Leistikow: Meet Filip Rebraca, an intriguing new Hawkeye with ties to NBA MVP Nikola Jokic

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

New Iowa basketball player Filip Rebraca is from Sombor, Serbia, the same hometown as Nikola Jokic.

Yes, the Denver Nuggets center who was recently named this year’s NBA most valuable player.

Though the two are four years apart — Rebraca is 22, Jokic is 26 — they know each other well and see each other during summers in Serbia.

“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 Tuesday, meeting with Iowa media less than a week into the Hawkeyes’ summer program. “When we were younger, we used to practice during the summer.”

Jokic is known as an extremely versatile, crafty big man who can shoot the basketball from deep and can pass it with uncanny timing and accuracy.

Filip Rebraca goes up for a shot during a June 4 practice in Iowa City.

If the Hawkeyes could get even a little bit of “The Joker” out of Rebraca over the next one or (more likely) two years, they’d certainly take it.

“He’s a once-in-a-generation type player,” Rebraca said of Jokic. “(But) I would say some of my post moves might resemble his.”

If nothing else, Rebraca is an interesting addition to the Hawkeyes.

More:What to know about Filip Rebraca, Iowa basketball's latest addition in the transfer portal

Because his father, Zeljko Rebraca, played pro basketball in Europe and the NBA, Filip’s early life was spent in places like Italy, Greece, Detroit and Los Angeles. During that time, he learned English and Serbian simultaneously and speaks both fluently. He spent much of his later childhood in Serbia, but finished high school in Colorado, then spent one year in Massachusetts at a prep school.

The last three years, he’s been playing for North Dakota, a Division I program in the Summit League. The Fighting Hawks went 36-53 in that time. After graduating in three years, he was ready for a change in scenery and entered the NCAA's transfer portal.

What does Filip Rebraca bring to the Iowa basketball team?

Rebraca liked the people in Grand Forks. He didn’t like the winters (“probably the most brutal thing I've ever experienced,” he said); and didn’t seem to care for North Dakota’s more deliberate basketball pace, either.

In contrast, Iowa under Fran McCaffery is known to push the pace. The Hawkeyes led the Big Ten Conference in scoring last season, at 83.7 points a game, and was No. 3 nationally in KenPom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency (only behind Gonzaga and Baylor, who played for the national title).

At 6-foot-9 and 223 pounds — a smaller version of his 7-foot father — Rebraca sees himself excelling in the Hawkeyes’ read-and-react, five-out motion offense. 

“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.”

Filip Rebraca is shown during his junior season at North Dakota, which finished 9-17.

While Iowa has a need to back-fill the hole left by Luka Garza (graduation) and Jack Nunge (transfer) at the “5” spot, McCaffery can see Rebraca playing several positions.

“I will encourage Filip to shoot the ball outside, to drive and kick to people that are open,” McCaffery said. “He’s a perfect fit for our transition and motion game.”

More:North Dakota basketball transfer Filip Rebraca commits to Iowa

Iowa basketball's frontcourt will look different this year

Something said Tuesday by true freshman Payton Sandfort, who also met with the media for the first time as a Hawkeye, underscored how this will be a different-looking and interesting Iowa frontcourt this year.

“We're losing quite a bit, but so far Keegan (Murray) and Patrick (McCaffery) have really impressed me,” Sandfort said. “Just their versatility and length, it can be a lot for teams to handle.”

Payton Sandfort, shown during the 2021 state tournament for Waukee, met the Iowa media for the first time Tuesday. He said he hopes to contribute as a quick-release shooter and defender as a true freshman.

Fran McCaffery is going to be able to throw four guys who are 6-foot-9 with long athleticism on the floor, perhaps simultaneously: Keegan and Kris Murray, Patrick McCaffery and Rebraca (pronounced Ruh-BRAH-tcha). Rebraca averaged 16.8 points and 7.6 rebounds last season and is a career 54% shooter.

While there is an early buzz about Keegan Murray as a 2022 NBA first-rounder, the possibility exists that those four could be around for another two years. Though Rebraca is a graduate transfer, he wants to pursue a two-year masters degree in finance at Iowa — and plans to finish that.

More:Leistikow: With more NBA Draft buzz, Keegan Murray is face of Hawkeyes' summer program

“I don’t want to leave things unfinished. My plan is for two years,” Rebraca said. “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 two years."

That all sounds good for the Hawkeyes. 

If he’s as good as he is interesting, Rebraca and Iowa will be an excellent match.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.