As the Crimson prepares to take on Stanford in its season opener, David Freed recaps the last season for each of the players on this year’s team and discusses the important season goals for each student-athlete. In this article, he discusses the recent progression and the relevant next steps for sophomore center Balsa Dragovic.
As a freshman, Dragovic's minutes were few and far between. He and classmate Weisner Perez struggled to crack a deep frontcourt rotation for the majority of the season, getting spot time in blowouts and few other chances to shine. Dragovic cleared 10 minutes just once all season, getting 13 minutes against Howard in a game where starters Agunwa Okolie and Zena Edosomwan sat with foul trouble for most of the contest.
With the exception of Howard—an eight-point Harvard win—the rookie did not see any action in games that Harvard won by fewer than 16 points. In Ivy League play, with the stakes raised, he saw just 17 minutes in 14 games. He had just four shots across the 17 minutes, registering totals of five points and three rebounds across conference play.
When he played, the rookie showed promise but a lack of polish. While he flashed some range in limited time, making two triples when other teams left him wide open, he didn't demonstrate much of a post game. On defense, his size (at 6'10", he was the tallest player on the team) was a help and a hindrance; while his length made up for some of his tactical mistakes, it also made it hard for him to keep up with quicker opposing ball handlers.
Important Next Steps:
Given the surfeit of frontcourt talent arriving in Cambridge next fall, Dragovic may eventually become a casualty of Harvard coach Tommy Amaker's recruiting prowess. To avoid that, he should focus on maximizing his strength in the middle:
1.Get Stronger — For many freshman and sophomore big men, the most important step is the simplest: getting their bodies ready for the college game. Dragovic is not yet ready to bang with the best big men in the conference and to improve as a post defender, the first step is bulking up while retaining his lateral quickness.
2.Become Automatic From 15 Feet — Dragovic profiles as more of a five than a four, which in Amaker's offense means a steady diet of post-ups and touches near the basket. Unfortunately, that's not his game; compounding the issue, freshmen Robert Baker and Chris Lewis excel at this. Dragovic thus should try to maximize his comparative advantage and develop into a pick-and-pop force who can anchor the paint on the other end (think Channing Frye).
3.Develop Interior Passing Skills — To become an effective complement to a traditional post bruiser like Lewis or senior Zena Edosomwan, Dragovic should stress developing his interior passing game. Evan Cummins ’16 made this sacrifice in 2015-2016, stepping out to the free throw line to give Edosomwan more space to operate. Without a workable jump shot, Cummins created space by fitting passes in narrow windows, something Dragovic can aspire to do as well.
It's not immediately clear how Dragovic fits into the Crimson's plans moving forward. He is an awkward fit next to Edosomwan, which almost definitely rules him out of a starting role next year. He doesn't have the same athleticism as Baker or Lewis and it's tough to see him developing into an explosive pick-and-roll threat. Defensively, he has the length to bother opponents and help the Crimson protect the glass but learning Amaker's system takes time and reps that he might not be able to get.
His shooting may be his saving grace. If he gets stronger, he should be able to hold his own on the offensive glass, but since the incoming freshmen are more traditional back-to-the-basket players, developing those skills will only make his contributions redundant. If he instead can provide spacing with his shooting, he will not only open up the interior for post-ups for his frontcourt partner, but also point guards Tommy McCarthy and Bryce Aiken.
Realizing this vision next season will be difficult. Dragovic will compete with junior Chris Egi and Lewis to be the primary backup to Edosomwan but faces a steep upward climb to playing time. Barring injury, Edosomwan will be the starter in every game next season playing 30-33 minutes a contest. Whatever is leftover will be fought over by six or seven players; if Dragovic can grab a healthy fraction of those minutes, it should be considered a success.
–Staff writer David Freed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.