Is Brzoja still coming?


Update (2:30pm) - Brzoja-watch 2012 may be coming to a close. Dan Veselsky, who broke news of the commitment informs us that Mislav is planning to arrive at Villanova on the 24th. According to reader, stokesfromfisher, the "Croatian kid" is registered for classes.

Update (3:53pm) - Sources now tell VUhoops that no official announcement is likely this week, but once fall classes start next week, there should be some Brzoja-news.We're fast-approaching the deadline for Mislav Brzoja to head off to Villanova. He just completed his run in the under-18 European Championships with a victory over Lithuania to take the Gold, but he has not yet been added to the official Villanova men's basketball roster (currently at 14 players). It's not yet time to panic though.

Original Post:

Brzoja didn't qualify to sign a National Letter of Intent to Villanova, largely because his situation with Northwestern (where he was denied admission in June). An NLI needs to be submitted to the school by May 15th in order to be processed and accepted by the NCAA's program. Players can commit to a school after that, however, and according to reports, Brzoja did just that at the end of July.

Still, there was always a thought in the back of observer's minds, that the Croatian guard could end up playing elsewhere this fall. There is no one-and-done rule for European professional leagues, so if his performance in international competition impressed some old-world coaches, there is the chance that he could receive an offer that he couldn't refuse.

Most freshman are preparing to move to campus as we speak, and according to Villanova's published academic calendar, freshman orientation starts this week -- from the 23rd through the 26th. Classes officially begin on August 27th, with the last day to add or drop a class coming on September 3rd.

Brzoja probably needs to be on-campus and matriculated by Thursday then, since basketball players aren't normally excused from attending orientation activities (there are a few memories out there of Jason Fraser doing the "buggaloo"), though exceptions may be made in some cases. At the very least, it would seem that Villanova would need him to be enrolled and on-campus when classes start on the 27th -- though his class schedule doesn't need to be locked down until September 3rd.

Did Brzoja do well enough in Europe to skip college?

This summer at the FIBA Europe Under-18 tournament he averaged 15 points, 1.9 assists (with 3 turnovers), and 2.3 steals. He shot 41.2% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc. Those are solid numbers, and a number of professional clubs might be interested in signing a young player like him to see how he develops -- but it would likely take a big-money contract to keep him on the other side of the Atlantic.

A free education at Villanova and the exposure of playing in the Big East for a few years could help him land that big money contract in Europe, or if he really blows up, in the NBA. How much money will constitute "big money," is hard to estimate in this case, it depends on the player's expectations and who is advising him.

Brzoja is a known commodity in his home country (Croatia), where he started for the under-19 national team when he was 17 as well as their under-18 squads. He has well-developed skills for his age, and he likes to shoot from outside, averaging over six 3-pointers attempted per game this summer, with the ability to knock down a decent percent of them.

In European basketball, skilled players tend to be viewed more highly than raw athletes who need to learn to play the game. In American basketball, we often rate athletes more highly whether they have developed their skill sets or not. Often, those bets pay off for college and NBA teams -- Kyle Lowry wasn't much of a shooter when he left Villanova, but now is a player who has to be guarded on the perimeter in the pros and Dante Cunningham was a raw athlete who developed his game at Villanova.

As you can see in the video above (admittedly a small sample-size), Brzoja is a skilled player at guard already at age 18. His shooting from outside might need a little better selection if he wants to consistently shoot in the high-30s or 40s from the arc in college, but otherwise he appears to have a good basketball IQ and has put the work in to learn his fundamentals.

He isn't perceived as a terribly athletic player, however, but that isn't a huge issue in Europe.

Then again, Brzoja seemed to be planning on attending an American college when he enrolled at Traders Point Christian in Indiana after his stint with the under-19 team. He was committed to Northwestern and was not apparently put off by the academic aspect of NCAA basketball that is perhaps amplified at that sort of prestigious school.

In short, playing for an American college team appears to have been his chosen path prior to this summer. Nothing is a guarantee, but the circumstances would have to have changed massively after his European championship win for Brzoja to change course and skip college.

Brzoja-watch will continue over the next week, until his status at Villanova is officially settled. There remains plenty of upside for him in pursuing a stint in an American college program. NCAA experience has been valued by foreign professional teams, so a successful run in the Big East could be beneficial for his playing career.

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