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UK Athletics announces Zvonimir “Big Z” Ivišić not yet cleared by NCAA for intersquad competition

Brady Saylor
Kentucky freshman forward Zvonimir Ivišić speaks with reporters during the mens basketball media day press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, at the Joe Craft Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Brady Saylor | Staff

UK Athletics announced in a press update that Zvonimir “Big Z” Ivišić has not yet been cleared by the NCAA for competition against other opponents on Thursday.

As a department, we want to clarify, Zvonimir Ivišić has been cleared to practice and play in all intrasquad games,” it read. “That said, he can not compete against outside competition, including exhibition games, until he is approved by the NCAA. There was miscommunication in this regard and, as we always do, we plan to adhere to NCAA rules. Until he is fully cleared, Zvonimir will be withheld from games against outside competition.”

The announcement marked yet another chapter in the saga of getting Ivišić to play at Kentucky after questions initially arose surrounding whether or not he would even be able to be enrolled at the university in the first place.

Many fans felt relief when it was announced that the Croatian forward was, in fact, enrolled and would be able to be part of the team.

The first hiccup after that point came when he did not participate in the annual Big Blue Madness event, before head coach John Calipari announced he would make his debut at the Blue-White game on the campus of Northern Kentucky University.

Then, on the morning of the event, Calipari released a tweet saying that Ivišić would no longer be suiting up in Highland Heights after needing rest and recovery.

To his credit, Calipari did apologize for his comment and regretted having to go back on his word prior to the event.

“I shouldn’t have said it,” he said. “I wish I hadn’t. He goes three hard practices – hard – after the ramp up after a 30-hour flight after all the tests and needles and everything he had to have. He was cramping in his calves, in his hamstring, his groin, his knee. I just said, ‘Stop.’ We could have him for here and I’d be a man of my word or we can worry about the season, and I’m worried about the season so I wanted to give him some time to see what his body can take.”

With Kentucky men’s basketball holding its annual media day on October 25, questions naturally arose surrounding whether or not the big man would play in Kentucky’s first exhibition against Georgetown College on Friday.

“Let me just say this: I’ve loved what this kid has done,” Calipari said. “It has been – for him to go through what he did when he could have just said, I’m going to another school.  He didn’t. He said I want to be there.  Then all the traveling and all the visas get over here and then want to get going — we do the ramp-up.  I wasn’t comfortable and I’m just telling you when I saw him the first time I think it was his excitement to be playing — alright this is what I’m seeing, but he’s going to be fine.  I am just a little leery like today we go body to body — he’ll work out but he’s not going to go body-to-body, which you have to go tomorrow body to body tomorrow or you won’t play Friday.  But my guess would be he’ll be in the next exhibition game because he is in pretty good shape but he’s not — there is a thing of he’s and running shape and all of that and shooting then all of a sudden it becomes like football.”

Calipari clarified what he meant by the next exhibition.

“Probably next week,” he said. “He’s not going today so he’s going to do individual work but he’s not going to go body-to-body with his teammates so if you all know I’m normally the guy that says if you’re not gonna practice before you’re not going to play in the game. But again, for him we will tune you to ramp up if he’s able to go tomorrow I will see more today. And then we will go from there.”

Before excitement could begin building for another curtain-pulling moment, the aforementioned press release was sent out on Oct. 26 by assistant athletic director Tony Neely.

The news led to a plethora of reactions from fans on social media, though many simply stated they weren’t surprised.

The issue with Ivišić is not the first time Kentucky had to deal with NCAA eligibility issues surrounding a foreign player, with older Wildcat fans recalling the situation with Enes Kanter Freedom in 2011.

The Turkish center, who would go on to have over a decade long NBA career, was deemed permanently ineligible by the NCAA after he received money from Turkish club Fenerbahçe. UK tried to appeal, but was declined.

Luckily for fans, the current situation does not seem to be the same as that with Kanter Freedom and, instead, simply just needs time.

With everything now in the hands of the NCAA as the regular season draws near, fans will eagerly await a ruling on Ivišić’s eligibility and whether or not he will suit up for the Wildcats.

Kentucky men’s basketball will host its first inter-team exhibition on Friday, Oct. 27, against Georgetown College at Rupp Arena. The game will tip off at 7 p.m.

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Cole Parke, Sports Editor

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