Big fish Zizic jumps from NBA to Maccabi Tel Aviv

With lack of playing time in America, Croatian center lured by compatriot Vujcic to yellow-and-blue.

AFTER THREE SEASONS in the NBA, center Ante Zizic signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv this summer, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AFTER THREE SEASONS in the NBA, center Ante Zizic signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv this summer, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Maccabi Tel Aviv has been employing a unique way to announce its new signings this summer. Just before unveiling its latest player, the club releases a photo of a yellow-and-blue personality reeling in a fish.
The first catch of the summer was Israeli forward Oz Blayzer, who moved to the champions from Maccabi Rishon Lezion. Maccabi Chairman Shimon Mizrahi was the one featured fishing in the picture just prior to the announcement.
Next up was guard Chris Jones and right before he officially joined the club, there was a shot of head coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos with his fishing rod in the water.
Finally, the biggest fish of them all, center Ante Zizic was reeled in by fellow Croatian and Maccabi Sports Director Nikola Vujcic in arguably one of the summer’s top signings across the continent.
Born in Split, Zizic who is 6-foot-10 (2.08 meters) and 265 pounds (120 kilograms) comes over with plenty of expectations after being selected 23rd overall by the Boston Celtics in the 2016 NBA Draft. The big man was part of a trade that sent All-Star guard Kyrie Irving to the Celtics while Zizic went the other way to the Cavaliers, where he spent three seasons before signing with Maccabi.
With Cleveland, Zizic averaged six points and 3.9 rebounds in 113 games between 2017-2020 and also featured in eight playoff games during the 2018 postseason. The 23-year-old is now thrilled to come to Israel and play for one of Europe’s top franchises.
“I am proud and happy to join the Maccabi family,” said Zizic. “It is a family I know since I was 16 years old, and I am proud to wear the yellow jersey that my big brother wore.
“I spent the last three years in the NBA so I have much more experience. I am ready to get a bigger role than I had in the NBA and that is why I moved from the NBA to here. My goal is to get to the Euroleague playoffs and then to the Final Four.”
Vujcic was the main man in making Zizic a reality for Maccabi Tel Aviv. The sports director had brought a 16-year-old Ante Zizic to Israel, along with fellow Croatian hoopster Dragan Bender, to practice with the yellow-and-blue’s first team back in 2013. This was the beginning of the center’s journey to eventually join the club now, seven years later.
“I'm glad he had a past at Maccabi, that he was already in Tel Aviv, trained here a bit and felt what this great club is,” noted Sfairopoulos.
The signing of Zizic, who starred with David Blatt and Darussafaka in Euroleague play back in 2016/17 while also playing with Maccabi guard Scottie Wilbekin, is largely the responsibility of Vujcic. The sports director was able to win the battle against a much wealthier Real Madrid over who would end up with the talented player.
Real was willing to pay Zizic more, but needed to delay the signing due to the situation with star guard Facundo Campazzo – who may end up in the NBA – which ended up costing coach Pablo Laso his job and allowed Maccabi to swoop in and get its man.
Another contributing factor to Zizic’s signing is the fact that his older brother, Andrija, won a Euroleague title with Maccabi back in 2014 and also collaborated in the past with Sfairopoulos at Olympiacos.
The yellow-and-blue coach was extremely happy with the signing.
“Ante is a player with qualities that will give us a lot of power in the paint and I am very happy that we signed him,” exclaimed Sfairopoulos. “He will help Maccabi with his skills and professionalism to succeed and meet our goals.”
However, more than Sfairopoulos and the rest of the professional staff, the person who will particularly be judged concerning the signing of Zizic is Vujcic, who managed to bring a player from the best league in the world in one of the brilliant moves in the European transfer market this summer.
Vujcic is very familiar with Zizic, and vice-versa, as the young prodigy played previously at his Croatian academy in Split.
“For sure he’s a big part because I know him since I was a little kid,” explained Zizic about Vujcic’s role in his signing with Maccabi. “I grew upon watching him and I played in his academy as well. He’s like my friend, I trust him and he had a big part in bringing me here.”
After many years of criticism for his work at the club, Vujcic has managed to not only help steady the ship over the past couple of seasons but has now landed a big name with his fingerprints all over the signing. In addition, Maccabi Tel Aviv posted a picture of Vujcic with Zizic, adding an additional layer of emphasis about the sports director’s involvement in the deal.
If Zizic succeeds, most of the credit will deservedly go to Vujcic. But if Zizic turns out to be a flop, the failure will also primarily lie with Vujcic. Zizic’s signing looks impressive on paper and the sports director deserves compliments for luring the center to Tel Aviv over Madrid.
But the minute the big fish (Zizic) steps onto the court and plays the upcoming two seasons with Maccabi, the fisherman (Vujcic) will either sink or swim, with the latter being preferable to all involved.
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents ( Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at [email protected]