Ivica Zubac burst onto the scene for the Los Angeles Lakers sooner than almost anyone expected, even Zubac himself.
“I expected it to take me more time to help the team,” Zubac said. “As soon as I got the chance I showcased my skill and tried to help my team.”
Zubac showed enough to work his way into the starting lineup, reminding the media at his exit interview that no one handed him his spot.
“I earned my opportunity,” Zubac said. “I know I can start.”
Zubac quickly added that he hopes to keep his starting spot, a role Lakers center Timofey Mozgov said he wasn’t ready for on a full-time basis. For his part, Zubac doesn’t think anyone has a role locked in for next season.
“I know what to expect and I think going into training camp I’m going to prove myself again,” Zubac said.
Also among the seven-footer’s hopes for next season? Competing in the postseason, even as unlikely as that might seem coming off of a year in which the Lakers (26-56) posted the third-worst record in the NBA.
“We didn’t get a lot of wins, but we improved a lot... It’s going to be definitely easier coming into next season,” Zubac said. “Next year we want to go into the playoffs. We can’t have any more seasons like this.”
In order to get there, Zubac plans to spend the off-season working on his body and skills. He said he’ll return home for three weeks before spending the rest of the summer in Los Angeles and taking part in Las Vegas Summer League.
“I’m going to try to spend as much time as I can in the weight room,” Zubac said. “I want to get quicker, and that’s going to be one of the biggest challenges for me. I can’t wait to work on that.”
As for the ankle that held him out of the last several weeks of the Lakers’ season, Zubac said it’s much better.
“I feel great, by the end of the week I should be running. I think if the season was not done, I would be playing,” Zubac said.
That injury was just about the only blemish on an otherwise unexpectedly solid campaign from the teenage center, who reported that the Lakers’ front office of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, as well as head coach Luke Walton, were happy with what they saw from him.
“They think I had a really great rookie year. My attitude and confidence they love it,” Zubac said. “(They want me to) just to keep being positive and working hard.”
As a lifelong Lakers fan, it isn’t lost on Zubac how surreal it is to have broken out for his favorite childhood team while working with on of the best players in franchise history, either.
“It’s pretty cool to see Magic every day, to work with him on a daily basis,” Zubac said. “I’m living the dream.”
All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. All quotes transcribed via Periscope. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here, or listen to our thoughts on the season below), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.