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Polynice Feels Brand New

CLIPPER REPORT

September 30, 2003|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

In languishing outside the NBA the last two seasons, Olden Polynice grew bitter and frustrated, angry that nobody wanted him.

How could it be, he kept asking himself, that no team needed a savvy, hard-working 7-footer who was the Utah Jazz's starting center three seasons ago?

A spiritual awakening, he says, finally lifted him out of his funk, helped him land a one-year contract with the Clippers and prompted him to dump jersey No. 0, which he had worn throughout his 14-year NBA career.

"It's not about Olden anymore," Polynice, who has switched to No. 30, said Monday. "That's why I changed my number, because I was being selfish with the zero. I put God in front of me now, hence the three.

"The three for the [holy] trinity. And Olden is behind that."

The Clippers, who signed Polynice last month, don't know about all that, but they're happy to have him on board. Polynice, who broke into the NBA when rookie teammate Chris Kaman was in kindergarten, will be 39 on Nov. 21, 11 years older than his oldest teammate, newly acquired Predrag Drobnjak.

"I like to have a guy that's been around the league, a big guy that can teach a lot of these young guys certain things," Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "A guy that can bang and rebound and defend, but mainly a guy that's been around and can share some of the things that need to be shared."

At some point, perhaps, Polynice will share with his wide-eyed teammates his experiences over the last two years.

After opting out of his contract with the Jazz after the 2000-01 season, a decision he blames on bad advice from a former agent, he went unclaimed and sat out the next season. Last season, after being cut by the Philadelphia 76ers in the week before the opener, he didn't wait around for the phone to ring. He spent the winter months playing for the Harlem Globetrotters and two minor league teams.

"A lot of guys get to my age and want to retire, or just don't have the desire," Polynice said. "I have the desire. My career was not meant to end this way. I had a lot more to give, a lot more to show young guys and to teach."

Over the summer, he phoned Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor, "and one thing led to another," he said, landing him back in the NBA.

To his new mates, Olden is "old school," which is fine with him.

"Whatever they want, whatever they need," he said. "I'm here to do whatever this team needs to do to win. If I play, I play. If I don't, I'm still going to be happy for these guys and help them. It's not about anything other than the Clippers."

He'd like to play forever.

"I don't feel as good as I did when I was 21, but I'm not expected to," he said. "But I know I'm still outrunning some of these young guys."

*

Drobnjak's four-year contract with the Clippers could be worth as much as $12 million if the former Seattle SuperSonic center triggers performance-based bonus clauses. But only two years, and about $5 million, are guaranteed.

That's fine with him, his agent said: "My sense is that as long as Mike Dunleavy is there, Peja's got a job," David Bauman said.

*

Four-year veterans Elton Brand and Corey Maggette will practice for the first time this morning when the Clippers begin six days of training at Palm Desert.

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