... Erazem Lorbek, a 6-9, 227-pound forward, was on the Tar Heel recruiting radar at the time, though not a serious target.
But he is now.
In an interview yesterday with Inside Carolina's overseas correspondent John Ervin, Lorbek confirmed that Carolina has offered him a scholarship. He has also been offered by UCLA, and Louisville is the other school he says is under consideration.
However, Lorbek's preference is clear.
"My number one choice is North Carolina," he told IC's John Ervin on Thursday, shortly after returning from a day of training with the Slovenian National Team for the 2001 Albert Schweitzer Tournament. Despite the fact that he has never seen a Tar Heel game, Lorbek wants to play for the Tar Heels "because of the tradition and the players that come from North Carolina."
The Carolina staff has been in frequent contact with him throughout the year and Lorbek has mapped out a timetable for a decision.
He said he expects to visit UNC and UCLA in February and make a commitment shortly thereafter. He will be a spring signee.
Lorbek eliminated any doubts that he wouldn't be coming to the United States to play college hoops ("I am 100% sure") and has been taking the necessary steps to become eligible.
He has passed the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and will take the SAT in December. In addition, he has played only amateur ball, knowing that participating on a club team would jeopardize his eligibility.
Lorbek, who turns 18 years old in February and carries the nickname "Erzo," has already made quite a name for himself in Europe with a collection of accolades.
* MVP of the 2000 Albert Schweitzer Tournament, where his Slovenian Junior National Team won the championship.
* Final Four MVP two straight years, as his team won the 1999-00 and the 2000-01 Slovenian Cadets National Championships.
* "First Five" award (best five) for his junior national club team's division, of which they won the 2000-01 Slovenian Junior Championship.
This past season, Lorbek played for Union Olimpija in Ljubljana (Slovenia), one of the most successful club teams in Europe and directed by his father, Radovan Lorbeck. Erazem's with the 2nd division of Union Olimpija in order to maintain amateur status. He averaged 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks last year.
Despite being 3-4 years younger than his teammates, Lorbek made the Slovenian national team for the World Championship for Young Men, which took place this summer in Japan. The Slovenians lost in the quarterfinals to a United States squad of college stars. As a reserve, Lorbek posted 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in 12.4 minutes per game.
Lorbek said he models his game after NBA star Dirk Nowitzki, a native of Germany, but Radovan likened his son's abilities to that of Toni Kukoc, a Croatian hoops legend who has played the last decade in the NBA.
"Erazem has played all five positions," the elder Lorbek said. "He can play point guard!"
Realistically, though, Lorbek would be a frontcourt player in the college game. He said his ideal position is at power forward, and that'd likely be the best fit, as he'd struggle with faster wings and doesn't have the build for center. He said that in conversations with the UNC staff, they told him he'd fit in various frontcourt roles.
Lorbek cited the strengths of his game were the outside shot and "creativity; I like to create for other players."
He's athletic and fleet of foot on the court, though has learned the half court game, his father said. Lorbek excels at ball-handling (can bring the ball up the court), shooting (knocks down threes and has consistent range out to 15 feet), and frontcourt versatility (playing out on the perimeter or in the post snagging rebounds and blocking shots).
He said the area of his game that needs the most improvement is off the court – in the weight room.
The following scouting report on Lorbek was compiled by Telebasket nearly two years ago, before he had put on 20 additional pounds.
Excellent athletic talent, has a good body frame for the forward spot ... Has speed and excellent leaping ability.
He handles the ball fairly well and has excellent vision. Can pass the ball in a two post game and reverse it to the weak side. He shows a soft touch; with his back to the basket can put it on the floor and is able to hit the jump-hook shot off the dribble or catching the ball in the lane. Can also hit the fade-away turn-around jumper. Likes to penetrate from the high post and take the pull-up "J". He is reliable from 12-15ft. in but he can also hit the three. Average offensive rebounder.
Plays with attitude and competitiveness. Has huge wingspan that allows him to deflect passes and grab rebounds. Lacks some weight. Struggles containing opponent's drive and can be pushed around by heavier players.
Stay tuned to Inside Carolina over the coming months as we'll have plenty of in-depth coverage of this intriguing recruit including game reports, stats, photos, more interviews and possibly video clips as well.
Note: Erazem is pronounded like "Air-RAH-zem."