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Milicic Adjusting to Life in America

May 25, 2003|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Two days after his arrival in America, Darko Milicic stretched out in his agent's penthouse apartment and munched contentedly on some mixed nuts, just like an average teenager.

Then he got up, uncoiling his 7-foot, 250-pound body, and it was obvious he is anything but average.

Labeled as the best big man in the NBA draft, Milicic comes out of the Yugoslavia professional league where most players are in their mid-20s. He'll turn 18 a week after the June 26 draft.

"I played against older guys, experienced guys," he said through a translator. "They would pinch me and try to hide the ball from me. I would chop them."

For emphasis, he demonstrated with a forearm slash -- short, quick and to the point. "Nothing bothers me," he said. "I am cool and focused. I am confident. I am not worried."

Milicic (pronounced MILL-a-chik) is an international man of mystery at a time when all eyes are on expected top draft picks LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

Milicic's statistics are sketchy but his progress was closely watched by NBA executives. When Dallas coach Don Nelson and his son worked out Milicic last summer, the NBA got wind of it and suspended them for two games.

"We've known about him for a couple of years," NBA scout Ryan Blake said. "He's a talented big guy with inside-outside capabilities. He's left-handed and can play small forward. He has great footwork and solid athletic skills. He's got range but he can get to the basket. I think you'll see him a little more inside."

New York Knicks general manager Scott Layden saw him twice and said Milicic is "very skilled for his age and has good size to play in the NBA."

"He's a talented scorer and rebounder and can pass the ball," Layden said.

Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars called Milicic a special talent, far better than most players his age. And that was before the Pistons came out of the draft lottery with the No. 2 pick.

"Darko is your skilled, talented European player that is multitalented and can do so many things on the court," Dumars said.

Ask Milicic for a scouting report of himself, and he smiles.

"It is hard to talk about yourself," he said. "I would say, 'Shoots the ball very well. Needs to improve defense and offensive rebounding."'

That will not prevent him from being a top three pick in the draft. He worked out for the Pistons during their shootaround at New Jersey on Thursday morning and then watched as the Cleveland Cavaliers got the top pick, followed by Detroit.

James almost certainly will be taken by Cleveland, but after that, who knows?

"It was exciting," Milicic's agent, Marc Cornstein, said. "We were very happy with the results. Detroit would be fantastic. We couldn't ask for a better scenario. They're an elite team with the best record in the East. They have a lot of pieces in place. That would alleviate a lot of pressure."

If the Pistons go in a different direction, Denver has the No. 3 pick. That would work, too, with Nene Hilario already in place from last year's draft day trade with the Knicks.

"With Darko, they'd have a frontcourt set for 15 years," Cornstein said.

Milicic is not so bold as to suggest where he should be picked. "That is not my decision," he said.

He is familiar with the NBA game. At home, two games a week were shown on television, usually Sacramento because of the presence of Yugoslavs Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac in the Kings' lineup.

Divac visited the teenager after one game and offered advice.

"He said, `Play hard, don't be afraid of anything and don't let things that happen off the court distract you,"' Milicic said.

That should not be a problem. He grew up during war in his homeland and remembers feeling the floor shudder under him from the impact of bombs falling.

"That will mature you fast," Cornstein said.

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