Derrick Michael Xzavierro’s history-making odyssey lands him at GCU

Derrick Michael Xzavierro has honorably represented his home country of Indonesia on the basketball court and inside the Grand Canyon University locker room. (Photo courtesy of GCU athletics)

PHOENIX – During the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifier against Korea, Indonesia’s Derrick Michael Xzavierro got his chance to debut with his national team late in the game.

Indonesia trailed by 43 points with two minutes remaining when coach Rajko Toroman tapped the 16-year-old to check into the game. As soon as he stood up, the crowd at BritAma Arena in Jakarta turned from near-silence to rousing cheers.

Xzavierro recorded two rebounds in the final minutes, yet still earned the tag from Toroman as “the future of Indonesian basketball.”

In April, “the future” arrived in a historic way in the United States when Xzavierro signed with Grand Canyon University – becoming Indonesia’s first Division I basketball scholarship player.

When the layers are peeled back, Xzavierro’s journey is even more fascinating considering he doesn’t come from a traditional sports family, only developing a love for basketball at a young age after watching LeBron James and Derrick Rose from overseas. From there, Xzavierro started playing club basketball with his cousin.

Over time, his towering height caught up with his passion. The 6-foot-10, 212-pound small forward is the ideal college basketball prospect for any team in the United States, but he sticks out in his native land (a 2018 study by Acta Scientific lists the average height of an 18-year-old male from Indonesia at 5-4). Add in the fact that badminton, volleyball and soccer – not basketball – are the country’s most popular sports, and it’s easy to marvel at his unconventional basketball route, along with his size, toward making history.

Despite basketball’s standing among the other sports, Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta has been the site of several major events in recent years, including the FIBA Asia Cup, which was held in the city for the second time in July. Jakarta is also scheduled to host games as part of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, along with Japan and the Philippines.

Typically, this would grant Indonesia automatic qualification for the event. However, FIBA wanted Indonesia to be competitive for the Cup and gave conditional qualification to Indonesia instead: a quarterfinal appearance in the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup.

Indonesia needed to play well after finishing last in its first-round group of the qualifying tournament. Xzavierro played a big role for the national team, averaging 8.5 points and 8 rebounds in the tournament behind a 14-rebound performance against Saudi Arabia and a 19-point performance against Jordan. But ultimately, Indonesia failed to qualify after a 108-58 loss to China, marking the first time in FIBA World Cup history that a host country failed to qualify for the tournament.

“I’m pretty sad because we’re hosting, but we (don’t get to) play,” Xzavierro said.

Still, the experience gave Xzavierro more motivation than ever.

“I think there’s no need to be scared about everything on the court because I’ve been through a lot,” Xzavierro said.

Further development in Australia

Before Xzavierro earned his role on Indonesia’s national team, his basketball journey took a big step with an invitation to join the NBA Global Academy in October 2020.

The academy, which opened in 2017, is operated in partnership with Basketball Australia (BA) and its Centre of Excellence at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

Up to 16 top prospects from outside the United States are invited to the NBA Global Academy, where NBA-hired coaches train the prospects in coordination with BA’s coaches. The NBA Global Academy has graduated two players who made the NBA, most recently Josh Giddey in 2021 and Dyson Daniels earlier this year.

Xzavierro quarantined for two weeks in Sydney before arriving at the BA Centre of Excellence in accordance with Australia’s coronavirus protocols. After meeting the requirements, he noticed the step up in quality of coaching immediately.

“It’s a high level. It’s different,” Xzavierro said. “I’ve never seen coaches like that.”

The NBA Global Academy’s coaching staff is headed by technical director Marty Clarke, who has coached some of Australia’s best NBA prospects, including Andrew Bogut, Joe Ingles and former Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes.

The players in Xzavierro’s NBA Global Academy class were also high quality. Several players in his class committed to top Division I programs, including Australian guard Tyrese Proctor, who is now at Duke after receiving multiple offers.

Needless to say, Xzavierro’s improvement through the experience was inevitable.

“I feel like (I was) getting better every day when I was there,” Xzavierro said.

Basketball is just a small part of the NBA Global Academy’s program. All of the athletes attend a local high school to get an education while training with the academy.

Xzavierro, though, was an exception to the rule.

“I graduated when I was in Indonesia, so when I went there, I just did my English (classes),” Xzavierro said. “I had a tutor coming up with English every day.”

On the basketball court, Xzavierro excelled in select tournaments for the NBA Global Academy. He was named to the all-tournament team during the 2022 National Prep School Invitational in February. One of his better games included a 17-point performance against St. Andrews School, a prep school in Rhode Island.

Arriving in America

Xzavierro’s performances helped capture the attention of Division I coaches, including GCU coach Bryce Drew, who quickly took notice of the big man’s abilities and development with the NBA Global Academy.

“It made a world of difference for him, getting the coaching that he got and the resources that the Academy provides (and) the competition he got to play,” Drew said. “The leaps and bounds he made in his months there really excited us to see how much he could improve in one year and gives us great confidence in the academies that they really develop players and get them better.”

Drew thought he would be a great fit for the GCU program. For Xzavierro, family influence played a big role in choosing the Lopes.

“My mom is a Christian. She really preaches it,” Xzavierro said. “When I talk about GCU, my mom really loves it because it’s a Christian school.”

He also appreciated the history and quality of GCU’s basketball program.

“I saw the videos about this school, about the place. This is like a high-major school,” Xzavierro said. “We have the facilities, we have our own gym, we have everything. I see the players that I wanted to make a connection with.”

One of those players, junior forward Gabe McGlothan, said Xzavierro blended in well with the GCU program upon arrival.

“He just came in and he fit perfectly,” McGlothan said. “We didn’t have to worry about anything. He just came in and really just meshed and loved us, and we loved him and his personality.

“He’s a very versatile big. He’s very agile. He’s got a good mindset. It’s a different pace, so (he has) got to get used to it, but he’s working hard.”

Xzavierro missed the opportunity to join his GCU teammates this past summer while competing in the FIBA Asia Cup. Despite not having the extra time to learn the team’s playbook and playing style before fall practices started, Drew said Xzavierro remains on pace to excel.

“For him missing (the summer), he’s done a really good job catching up here in the fall,” Drew said in October. “He picks up things quickly, and we’ve seen major improvements the last three weeks.”

Xzavierro took a redshirt for the 2022-23 season, but his impact behind the scenes on the scout team has helped GCU start the season with a 9-4 record. The Antelopes resume the season Friday at home against California Baptist.

“His length (is) definitely something that you don’t see too often at that forward spot or what I would be guarding, so being able to guard him just makes me better at knowing that I can move better,” McGlothan said. “He’s really, really pushed me … almost all the time.”

Xzavierro has also pushed himself to gain valuable learning experiences in preparation for the 2023-24 season.

“My brain is getting better, so when I play next year, I know everything,” Xzavierro said. “(I will know) what I have to do, not like I was my freshman year here.”

Basketball, however, is just a part of the big picture of attending college for Xzavierro. He’s also working to gain a valuable education as a business management major.

“Everyone (from Asia) wants to go to America for education,” Xzavierro said. “I think this (or Europe) is the best place to get an education in the world. I feel blessed that I get a chance to go to school here and get a degree.”

Nicholas Hodell Nick-o-lus ho-DELL (he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Nicholas Hodell expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in community sports management. Hodell has interned with 98.7 Arizona Sports and contributes to Inferno Intel.