declared for the 2024 NBA draft. Tre Mitchell and Antonio Reeves have exhausted their college eligibility.

Four of the six players that Calipari had lined up as part of Kentucky’s 2024 recruiting class have decommitted from the UK program, including all three of Kentucky’s McDonald’s All-American recruits.

In-state guard Travis Perry, the all-time leading scorer in Kentucky high school boys basketball history, is the only one of those six recruits expected to remain committed to UK.

Pope has already lined up a transfer portal visitor (former Drexel big man Amari Williams) and UK is in the top three for former BYU center Aly Khalifa, who is in the portal and is considering Kentucky, Louisville and a return to BYU.

College basketball players have until May 1 to enter the transfer portal. The early-entry deadline for the 2024 NBA draft is April 27, and players who enter the draft with remaining NCAA eligibility will have until May 29 to remove their names from consideration and return to school.


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