Live. Breathe. Blue. Kentucky Basketball - Zvonimir’s Jaw-Dropping Debut

by Dr. John Huang (LEXINGTON, KY)
Hours after the NCAA declared him eligible, Zvonimir Ivisic had one of the most iconic debuts in Kentucky Basketball history (Photo Credit Donna Gray) Hours after the NCAA declared him eligible, Zvonimir Ivisic had one of the most iconic debuts in Kentucky Basketball history (Photo Credit Donna Gray)

Attention College Basketball World: We interrupt your current season to bring you this special announcement. The program with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball just delivered another “you’ve got to be kidding me” moment.

Considering the grand tradition that is Kentucky Basketball, you’d think these announcements might amount to a dime a dozen. But these declarations—manifested as iconic moments—are by definition few and far between. Because iconic moments are just that—archetypal, quintessential, seminal—occurring only once every decade or so.

Hatton’s halfcourt prayer, James Lee’s thunderous dunk, Padgett from the top of the key, Tayshawn from ten feet yonder. Full names and dates and descriptions not needed because the events themselves transcend the details. They’re all moments where we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when Claude or Cawood or Tom described them so vividly.

And now add this one to your treasured archives: Zvonimir’s behind the back pass leading up to that glorious, mythical, magical, “THIS HAS TO GO IN” three-pointer by Antonio Reeves. Store it in there tight. Preserve it at all costs on your Mount Rushmore of Kentucky Basketball memories. Don’t let it ever dissipate or dissolve because you’ll repeatedly share that precious moment—through your own mist-filled eyes—with your children and grandchildren. You’ll nostalgically relive with friends and loved ones the joy and passion unique to us as privileged citizens residing in a proud and unified Big Blue Nation.

For those in winter hibernation who have no earthly idea what all this ruckus is about, I present to you Zvonimir Ivišić. Kentucky’s 7-foot-2 freshman took the floor for the first time and helped the tenth-ranked Wildcats cruise to a 105 – 96 smackdown of the visiting Georgia Bulldogs

By the time the final horn sounded, Zvonimir (or Big Z as he’s affectionately known) had stuffed the stat sheet. The rising star from Croatia scored 13 points (on 5-of-7 shooting, 3-for-4 from behind the arc), grabbed five rebounds, had two assists, three blocks, and two steals in just 16 minutes of action. But it was the interminable delay in becoming eligible to even play that added to the overall magnitude of his heroics on the court.

For you see, Big Z waited patiently for nearly five whole months from the time he committed to play for the University of Kentucky before the big bad NCAA finally granted him clearance. The announcement, which came suddenly through an email from the clandestine smoke-filled back rooms of the NCAA compliance office, was met with joyful relief by everyone, including those in the Ivišić clan back home in Vodice.

“They were just too happy for me,” Zvonimir acknowledged after the game. “They couldn’t wait for me to play. They were praying to God every day that this day came.”

God answered their prayers with one of the greatest debuts I’ve ever witnessed in Rupp Arena. But historically speaking, where will we ultimately rank it?

Iconic moments are laudable and noteworthy because they represent something far greater than the play on the court. As fantastic as Big Z’s debut turned out, is it possible we’ll only elevate it into the pantheon of UK Basketball’s greatest moments if Kentucky wins a national championship?

I would say that’s debatable. Does anyone care that Tayshawn’s five three-pointers against North Carolina took place in a season that ended at the Sweet Sixteen? Do fans dismiss the lovable Oscar Tshiebwe and all his other-worldly rebounding feats of grandeur because his team got Saint Petered? Do we wipe out the accomplishments of Kentucky’s 1983 – 84 team—one of my personal all-time favorites—simply because they had one horrific half of shooting?

We all agree that iconic moments represent more than just a statistic or a final score. They’re compilations of multiple factors coming to a head. They take into account the stories behind the story—the relentless practices, the team camaraderie, the sacrifices involved in striving to be that championship caliber team.

But even more than that, these moments are deemed iconic because we as fans grant them iconic status. We get to be judge and jury, our feelings and emotions and participation in the moment every bit as important as the moment itself. Only time will tell. History will judge

For the time being, then, let’s just all bask in Big Z’s iconic debut. For the time being, let’s watch it again and again on YouTube, replay it over and over in our minds. Let’s cheer, scream, and jump up and down like idiots as we all did in real time.

For the time being, let’s all eat, drink, and be merry. Dismiss those worries regarding Final Four droughts, defensive lapses, or mysterious “general soreness” injuries that linger.

And for the time being, just relish and enjoy every game…and thank God for answered prayers. Because for a couple of fleeting moments smack dab in the middle of college basketball season, Zvonimir Ivišić gave Kentucky Basketball fans a glimpse of heaven on earth.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently serves as a reporter and sports columnist for Nolan Group Media. You can follow Dr. Huang on social media @KYHuangs and check out all his books at