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IOWA CITY — Filip Rebraca didn’t feel the need to wear a mouthguard his first three college basketball seasons.
Those were spent at North Dakota, in the Summit League, where the basketball doesn’t have the brutes of the Big Ten. Rebraca, the biggest member of Iowa’s playing rotation this season at 6-foot-9, 230 pounds, has lined up against some goliaths in his first season as a Hawkeye. He faces another Saturday afternoon in Penn State’s John Harrar (6-9, 240).
“Coach has said he’s kind of from a football background,” Rebraca said Friday. “So you know it’s going to be a physical game. I might bring out my mouthguard for this one.
“I did so against Kofi (Cockburn) and Zach Edey. Those are two games I wore a mouthguard to make sure I don’t lose any teeth. This might be another one.”
Illinois’ Cockburn is 7-foot, 285 pounds. Purdue’s Edey is 7-4, 295.
Harrar originally committed to play tight end at Army before switching to basketball and Penn State. He is a fifth-year senior, averaging 10.8 points and 9.9 rebounds. His team, tied with the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings at 3-4, plays at Iowa Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Rebraca has started every game this season, but seems to be emerging. After averaging team-highs of 16.8 points and 7.6 rebounds last season at North Dakota, he’s at 6.2 and 6.3 here.
However, Rebraca has averaged 33 minutes, 10 points, 11 rebounds and 2.5 steals in Iowa’s last two games, both on the road.
After Rebraca had a season-high 13 points against Maryland on Jan. 3, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said, “There’s no reason he shouldn’t play like that every night. He’s trying so hard to be part of a winning team, he doesn’t think of himself enough.
“I think it has been hard convincing him that it’s OK to be selfish at times.”
Rebraca, the son of five-year NBA veteran Zeljko Rebraca, has had to change his game at Iowa. This is the Big Ten, where might makes right.
“I feel like I’ve had to play more physical,” he said. “I was more of a finesse player. I can get guys on the moves. I feel like I have to wrestle guys a lot more here. It’s a different type of game.”
Rebraca has scored 1,241 points in Division I basketball. The question was never if he had D-I skills, it was how they transferred to the grunt-and-groan of the Big Ten.
“I’d say I’m definitely taking steps in the right direction,” he said. “I don’t think I’m fully there, but I feel like I’m showing what I can do throughout games more and more.
“Offensively, I think I can also score more, produce more.”
Ceding to teammate Keegan Murray at the offensive end has only made sense given Murray’s prolific production. The more Rebraca can do, however, the more it opens things up for Murray.
“I think he’s tried really hard to fit in,” McCaffery said recently. “He’s such a good person. He wants to win. He wants to be a great teammate. He wants to be coachable.”
So, the Serbian whose offense was predicated on finesse will pop in the mouthguard Saturday and go to battle against the 240-pound former tight end.
Two of his three best rebounding games at Iowa have been come since Sunday, and his two best scoring games have come in the last five. The Hawkeyes want more of the same from Rebraca. They need more of the same.
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