View Full Version : The Best is yet to come (Ukic, Spanoulis, Schortsanitis, Mile Ilic, Navarro, Scola)

05-22-2006, 04:58 PM
From CNN/SI: Link to Article (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/chris_ekstrand/05/19/draft/index.html)

The best is yet to come
NBA teams increasingly stash talent overseas

NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth and cum laude from Harvard Law School. He has played a huge role in every television contract, collective bargaining agreement and international expansion the NBA has made for the past 30 years. When confronted by an intellectual challenge, Granik leaps over it with the ease of Michael Jordan shooting a hanging jumper over Craig Ehlo.

But perhaps Granik's most nervous moments come in late June every year, when he has the unenviable task of appearing on television to announce the names of players selected in the second round of the NBA draft. While commissioner David Stern gets to shoot linguistic layups, announcing names like Dwight Howard, LeBron James and, yes, Joe Smith, Granik is left to articulate tongue-twisters like Olumide Oyedeji, Mladen Sekularac and Martynas Andriuskevicius.

It's been more than 20 years since Nigerian-born Hakeem Olajuwon was the first pick in the 1984 draft and more than 15 years since Sarunas Marciulionis, Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic shortened the distance between the raucous, smoky gyms of Europe and the capacious arenas of the NBA. The NBA has benefited tremendously by inviting the best basketball players outside the United States to test their skills in the best basketball league in the world. Some, such as All-NBA First Team forward Dirk Nowitzki of Germany or All-NBA Third Team center Yao Ming of China, have risen to the challenge and are now acknowledged NBA superstars. Others like Tony Parker of France, Pau Gasol of Spain and Andrei Kirilenko of Russia are poised to push their way into the perennial All-Star stratosphere.

But not every international basketball prospect joins the NBA immediately after hearing his name called on draft night. Many, including stars like Kirilenko, Peja Stojakovic of Serbia-Montenegro and Manu Ginobili of Argentina, remained in Europe for a couple of seasons after being drafted, honing their skills and ensuring that they were ready for the difficult transition to the NBA game and life in general in North America. In the past four NBA drafts, more and more teams are using their second-round picks to select promising international players they don't plan to have on their rosters right away.

Some young international players need another year or more to fully develop their games in Europe before entering the cauldron of NBA play. Some simply need to play out their existing contracts, avoiding huge buyouts that can run more than a million dollars. Still others needs time to hit the weight room or get used to their new bodies after explosive growth spurts in their late teens or early 20s.

The benefits to NBA teams are obvious. Instead of immediately signing a drafted player who ends up being cut or languishes on the bench without any playing opportunity, NBA teams can wait for the player to develop while playing meaningful minutes in a high-level European league like those in Spain, Italy, Greece and France.

"When they are over there playing minutes, it doesn't work if you bring them over here and make them your 11th or 12th man," said Carroll Dawson, general manager of the Houston Rockets. "It doesn't work. You've got to find out if they are good enough to be in your rotation. Darko Milicic [who the Detroit Pistons drafted second overall in 2003] was never happy in Detroit. He never got to play."

NBA draft rules make selecting an international player who would agree to stay overseas for a year to two, or who is contractually obligated to do so, especially attractive. Most players who played college basketball in the U.S. want to try to make the NBA as soon as they are drafted. If the player signs a contract and the team can't find a roster spot for him right away, the player is then waived and becomes a free agent, and the drafting team loses all rights to him.

In contrast, if an NBA team drafts a player who is already playing professionally outside the U.S., the NBA team retains that player's NBA draft rights as long as he is under contract. When the player informs the NBA team that he is free of any contractual obligation, the NBA team must present the player with what is known as a "required tender," or contract offer. At that point, contract negotiations can begin. The Portland Trail Blazers drafted Lithuanian legend Arvydas Sabonis in 1986, then retained his rights as Sabonis spent nine more seasons in Europe. Portland signed him in 1995 as a 30-year-old rookie and Sabonis went on to play seven productive seasons for the Blazers, ending in 2003.

Although you don't hear too much about most of them, 43 international players have their signing rights connected to specific NBA teams. Some, like 33-year-old Serbian legend Dejan Bodiroga of Lottomatica Roma in Italy, drafted by Sacramento in 1995, will probably never play in the NBA. But some players on the list were intriguing prospects when they were drafted and have become even more intriguing as they have sharpened and improved their skills. Let's take a look at some of these players who may be coming to the NBA soon.

Roko Leni Ukic, Tau Ceramica (Spain)
An early-entry candidate in 2005 as a 21-year-old, the 6-5 Croatian point guard was disappointed to be chosen 41st overall after several teams considered taking him in the first round. Ukic was born in Split and played for the club Toni Kukoc made famous up until this season, when he ventured beyond Croatia to join Tau, a Euroleague powerhouse and perennial contender in Spain's top league, the ACB. Bryan Colangelo, the new general manager of the Toronto Raptors and the 2004-05 NBA Executive of the Year, inherited the rights to Ukic, who was drafted by former Raptors GM Rob Babcock.


"Roko is a young guard with a lot of upside," Colangelo said. "He's got talent and great instincts for the game. He made a jump this year from Croatia to one of the top teams in Spain. He struggled a little bit, partly because of injuries, but partly because of the situation. (Tau has many proven veteran players.) Whether or not he has progressed this year is debatable, but he was highly considered by a number of clubs last year. Why he ultimately slid, I'm not sure. But he is a player who has a lot of upside because of his talent."

Colangelo made the trek to Prague for the Euroleague Final Four and saw Ukic sparkle in the third-place game when Tau defeated Winterthur F.C. Barcelona 87-82. Ukic made four of seven shots and tallied nine points, three assists, two rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot in 16 highly productive minutes. In his other Final Four appearance, Ukic had eight points in the semifinal loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Vasilis Spanoulis, Panathinaikos (Greece)
Spanoulis, a 6-4 guard who was drafted 50th overall by Houston in 2004, switched teams this year from Maroussi, a playoff team, to Panathinaikos, the giant of Greek basketball, which has won seven of the last eight Greek League titles. Spanoulis, who left Maroussi as its best player, hasn't skipped a beat after moving up in class. He's averaging 11 points and leading the team in assists and free throw attempts.

"When I was over there, they were playing Benetton Treviso, and whoever won went on to the quarterfinals of the Euroleague," said Dawson, who has kept close tabs on Spanoulis both before and after he drafted him. "What an atmosphere. The place (Olympic Stadium in Athens) was rocking! He scored 17 points and he dominated the game a little bit. He's very good about getting into the paint and kicking the ball out, and he's good at finishing as well. His shot is coming along. He's a nice prospect and I'm really happy we drafted him. He's progressed every year we have watched him."

Despite the fact that Spanoulis reportedly is in the first year of a three-year deal with Panathinaikos, Dawson is optimistic that Spanoulis will play for the Rockets eventually.

Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Olympiacos (Greece)
The Los Angeles Clippers selected the imposing (6-9, 280) Schortsanitis with the 34th pick in 2003, when he was just 18. Three years later he has moved from long-term project to major prospect and is now a key role player for the second-best team in Greece. In just under 19 minutes per game in Euroleague games, the deceptively agile big man averaged 10.7 points and five rebounds a game, shooting 62 percent from the field.

Clippers director of player personnel Neil Olshey told the Los Angeles Times last week that Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy will soon evaluate Schortsanitis in person, either by taking a trip to Greece for the ongoing playoffs (Olympiacos is currently in the league semifinals) or by bringing Schortsanitis to Los Angeles for workouts once his season is over.

"What we have to figure out is whether this is the right time to bring him over, based on the big guys we have coming back," Olshey said. "Are there minutes there for him? Is he better served staying one more year? Those are the questions."

Mile Ilic, FMP Zeleznik (Serbia & Montenegro)
Few basketball fans in the United States had ever heard the name Nenad Krstic when the New Jersey Nets plucked him with the 24th pick in the 2002 NBA draft. As it turned out, Nets president Rod Thorn and general manager Ed Stefanski had found a bona fide NBA big man who came into the league in 2004-05 and averaged 10 points and five rebounds right away. In his second season, Krstic became a full-time starter and averaged 13.5 points and 6.4 rebounds.

Now the Nets hope to cash in again with another big man from the same part of the world. Ilic, a Bosnian selected with the 43rd pick in the 2005 draft, is young (21) and not nearly as physically developed as Krstic, but he's an athletic big man with a knack for blocking shots.

"He is a legitimate seven-footer with terrific hands," said Stefanski. "He runs the court well and is athletic. If you have a seven-footer with great hands, that is step one to becoming a good player. He has to get an NBA body, and he is working on his body and has made progress. He has good tools. We are encouraged by his overall progress and we'll be talking to his agent (Marc Cornstein) in the next couple of months to talk again about when it makes sense to bring him over here."

Luis Scola, Tau Ceramica (Spain)
Juan Carlos Navarro, Winterthur FC Barcelona (Spain)
I group Scola and Navarro together not only because they both play in Spain but also because the pair are rapidly approaching a crossroads in their careers. Both players are unquestioned stars in Europe, as their All-Euroleague First Team honors this season attest. Scola is one of the best big men in Europe, Navarro one of the best guards playing outside the NBA. Scola is 26 years old, and Navarro will turn 26 in June.
Scola, a 6-8 forward, averaged 17 points (fifth in ACB) and seven rebounds and shot 64 percent from the field this season for Tau (25-9). Navarro, a 6-4 guard, averaged 17.9 points (third in ACB) and made more three-pointers than anyone in the league for Barcelona (24-10). Scola and Navarro each led his team to the Euroleague Final Four.

Scola was drafted 56th overall by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2002 NBA draft; Navarro was chosen 40th that year by the Washington Wizards. At the time they were drafted, they were very good players, important cogs for two of the best teams in Spain. But four years later, they have become indispensable, irreplaceable foundation players, stars around whom these teams have been constructed.


As the two vie for supremacy in Spain, one has to wonder if they are willing to trade in their status as the best players in Europe to come to the NBA and prove themselves all over again, not to mention that San Antonio and Washington may not have the inclination to bring them aboard anytime soon.

"First you have to have a coach who is open-minded to it," said Colangelo, who was successful incorporating international players into the mix in Phoenix. "You have to have a system that works for them. You hope to create an environment that they will be comfortable in. It's more difficult than you think to acclimate to new customs and a new culture. For every good situation, there might be one or two failures. You have to pick and choose the right situations for you."

At 25 years old, Kukoc, the King of Europe, was at a similar crossroads. The "Spider of Split" paid Benetton Treviso a king's ransom to buy out his contract and join a Chicago Bulls team that had just won three NBA championships. It will be interesting to see if Scola and Navarro follow the example of Kukoc, or that of Bodiroga.

Joško Poljak Fan
05-22-2006, 06:14 PM
mentioning Mile Ilič in that group wasn't exactly... neccesarry...

hopefully Uleb will manage to make drafting european players NBA's biggest nightmare with enormous buyouts and bigger contracts...
can't help myself but for me the true basketball is played in europe and as soon as those players will keep staying in europe, unless NBA changes it's mentality, euro clubs might become superior in all aspects but athleticism...

05-24-2006, 03:09 PM
Mile Ilic should be mnetion first in that article.He is the player on that list who will have better NBA carer than any other player on that list.Dont be hater.Ilic is way beter than slow and poor athlete Lorbek.

Joško Poljak Fan
05-24-2006, 03:38 PM
I am not Ilič's hater, I'm just trying to stay real here.
Ilič has showed a nice progress this season, but do you really believe he has the potential to overcome Scola or Ukič or Sofo or Navarro? i'm sure most people don't.
Being in the same age group Ilič is nowhere near Lorbek right now, nevermind his bigger NBA potential, no need for teasing ;)

05-27-2006, 05:54 PM
I highly doubt progress Mile did this season, he is still playing under 20 mpg for FMP. At 22 he is not that young either.

Prometheus on fire
02-12-2010, 05:50 PM
This guy should work as a scout for an NBA clubs.

Ilic, Spanoulis, Schortsianitis and Ukic have had wonderful NBA careers.

02-12-2010, 06:13 PM
mile ilic should be mnetion first in that article.he is the player on that list who will have better nba carer than any other player on that list.dont be hater.ilic is way beter than slow and poor athlete lorbek.hahaha!!! :D

This guy should work as a scout for an NBA clubs.

Ilic, Spanoulis, Schortsianitis and Ukic have had wonderful NBA careers.:D

03-11-2010, 03:10 PM
Mile Ilic set to resume his basketball career in a Serbian first league club, debut expected on friday:

credible source with translation provided (http://translate.google.com/translate?js=y&prev=_t&hl=sv&ie=UTF-8&layout=1&eotf=0&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.b92.net%2Fsport%2Fkosarka%2Fves ti.php%3Fyyyy%3D2010%26mm%3D03%26dd%3D11%26nav_id% 3D417048&sl=sr&tl=en)