EL SEGUNDO – Ivica Zubac was 14 when he was first told he needed to meet Andrew Bogut.
Bogut was the starting center for the Milwaukee Bucks and already one of the best defensive centers in the NBA. A mutual friend believed the veteran center could help Zubac.
Word of the young Zubac had reached Bogut, who had numerous connections to Croatia through his parents, who emigrated from the Eastern European nation to Australia before Bogut was born.
Bogut spends part of every offseason in Croatia, on an island called Pag – which Zubac described as the distance between L.A. and Las Vegas from his hometown.
But the two players did not connect until the Lakers drafted Zubac in the second round in 2016.
On Sept. 19, the Lakers signed Bogut, a 12-year veteran who won a championship with the Warriors in 2015, to a non-guaranteed contract, bolstering their depth at center and giving Zubac another veteran to emulate.
This one also happens to speak Croatian.
“I have somebody who understands me, finally,” Zubac said, smiling.
And really, isn’t that all anyone really wants?
Now, when the Lakers are on the floor, the two big men can be heard barking back and forth in Croatian, a language Bogut grew up speaking at home.
Zubac said 95 percent of the conversations the two big men have are in Croatian. He rated Bogut’s ability to speak the language a nine out of 10.
“A nine’s sensational,” joked Bogut, who grew up speaking Croatian at home and uses the language when he communicates with friends and family overseason. Bogut spends 2-3 weeks each summer on Pag, a popular island destination in Croatia.
In the past, Bogut has put his language skills to use when sharing locker rooms with players including Toni Kukoc – his childhood idol – Nemanja Nedovic, Damir Markota and Roko Ukic.
“I’ve played with a fair few Balkans,” Bogut said, “which is kind of cool.”
Bogut has been away from the Lakers for most of the first week of the preseason, spending two nights last week in Vancouver, B.C., waiting for a visa that would allow him to join the team.
In what little time he has spent with Zubac, Bogut said, he has already given the 20-year-old tips on how to operate in the post. He believes speaking Croatian, although Zubac is fluent in English, will allow him to simplify some of what the coaches say.
“Sometimes when you hear it in your own native tongue it kind of clicks in a little more,” Bogut said. “However I can help him in that sense isn’t a…