For the third consecutive season, the Colorado men's basketball team is losing a player through a European exchange.
To make room on the roster for newly-signed junior college guard Shane Gatling, freshman Lazar Nikolic will be leaving coach Tad Boyle's program to pursue professional opportunities in Europe. Nikolic, a native of Serbia, is following a similar path as former CU guard Thomas Akyazili, who returned to his native Belgium last year after spending two seasons in Boulder.
Two years ago the Buffs also lost little-used Bosnian forward Kenan Guzonjic, who eventually landed at Division II Barry University in Florida.
Nikolic's departure puts the Buffs back at the full allotment of 13 scholarships for the 2018-19 season. Boyle said Nikolic first offered his thoughts about going back to Europe on the Monday following the Pac-12 Conference tournament more than a month ago but took several weeks to mull his final decision.
"Laz is a much better basketball player than he showed this season," Boyle said. "Laz knows that as well. The lure of going back and playing professionally was more alluring to him than playing college basketball. It's disappointing, but that's why I have my meeting with our guys so soon after the season. I wanted to give him time to think it through and every kid has to make his own choice.
"I loved coaching Laz. His teammates love him and he loved them. It wasn't an easy decision for him."
The 6-foot-7 Nikolic appeared in 31 of the Buffs' 32 games, making nine starts. He showed promise as a versatile, long-armed guard along the perimeter but didn't break out in any particular category, averaging 2.3 points and 2.3 rebounds. Like Akyazili, Nikolic struggled shooting-wise, finishing with a .380 overall mark from the field. His struggles ran deeper from 3-point range (.235, 8-for-34) and at the free throw line (.476, 10-for-21).
Nikolic was just one of three CU rotation players to finish with more assists (30) than turnovers (28). He turned in his best game during a home win against New Mexico on Dec. 6, finishing with season-best totals of seven points and eight rebounds.
Nikolic endured a slow start at CU, as paperwork and NCAA clearinghouse red tape delayed his arrival in Boulder and forced him to miss the team's four-game exhibition run through Italy in August.
Gatling was signed earlier this week out of Indian Hills Community College, foreshadowing a necessary departure that turned out to be Nikolic. Gatling is expected to fill a 3-point void left by departed seniors George King and Dom Collier while also giving Boyle a player who on occasion can spell point guard McKinley Wright.
The latest moves — the Buffs also signed 6-foot-10 forward Jakub Dombek out of the Czech Republic last week — reshapes somewhat the class makeup of CU's roster. Among the scholarship players for the 2018-19 season there will be one senior (Namon Wright), three juniors (Gatling, Lucas Siewert, Deleon Brown), two redshirt sophomores (Alex Strating, Dallas Walton), three true sophomores (McKinley Wright, D'Shawn Schwartz, Tyler Bey), one redshirt freshman (Evan Battey), and three true freshmen (Dombek, Daylen Kountz, Elijah Parquet).