Igor Milicic Jr.’s commitment to the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball program on May 1st was about as out-of-the-blue as commitments come nowadays. While rumors circulated in backroom circles for a few weeks prior, Milicic Jr. was a largely unknown quantity before making his decision to join the Cavalier roster this fall.
The UVA coaching staff initially became aware of Milicic Jr. after Isaiah Wilkins, a former Wahoo and a member of the same organization as Milicic Jr., pointed him out to Virginia’s Director of Player Personnel, Johnny Carpenter.
With Wilkins playing for the German team Ratiopharm Ulm, Milicic Jr. started the season playing for the program’s feeder squad, Orange Academy B. He spent time practicing with the Ratiopharm Ulm squad and has since been promoted to play alongside Wilkins for Ulm.
“At the beginning of the year [he and Wilkins] were practicing everyday together, and then I had individual practices before him so he saw me practicing a lot and getting better,” Milicic Jr. told Streaking the Lawn in a one-on-one interview. As the Polish native began exploring his options for his future, Wilkins was a valuable source of information. “I was talking to Isaiah about Virginia, and he only had superlatives to say about UVA so I was really excited when Johnny and Coach Bennett called me.”
UVA initially contacted Milicic Jr. back in January. “I was talking to Johnny a lot, and then even Coach Bennett got involved for a little bit,” Milicic Jr. stated. “Then the contact went out for a little bit and they weren’t talking to me.” But, a few months later, in late March, “Johnny and Coach Bennett called me again and said that they watched the film [on me], and they like how I play and they think I could fit the program. Then it all got started again.”
Of course, along with Virginia’s interest in the Polish player, a number of other schools became involved. “There were many other schools from mid-majors to some top-top schools,” he said, adding that “I didn’t know what to do at one point, but then finally we had a talk and [narrowed it down] to the best options.”
At that point, Milcic Jr. and his camp narrowed down his potential destinations for next year to UVA, Georgia Tech, Utah, UC Santa Barbara, and staying in Europe to play professionally.
But, at the end of the day, there was one thing that set Virginia apart. “The biggest point was Coach Bennett,” Milicic Jr. explained. “I think he’s a really good coach, and he’s making his players better. There’s so many players that are going to the NBA or turning into great European players. So, I think he can really develop a player.”
Fit at Virginia
Milicic Jr. also noted Tony Bennett’s defensive system, saying, “He plays that Pack Line defense, which I think I’ll be good in.” He also mentioned that having played basketball in Europe will help him in adjusting to a new system. “In Europe, basketball is way more complex, and there’s way more rules in defense and in offense, so I think I’ll be able to handle it from the beginning,” he stated.
Milcic Jr. is aware that he’ll need to take time to modify his game to fit the Bennett system, but is confident that he can alter his game accordingly. “There’s always adjustment when you change teams,” he said. “There’s always some things you have to change in your game or get better at. So — going to the U.S. — I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal for me.”
In terms of Milicic Jr.’s fit as a player in Virginia’s program, Tony Bennett compared him to two former Wahoos while recruiting him — De’Andre Hunter and Sam Hauser. As a 6’9 wing with guard skills, he’ll fit that mold of player for the Wahoos as a guy who can play on the perimeter but also stretch the floor and play as a big.
What does he bring to the table?
Growing up, Milicic Jr. was groomed to be a guard by his father, Igor Milicic, who is a former professional player in Europe and current head coach in the Polish Basketball League.
“I was taller than everyone when I was younger but I wasn’t quicker, I was un-athletic,” remembered Milicic Jr. “But [my dad] always pushed me to practice ball handling, fakes, everything. We basically did the point guard stuff and then I got taller and it all stayed with me so I have some guard skills and that’s the biggest part of my game. I can dribble the ball, I can drive, I can shoot, and that’s not usual [for my height].”
As he’s continued to develop as both a player and a person, the newest Virginia signee says that his dad has been his biggest inspiration and his best friend. “When I need him, when I have a difficult situation, I call him and he’s always there for me. If it wasn’t for him I don’t know where I’d be. I’m just grateful for him. He really knows what he’s doing [in the sport] and obviously has much more experience than I do. We think we made the best decision together to go to UVA.”
As for what he still needs to work on, Milicic Jr. knows he has plenty of room to grow. He emphasized that he needs to work on his shot, defense, decision making, and his physique. “You can always get better at everything,” he said. ‘There is no perfect player, so I’ll just do my best to be the best version of myself.”
While Milicic Jr. is excited to join the team for this upcoming season, when he’ll do so is still a bit up in the air. With school in Germany ending in July and U-20 European Championships potentially taking place in late July or August, his arrival will likely be delayed in contrast when other recruits typically come to Grounds in the early-to-mid summer.
Nevertheless, he’s already looking forward to making the transition to college and contributing as a freshman. “I’m just going to do everything to help my team,” Milicic Jr. said, “to get better everyday, and then we’ll be competitive every day and then we’ll try to win every game.”
No matter when Milicic Jr. does join the team this summer, he’ll be a solid piece for next season’s team as he fills a need as a versatile wing. Virginia fans ought to be excited because he’s a great pickup for Bennett and the Wahoo staff.