Former Cleveland, UTC basketball standout Drazen Zlovaric hopes to start international trend

Drazen Zlovaric, right, who played his final two high school seasons at Cleveland and his final two college seasons with the Mocs, has become known for his talent as an international recruiter for college basketball.

Drazen Zlovaric has seen the international trend come to the NBA.

Now he's trying to help it spread to college basketball.

The former Cleveland (Tenn.) High School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga standout is an assistant coach at Ohio's Cleveland State University, and he has honed his skills to become one of the top international recruiters in the country.

photo In this Feb.21, 2013, staff file photo, UTC's Drazen Zlovaric, right, shoots over UNCG's Kelvin McNeil during a Mocs' basketball game at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga.

Zlovaric - who came to the United States from Serbia wanting to either swim or play volleyball - played two seasons of prep basketball before signing with Georgia, choosing the Bulldogs over offers from Texas and other programs. He spent two seasons there before transferring to UTC, where he started 62 of 64 career games and averaged 9.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

He played a couple of seasons of professional basketball in the Euroleague (KK Parizan), Turkish Second Basketball League (Best Balikesir), the Osterreichische Bundesliga (BC Zepter Vienna) and the Adriatic League/Bosnian League (KK Ogokea) from 2013 to '15. He made some connections there before receiving a call from Tennessee coach Rick Barnes - who recruited Zlovaric to Texas when Barnes was still with the Longhorns - about an opening for a graduate assistant's position.

After Zlovaric spent a season with the Vols, newly named Cleveland State coach Dennis Felton - who coached Zlovaric at Georgia - chose to make him part of his staff.

"We plan for international recruiting to be a significant part of our efforts at CSU, and there is no one in the country better networked abroad than Drazen," Felton said at the time of his hiring.

Zlovaric wasted no time making his mark on the program, gaining a commitment from 7-foot-1 Serbian Uros Plasvic, who plays at Chattanooga's Hamilton Heights. His pitch to Plasvic, as well as others, has been simple: Come to the United States and not only play basketball at a high level but get an education while doing so.

"International recruiting is a whole different animal," Zlovaric said last week. "You're fighting all types of people trying to influence them not to go to college, but a lot of 17- to 19-year-olds are not ready for professional basketball. You can't go to school while you're playing (professionally), and what I'm trying to do is help give these kids an opportunity.

"People trust me; they know what I'm about. They know me. I don't know many that have the same connections."

Zlovaric pointed to the change at the professional level, where a number of the top prospects in each season's NBA draft are international players and 30 percent of the players currently in the league were born outside of the United States. That's the type of shift he's attempting to bring to the college game, starting at Cleveland State.

"People already consider me as the best and most connected international recruiter in the NCAA, and with the resources and connections I have, I want to do something special," he said. "I am going to bring players from Europe to the NCAA that no one else before could.

"I have been creating the trend and hype among the best European players that their next step should be college, and I will succeed in my vision of all of the best players from the rest of the world can play NCAA basketball."

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.