ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — The Milwaukee Bucks added another member to their front court Friday, signing 7-foot-1, 280-pound Serbian center Miroslav Raduljica to a two-year contract with an option for a third year.
Raduljica, 25, comes to the United States after a seven-year career in Europe, spending last season with the Ukrainian club Azovmash.
“Very good shooter, very skilled big man,” Bucks director of player personnel Dave Babcock said. “He’s very knowledgeable. He’s an OK athlete, strong and tough.”
Draft eligible in 2010, Raduljica probably would have been drafted had it not been for some bad advice. Nursing a minor injury, the team Raduljica was under contract with threatened to withhold his pay if he participated in Eurocamp, Europe’s draft combine.
Raduljica’s representatives didn’t communicate that to anybody, leading many to believe he was dogging it in the combine. He was then falsely labeled as a bad kid and removed from draft boards.
Babcock has watched Raduljica for a number of years and maintained interest despite what happened in 2010. Unable to find who currently was representing Raduljica, Babcock noticed former Bucks point guard Lynn Greer was also playing in Ukraine with Azovmash.
“Lynn gave me Miroslav’s cell number and we started communicating,” Babcock said. “Lynn was a part of this.”
Raduljica averaged 14.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.1 blocks per game over 53 league games last season, but he is coming off a season in which he played 82 total games.
His club also competed in the EuroCup and the VTB United League, composed of teams from Russian and eight other Eastern European countries. Raduljica was on loan to Azovmash from the Turkish club Anadolu Efes, the same club Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova played on during the NBA lockout in 2011.
Anadolu Efes signed Raduljica to a five-year contract in 2010 and previously loaned him to Alba Berlin and Partizan Belgrade.
“Maybe for some this is a surprise, but for me it’s a logical next step,” Raduljica said. “It’s the biggest step in everybody’s career, everybody’s dream. I’m happy to be here and happy everything turned out so well.”
Babcock watched Raduljica score 10 points and grab four rebounds in a 76-70 EuroCup loss to Valencia in Spain last November.
“Although we lost, I played good,” Raduljica said. “I’m here right now maybe because of that game.”
Raduljica joins Larry Sanders and Zaza Pachulia at the center position for the Bucks, as Ilyasova, John Henson and Ekpe Udoh round out the front court.
Milwaukee addressed length in the front court last offseason, but lacked strength. The Bucks are hoping the signings of Pachulia and Raduljica will help against more physical front lines.
“We’ve lacked the big physical bodies in the middle and now we have Zaza and Miroslav,” Babcock said. “He can almost be Zaza’s understudy. Zaza can teach him the ropes of the NBA. We’ll see what happens. It’s not like this kid (can’t play).”
Like many in the basketball-crazy country of Serbia, Raduljica has long had the dream of the NBA. He knows there will be a learning curve, but expects to find a a way to contribute to the Bucks in the upcoming season.
“I expect my role as a young player here to be a backup center and to learn because this is my first NBA season,” Raduljica said. “I’m going to learn so much from Zaza, and I hope everybody else. I want to prove myself because I’m new here and a rookie.”
In what he described as an interesting year in the Ukraine, Raduljica believed he could play in the NBA, but didn’t expect the opportunity to come so soon.
“I can play both under the basket and shoot,” Raduljica said. “I think I’m pretty quick for my size and my body. I think I can shoot pretty well. Maybe the guys from the (United) States don’t know me well or didn’t see me, but I’m sure I’m going to prove myself and you will be surprised.”