How “Big Z” Would Pair with Either of Hogs’ Big-Man Visitors This Weekend

Zvonimir Ivisic, Jonas Aidoo, Arkansas basketball, transfer portal
photo credit: Kentucky Athletics / Tennessee Athletics

The first official roster move by new Arkansas basketball coach John Calipari came in the form of big man Zvonimir Ivisic. The 7-foot-2 Croatian is following his old coach from Kentucky, where he appeared in 15 games as a true freshman, and has already signed with the Razorbacks.

Ivisic, aka “Big Z”, only became eligible to join the Wildcats on the court midway through January of last season, making his debut against Georgia on Jan. 20. He burst out of the gates against the Bulldogs with a flashy 13 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists and 2 steals in just 16 minutes of action.

Beyond the high scoring rate on limited minutes, Ivisic’s ability to hit from long distance (3-of-4 against Georgia) and his notable court vision for a player of his size showed glimpses into the unique type of player into which he can soon grow.

Being the first player to join Calipari’s new Razorback roster, Big Z will now get the opportunity to practice with his team for a full offseason before diving into his sophomore season. While this should allow him the opportunity to be a more consistent contributor next year, the Hogs first need to actually assemble a team with whom Ivisic can practice. So far, his only teammates are incoming five-star freshmen Karter Knox, Boogie Fland and Billy Richmond.

This is a fantastic start to Calipari’s first roster at Arkansas, but it doesn’t offer much of a window into the potential final roster construction.

However, Best of Arkansas Sports can confirm that the Razorbacks are in conversation with a pair of other big men currently in the transfer portal: Jonas Aidoo (6-11, 230) from Tennessee and Brandon Garrison (6-11, 245) from Oklahoma State.

Both players are reportedly set to visit Arkansas this weekend, with Aidoo reportedly arriving Saturday and Garrison arriving Sunday.

Jonas Aidoo – Tennessee

F | 6-11 | 240 pounds

2023-24 Stats: 11.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.8 BPG, 51.5% FG

The former Tennessee Volunteer earned second-team All-SEC and SEC All-Defensive Team honors as a junior last season. He averaged 11.4 points and 7.3 rebounds to go along with 1.8 blocks and an efficient 52% field goal percentage.

Jonas Aidoo also tallied 23 points and 12 rebounds on 79% shooting from the field against Arkansas, as well as averaging 11.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.0 blocks in two games against Calipari’s Wildcats last year. Clearly, he was trending in the right direction for the Tennessee program and some Vols insiders like Caleb Calhoun in the clip below think he “just made the biggest mistake of his life” in terms of his professional prospects:

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Well, cat’s out the bag now. And surely there are other coaches who can develop Aidoo just as well if not better than Rick Barnes did. The Durham, N.C., native fits the mold of a prototypical two-way center well, with good size and length combined with a strong understanding of how to pick his spots offensively.

Out of pick-and-roll action, Aidoo has a quick first step on the roll that, combined with his awareness of where to be at the right time, would make him one of the best lob threats Arkansas has had since Daniel Gafford – albeit with far lass athleticism than the former Razorback and current Dallas Maverick.

Aidoo has also shown the willingness and ability to pop to the midrange out of pick-and-roll situations and knock down the midrange jumper. While this ability makes him a more versatile player, it will be important for him to not fall in love with the outside jumper and remember to use his size on the interior.

Now comes the question of whether or not he can play alongside Ivisic. Big Z’s shooting ability obviously makes it easier for him to play beside another big man, but this duo could come with issues on the defensive side of the ball.

If an opponent had a crafty forward at the four-spot, it could create a difficult defensive assignment for either Ivisic or Aidoo to keep up with on the perimeter. Although, so long as neither gives up easy looks from the arc, they would theoretically be able to back each other up as help-side defenders with their elite length.

This duo likely makes more sense offensively given the outside shooting ability of both big men. Jonas Aidoo went only 3 of 15 from long range last season, but his midrange jumper is respectable enough to force his defender to choose between helping on a rolling Ivisic or staying with Aidoo to prevent an easy midrange look. And Ivisic shot 38% on low volume from long range last season, earning the respect of opponents when he’s spotted up on the perimeter.

Brandon Garrison – Oklahoma State

C | 6-11 | 245

2023-24 Stats: 7.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.5 BPG, 57.2% FG

Now listed at 6-foot-11, Brandon Garrison was listed at only 6-foot-8 last spring coming out of a McDonald’s All-American senior season in high school. Barring an uncommon growth spurt, that height may be a bit generous for the Oklahoma State transfer.

However, what Garrison might lack in height and raw athleticism, he makes up for in high basketball IQ and awareness. While Aidoo has good awareness in terms of footwork and positioning himself to be available for the ball handlers on his team, Garrison is more of a bruiser who can make things happen with the ball in his hands.

The Oklahoma City native is far from an elite post scorer, but when he gets the ball in the post, he can put the ball on the deck and make something happen for himself or others. He has good touch on left-handed hook shots turning over his right shoulder and counters that move well with a turnaround fadeaway from the mid-post.

Perhaps more impressive than his notable post scoring is his ability to be a playmaker from both the low- and mid-post. Garrison put up an impressive 13.3% assist rate – which is an estimate of the number of teammate field goals a given player assisted on while they were on the court – last season.

Not only did this assist rate rank higher than all but three Razorbacks from last season (El Ellis, Keyon Menifield and Layden Blocker), it’s important to remember that Garrison was a true freshman big man on a team that finished 8–10 in the Big 12. He showed the ability to find guards cutting from the top of the key, see backdoor cuts before they happen and know when to kick it out to shooters.

It’s more common for a true freshman center to struggle than it is for them to thrive, especially when the situation they’re in isn’t optimal for their success. Don’t be surprised at all if Garrison – who has already shown his higher-than-usual basketball IQ for someone of his age and position – takes a notable step forward as a sophomore regardless of where he ends up.

One selling point for Arkansas to the sophomore big man is the chance to develop under Calipari’s top assistant coach, Kenny Payne, who also coached the likes of Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Bam Adebayo in college. That’s not to say Garrison can become anything like these NBA stars, but having that sort of developmental coach on your side certainly doesn’t hurt his chances.

As for his fit beside Ivisic, it might make even more sense than Big Z playing alongside Jonas Aidoo. Garrison is a bigger-bodied center, but he’s also more mobile and plays with a higher motor than Aidoo. He’s active on the offensive glass and capable of making plays with the ball in his hands, freeing up Ivisic to be a spot-up shooter or cutter in certain situations.

Defensively, Garrison averaged 1.5 blocks with a roughly 6.6% block rate compared to Aidoo’s 1.8 blocks at an 8.9% rate. However, Ivisic is also a capable shot blocker. The issue comes in asking one of these big men to defend the perimeter when playing alongside each other.

Garrison might be the most well equipped of the three to do just that. He’s not exactly light on his feet, but is quick enough and plays with high enough energy to hold his own as a perimeter defender, recover quickly if he’s beat and at the very least force ball handlers into the waiting outstretched arm of another shot blocker like Ivisic at the rim.

Make no mistake, Brandon Garrison should not be considered a primary perimeter defender – he’s much better in the post. Still, he has shown enough to theoretically hold his own in a potential “Twin Towers” look alongside another big like Ivisic.

Could Arkansas Basketball Land Both Bigs?

It feels unlikely at this point that John Calipari would be able to land both starting-caliber big men to go alongside the already-signed Zvonimir Ivisic, but as Arkansas basketball fans will soon learn, it’s never wise to count out Calipari in a recruiting battle.

In the event that the Hogs land both Jonas Aidoo and Brandon Garrison, fans are likely to see a lot of two-big-men looks throughout the season. It makes the most sense for one of those bigs to be Ivisic given his outside shot making ability.

However, would it be possible for the other two bigs to play alongside each other? In short, it’s probably not the best idea.

Both are big-bodied forwards more suited to playing the center position in the collegiate game. While both have shown the ability to step outside and knock down shots from the high post, neither is a good enough shooter to be considered a stretch big.

While the same argument could hold true about Garrison being the most capable of the three players to spend some time defending the perimeter, Ivisic’s athleticism and quickness for his size likely makes him a better option than Aidoo as a help defender.

Of course, being able to rotate three capable big men all standing between roughly 6-foot-11 and 7-foot-2 with versatile skill sets and the potential to play alongside one another would be a hard prospect for any coach to pass up. That’s even more so for a coaching legend looking to bounce back from recent disappointment by building an entire contending roster from scratch with a seemingly unprecedented NIL fund at his disposal.


Starting at the 40-second mark below, Jeff Goodman provides the latest intel on Jonas Aidoo:

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Check out some highlights of both Jonas Aidoo and Brandon Garrison:

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More coverage of Arkansas basketball, John Calipari and the transfer portal from BoAS…

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