Nicolò Origgi looks at two Bulgarian brothers who are late bloomers as dominant big twins in Europe. Dejan and Kaloyan Ivanov have been knocking around a while but, as they hit their 30s, the twins are looking like new forces altogether
According to genetics, twin brothers are a rarity in itself. The chances of them following a common path are thus even smaller, although not impossible. Basketball has proven the truthfulness of such an exception, most notably through the achievements of seven-footers Jason and Jarron Collins, Darjus and Ksistof Lavrinovic, Brook and Robin Lopez as well as the slightly smaller – hard to say about 2.08m tall human beings – Markieff and Marcus Morris. The last decade, though, has seen another instance of European twin towers – no label could be more fitting since it definitely seems like a big-man thing – rising to prominence. Way less heralded than the other members of this very restricted club yet extremely reliable, both Dejan and Kalojan Ivanov [Ed note – Nicolò writes in Kalojan, we usually called him Kaloyan in the past, both work] have left their mark in the main domestic leagues of the Old Continent nonetheless.
Sharing – unlike the Lopez brothers – an often identical look and a playing style resembling a poor man’s version of Kevin Love, these two rugged forward-centres from Varna, Bulgaria, have always made of deep positioning down low their bread and butter. Not blessed with great athleticism to say the least, they perennially look for physical contact and display nice footwork while eluding overly-aggressive post defence through a go-to right-handed jump hook going middle, spin moves and well-timed up-and-unders. However, crashing the offensive boards is arguably their biggest asset due to a deadly combination of advanced anticipation and imposing 2.05m tall frames. Moreover, a decent yet inconsistent three-point shot enables Dejan and Kalojan to put the ball on the floor and take it to the rack with authority. While no one is going to get posterized, their below-the-rim banger’s game is a safe source of hard-fought buckets and abundant trips to the charity stripe, where they both connect at respectable clips – around seventy percent on average. Limited lateral mobility and almost non-existent rim protection, though, come to a great expense on the defensive side of the ball, yet the duo’s respective career paths speak for themselves.
Longtime owners of their national team’s frontcourt, for which they last showed up in 2013 after two consecutive Eurobasket appearances, the Ivanovs took their first steps in the pros together both at home and abroad – including a brief stint in Russia. Once in Spain, though, the couple finally split up as Kalojan settled down in the ACB while Dejan had to find his fortune in Croatia. Thanks to the breakout years enjoyed both in Split and Zadar, Dejan was given the chance to cross the Adriatic Sea and suit up for Sutor Montegranaro, a club for which he would post more than twenty double-doubles over the following three-and-a-half years. On the other hand, Kalojan slowly grew into a solid impact player throughout his prolonged stay in Menorca and a single season in Manresa before coming close to lift the Eurocup trophy as a member of Sevilla, but only in Alicante he would finally shine his own light and answer to his brother’s emergence. A wealthy move eastwards – Dejan joining Euroleague side Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius and Kalojan making a stop in Donetsk – thus awaited for both, yet it was short-lived. As a consequence, Kalojan stepped on Italian soil as well after signing for Scandone Avellino and, shortly thereafter, Dejan was unsuccessfully added to the roster of a Varese side which had surprisingly topped the regular season standings. In the southern city, the newble – as far as Lega A experience was concerned – Ivanov even improved his twin’s already impressive past feats by amassing nearly the same number of double-doubles in two seasons less. On the contrary, Dejan returned to Spain after a very long time – joining forces at Estudiantes Madrid with Kalojan’s mentor in Alicante, Txus Vidorreta – and did not look out of place, either. The following campaign would bring him back to Italy once again, just in time to reanimate a seemingly helpless Juve Caserta on the heels of career-high scoring numbers following a rough start in Brindisi. With Kalojan leaving Andorra for Turkey mid-season, his spitting image could not help but choose the same destination – although on different clubs – once his new gig in Turin was cut short. Apart from Dejan’s 2016 postseason cameo in the Venezuelan league, the two have taken root in the Eurasian country since then.
Still relatively young – they were born in 1986 – and efficient, Dejan and Kalojan are surprisingly bringing their belated intrafamilial matchup to the second division. In spite of their openly admitted identity swaps at school and the hundreds of battles faced together in the name of Bulgaria, one can rest assured that there will be no room for mutual solidarity when game time comes. That is what brotherly – or, better said, twin – love is all about.