Virginia frosh Igor Milicic Jr. gets the JPJ crowd buzzing
The last time I remember a buzz from the crowd about a freshman checking in off the bench like the one that Igor Milicic Jr. got last night was for Jay Huff.
Huff, now splitting time between the NBA and G League in his rookie season in the pros, had 17 points in a big win over Austin Peay early in the 2017-2018 season, hitting two threes, shooting 5-of-6 from the field overall.
Milicic had a more modest debut in the win on Friday over Coppin State: 11 points, 3-of-6 shooting from the floor, 2-of-4 from three.
There are other similarities with Huff. Milicic is a 6’10” guard, Huff a 7’1” three, in essence. Milicic is a better ball-handler, can guard on the perimeter and in the post; Huff’s minutes were limited his first couple of years because his feet could get in his way on switches on D, but he would adjust eventually.
Milicic had gotten a total of four garbage-time minutes in Virginia’s first three games. His effort on both ends in 13 minutes last night needs to be something to build on for a UVA team that desperately needs his offensive punch.
“He sees a shot, and he’s not bashful to take it, which is good,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “I love it, he came in and let it go. He wanted the last shot of the game, you know, it’s open. He has good size, and he’s continuing to improve. I think the speed of overseas, it’s physical, and they play against crafty men, but there is a difference in the quickness and the pace of things.”
Milicic, a native of Croatia, averaged 13.3 points per game last season for Orange Academy Ratiopharm of the German Pro B league in 2020-2021.
The numbers from last year tell you what he can do, but the transition from European basketball to basketball in the States will take some time.
“It’s definitely a big adjustment period. I still think that I’m not even close where I have to be, but it is what it is. I just have to keep working and getting better,” Milicic said. “It’s a big adjustment from coming from Europe to here because the game is so different. The pace is different, the physicality is different, much higher obviously, but I think it’s a great thing for me to be able to compare European basketball to U.S.”
Milicic admitted to be a “little nervous” when Bennett called his name to enter the game, but the nerves didn’t last long.
He ran off two screens on an inbounds play, was open in the right corner, and squeezed off a three that splashed.
Two seconds in, and he was in the scorebook.
Every time he touched the ball after that, the crowd buzzed.
“When I stepped on the floor, I knew exactly what I had to do. I just played my game, came off of two screens and hit a jumper, then another, I was just playing my game. Confidence has nothing to do with it. I just played how I know how to play,” Milicic said.
The offensively-challenged ‘Hoos – ranked 96th in offensive efficiency nationally, per KenPom.com – is going to need Milicic to continue to develop and thus earn more floor time.
Bennett, to date, has liked what he has seen from Milicic in practice and off the court.
“He’s been well-schooled. He’s a coach’s son, and he’s learned the game well. Now he just has to keep coming athletically and getting used to all the nuances a little more of the American game,” Bennett said.
Story by Chris Graham