IOWA CITY — Iowa men’s basketball center Filip Rebraca hasn’t spent many days away from a court since the season ended one month ago. Even as the Hawkeyes put the finishing touches on the 2021-22 season last week at their end-of-season banquet, his mind was still on playing.
“I’m probably going to go right after this banquet to go play hoops,” Rebraca told reporters before the banquet.
Rebraca, who will be 25 next season, exercised his final year of eligibility to return for a sixth college season and second with Iowa. His drive to improve is two-fold.
First of all, Iowa’s season ended unexpectedly early in a first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Richmond. And personally, Rebraca wasn’t pleased with how his season turned out. The graduate transfer from North Dakota came to Iowa as an all-conference performer in the Summit League, but that production didn’t immediately show up.
He started in all 36 games but only averaged 5.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game and struggled to find his role on the team.
“I wasn’t satisfied with how I played this year,” Rebraca said. “I just kind of conformed to a role when I saw it wasn’t going to well for me. Ever since the season ended, I took one, maybe two days off and I was playing basketball.”
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Rebraca said that rebuilding his confidence is one of his top priorities this offseason. Too many times last season he found himself overthinking or doubting his ability as he transitioned to Big Ten basketball and to a new role with a new team.
“I feel like I made that mistake during the season,” Rebraca said. “There was a few games where I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m playing really bad,’ or in my mind I am. Coaches reassured me that I was doing a fine job. I made that mistake of being angry (with myself), go to the gym and be angry, but that’s not how you improve.”
Iowa’s coaching staff still hasn’t wavered on its confidence in Rebraca. Head coach Fran McCaffery doubled down on his praise for Rebraca in their end-of-season meeting and told him he has high expectations for him next season.
“I think you’ll see a better version of him next year,” McCaffery said. “He’s got a lot of different things that he brings to the table and I think you’ll see him play with more confidence offensively. I think you’ll see him do a few more things offensively next year. That’s what we want.”
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Since the season ended, Rebraca has been a frequent visitor at Court 45, a basketball training facility in North Liberty which has pickup game runs with local college and professional players in the area.
“In this short amount of time, I feel like I’ve made huge strides in my confidence,” Rebraca said. “I’m just happy playing basketball, every time I can I go play.”
He’s also planning a trip home to his native Serbia in May and June. There, he’ll train with his father Željko, who played professionally for 16 years, and a group of local coaches and professional Serbian players, including Oklahoma City Thunder center Aleksej Pokuševski.
Rebraca is hoping to pair his mental growth with physical development. He was an undersized center in the Big Ten at 6-foot-9 last season and is aiming to offset that by adding more weight before next year.
“Last year I was at 230 pounds,” he said. “I feel like I can get that up but I’m not sure what my exact goal is right now.”
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Iowa is seeking big man help in the transfer portal. It’s in the mix (but has plenty of competition) for 6-11 center Fardaws Aimaq, who weighs 245 pounds and averaged 18.9 points and 13.6 rebounds per game last season for Utah Valley. Securing his commitment would almost guarantee that Rebraca would move to the bench next season. If not Aimaq, the Hawkeyes will likely try to get someone else.
A bench role could help Rebraca get more involved offensively, where more shots should be available. And he’s proven capable of handling a starter role if needed. He expressed willingness to contribute in any capacity at Iowa’s end-of-season banquet. If he can more closely resemble the all-conference player he was at North Dakota, the Hawkeyes are in strong position to contend for another NCAA Tournament berth.
Step one of that process, re-gaining his confidence, is well underway in the early days of the offseason.
“I feel like I’m a polished player,” Rebraca said. “I have post moves, I can shoot and just didn’t show any of that last year. I’ve realized that. So playing, working out, being creative in the workouts and just having fun while I work is the key for me . I think I can bring all that back with my mental.”
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men’s basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.