Aussie prospect Rocco Zikarsky to join NBL Next Stars program

Top international basketball prospect Rocco Zikarsky will forgo college and professional options in the United States and sign with the Brisbane Bullets of the Australian National Basketball League Next Stars program, he told ESPN on Thursday.

"I decided that the Next Stars opportunity was just too good a fit," the 7-foot-3 Zikarsky told ESPN. "Being able to train daily with my Under-17 Australian national team coaches, alongside one of my idols Aron Baynes, in my hometown, for my home club, in the NBL, with my family close by, is a dream come true.

"Being the youngest player ever to join the Next Stars is just the icing on top. I really look forward to what the future holds."

Zikarsky emerged as one of the top prospects in his age group at last summer's FIBA U17 World Cup, where he led the event in blocks and finished top five in scoring despite playing up as a 15-year old. He has since had dominant showings in the Australian U18 and U20 state championships, as well as playing professionally in the Australian NBL1 competition where he ranks third in player efficiency ranking (PER) and first in blocks while playing against older competition.

The son of a 6-10 German Olympic swimming bronze medalist and a 6-1 Australian champion ironwoman, Zikarsky has been developing the past two years at the NBA Global Academy in Canberra, Australia, where he has drawn considerable interest from college coaches in the United States. He says he was being recruited by Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan, USC, Arizona and many schools, as well as the NBA's G League Ignite program.

"I was overwhelmed, but very appreciative of all the college coaches that reached out to me and the time they spent chatting to me about recruitment," Zikarsky said. "My dad went to USC, so it was definitely an option I was serious about. G League was also an exciting option."

Zikarsky becomes the second Australian player to commit to the NBL Next Stars program this summer, joining former Gonzaga commit Alex Toohey, who elected to change paths and sign with the Sydney Kings last month. The last Australian to sign as a Next Star was fellow NBA Global Academy alumnus Josh Giddey, who was the No. 6 pick in the 2021 NBA draft after playing for the Adelaide 36ers.

The Next Stars program has gained steam this offseason in reeling in several highly touted international prospects currently projected to be drafted in 2024, including American guard A.J. Johnson (Illawarra), French big man Alex Sarr (Perth), Swedish wing Bobi Klintman (Cairns) and Lithuanian wing Mantas Rubstavicius (New Zealand), while retaining German center Ariel Hukporti (Melbourne).

Zikarsky, who turns 17 next week, is not eligible to declare for the NBA draft until 2025 at the earliest.

"I'm excited about the next few years," Zikarsky said. "I'll be taking this opportunity to work hard to develop my game and skills and learn from more experienced players. I'm very lucky to be training with Boomers and ex-NBA players. I need to take it all in and make the most of every session with them so if and when I'm ready I'll be able to make that jump."

Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service utilized by NBA, NCAA and international teams.