Koprivica’s versatility strengthens FSU

Balsa Koprivica has shown a range of post moves and an improving jumper. His dribbling in the open court, including a few dribble drives were impressive coming from a 7-foot-1, 240-pound center.

Koprivica has seen increased minutes and delivered throughout his sophomore season. But he has had a big role of late, averaging 9.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in Florida State’s last six games.

“Just being aggressive,” Koprivica said. “I think being aggressive and trying to get as many offensive rebounds and put backs. Whenever I’m going at a really good pace, setting screens fast, rolling quick, that really helps the team. 

“If I’m not open, somebody has to be open by just me running, setting a screen and running back to the halo. They draw defenders on me, then you have the corners open. We have some really good shooters that can hit those shots.”

From an opponent’s point of view, FSU has some tough one-on-one matchups. Scottie Barnes at 6-foot-9 has length, the tenacity to drive and an improving jumper. The 6-8 RaiQuan Gray is a matchup nightmare and one who is capable of making a variety of high-degree-of-difficulty shots. And FSU is known for having a wide range of guards who can defend and drill 3-pointers.

Koprivica is making big strides and his continued development opens up the offensive options while also helping the Seminoles protect the rim on the defensive end. He showed a little of everything in the ACC Tournament semifinal win over North Carolina, setting career-highs for points (17) and rebounds (11) but also blocks (four). Koprivica is one of the reasons to be optimistic about the Seminoles (16-6) as they open the NCAA Tournament against UNC Greensboro (21-8) on Saturday at 12:45 p.m. (TruTV).

“He has all the potential,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “He has great hands, he’s athletic, he has good touch, he really is a much better ball handler and perimeter shooter than what I think he’s really had an opportunity to display. As he moves forward and becomes more efficient, you will see other parts of his game opening up.

“He has a great attitude. He’s a good student. Most of the time, there’s a big jump between sophomores and juniors. I think he’s ahead of the curve in what he’s capable of doing.”

Koprivica grew up in Serbia and his first love was basketball, although he enjoyed soccer and dabbled in martial arts, which he said helped him with agility, balance and strength. His dad, Slavisa, was part of a team that won the 1987 FIBA under 19 World Cup, and in 2017 Balsa was on a team that won the FIBA Europe Under 18 championship. 

He enjoyed soccer, playing striker and said he had already hit 5-foot-9 by the age of 8. While he tried to juggle soccer and basketball, he knew he would keep growing — doctors projected at a young age he would be in the 7-foot range. 

His ability to dribble and make plays in the open court is something that looks unfamiliar considering Americans’ viewpoints of what a 7-footer should be doing. To Koprivica, coaches in Serbia and other European countries simply focus on the fundamentals of basketball. And ball-handling was something he always took pride in.

“Definitely ever since I was young,” Koprivica said. “I’ve always been able to shoot and dribble even though I was the tallest player on my team. All my coaches saw the ability, and they just for the most part allowed me to just play the game and just be able to do those things, but I think overseas playing basketball it’s like a different approach.”

Balsa Koprivica
Balsa Koprivica blocks a shot from UNC’s Armando Bacot in the ACC Tournament. (photo by Andrew Dye / via ACC)