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OutletPass
05-13-2003, 02:28 PM
I apologize for not posting the most recent ESPN Insiders...it's been mostly about the draft and the Euro players. Tomorrow, they are publishing a NEW Top 15 for the non-American players...and I'll be sure to post that. So here's today's:

On the road again
By Chad Ford

BILBAO, Spain -- Six months ago, Tony Ronzone and I rented a car in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and took a treacherous road to Zagreb, Croatia, in an effort to catch a young French shooting guard, Mickael Pietrus, in action.


The harrowing trip along the Bosnian border, past suspicious border guards and through a foreboding landscape, ended up being well worth the effort. Pietrus didn't play particularly well that night, but his performance was enough to impress the NBA scouts in attendance and to propel him into potential lottery status. Now, Ronzone and I cram into another rental car again go in search of the Euro Jordan, this time in his hometown of Pau, France.

11:25 a.m. We arrive in Bilbao, Spain, after a 65-minute flight from Barcelona. Our plans change as soon as we land. The plan was to catch 18-year-old sensation Tiago Splitter, a 6-foot-10 power forward from Brazil who is widely considered the best young big man in Europe after Darko Milicic. His agent claims that Splitter isn't entering his name in the draft, but with the recent buzz surrounding Maciej Lampe, the rumors are he might change his mind. Ten minutes after we arrive a phone call from his agent, Aturo Ortega, brings bad news. Splitter is in Vitoria, Spain (a two-hour drive south of Bilbao). His team had a playoff game there Saturday night and they're stuck there.

We don't have time to make the trip down to see him, so Ronzone and I decide to check into our hotel, then head off to Pau to catch a 4 p.m. practice for Pietrus and teammate Boris Diaw.

12:32 p.m. We're lost in Bilbao. The bad news is that, a la "European Vacation," we're stuck in one of those endless roundabouts, circling and circling around some picturesque monuments in the middle of the city. The good news is that Bilbao is one of the most unique looking cities I've seen. With it's modern art, wide boardwalks and the gorgeous Guggenheim Museum, it's a sight to behold.

12:45 p.m. More bad news. More bad information threatens to kill our trip. We had been told that Pau was a brief one-hour drive from Bilbao. Now the desk clerk at our hotel is telling us it's more like three hours. That's a pretty big difference. The problem here is Europeans seem to underestimate travel time by about half when giving directions. If someone tells you your destination is five minutes away, it's at least 10. So, we were prepared for two hours. Three means we have to leave right now.

1:00 p.m. With a map, computer-printed directions in Spanish and no real clue where we're going, Ronzone and I hop in the car and head out in the general direction of France.

1:20 p.m. If driving through Yugoslavia was like traveling through hell, then driving from Bilbao to Pau is like moving through the heavens. The picturesque vistas of the Pyrenees mountains, the beautiful countryside, quaint seaside villages and sheep grazing on the grassy hillsides give us pause. It's hard to imagine a more beautiful landscape.

4:25 p.m. Driving at 140 kilometers per hour (about 87 mph) allows you to pick up some time, and we arrive a few minutes before practice. It isn't easy to get in. By now teams are on to me and Ronzone, and it's making things more difficult. Between fearful agents, suspicious coaches and the ever-shifting time schedules in Europe, we seem to be struggling to get in anywhere unnoticed anymore.

4:35 p.m. We're in, but with one caveat. We have to sit high up in the bleachers to avoid distracting the players. It doesn't matter. The players keeping gazing up, trying to figure out who we are and where we're from.

4:45 p.m. After the players get through stretching, the real work begins. Ronzone is keeping an eye on Pietrus. The last time we saw him in Zagreb, Pietrus shot just 1-for-8 from the field. Immediately, Ronzone is zeroed in on his stroke. Pietrus is sinking 3s with ease. In the corner, on the wing, at the top of the key. Swish. Swish. Swish.
"He can't shoot," Ronzone says with a wry smile and a wink. Ronzone has followed Pietrus the past three years. He knows the player inside and out and has laughed at all the reports that claim he's not a shooter.

The multi-talented Mickael Pietrus won't drop beyond the 13th pick (Grizzlies) in this year's draft. On defense, Pietrus is even more impressive. Pietrus is guarding the team's point guard and he's doing an amazing job. At 6-foot-6, 212 pounds, Pietrus shouldn't be able to move his feet like this. He sticks to his guy at every position on the court. "He can't play defense, either," Ronzone says before a thunderous dunk by Pietrus rattles the empty gym. "No hops," Ronzone laughs.

Pietrus is the truth. Take his handle, athletic ability, outside shooting and ability to get to the hole, and you've got a sure fire lottery pick.

5:12 p.m. Boris Diaw is much tougher to get a handle on. He's long, has a great body, and it's clear he has great point-guard skills for someone who's 6-foot-9. He takes the occasional shot and swishes it, but it's still tough to get a read. The problem with Diaw is that he's smooth. He makes playing basketball look effortless. That's great after you've already made it. But if you're still fighting to get drafted, it causes it's share of problems. Teams have questioned Diaw's aggressiveness and effort all year. It appears to us he's trying. He just doesn't break a sweat doing it. It's easy to see why teams are in love with him.

Diaw's mother was a Hall of Fame basketball player in France. From an early age she taught her son how to play. She drilled him in the fundamentals of Euroleague basketball and scolded him whenever he got too selfish. His mother still gets on him if he shoots too much. It's a blessing and a curse. Diaw may be the best big playmaker in the draft after LeBron. He's an athletic point forward with fantastic court sense. But he's also his team's seventh-leading scorer. When's the last time a small forward averaging less than 10 points per game was a lottery pick?

Still, this appears to be Diaw's year. In 2001, the Jazz flirted with taking him in the first round. When they couldn't give him a promise (they opted for Raul Lopez instead), Diaw pulled his name out of the draft. In 2002, Diaw was in the draft again. The Nuggets and Spurs flirted with him but in the end opted for something else. This year, the feedback is much stronger. Diaw is a likely mid-first-rounder. That will be enough to keep him in the draft.

"I think I'm ready," Diaw said. "My game has improved. But if I don't hear that I'm in the first round, I'll pull it out again and wait until next year."

5:30 p.m. Ronzone has an interesting theory behind what it takes to make an NBA basketball player. According to Ronzone, there are three skills that scouts are looking for when evaluating talent.

First, a player must have good hands. His ability to dribble, pass, shoot the ball and catch the ball are the elements scouts focus on.
Second, he must have good feet. Athleticism, footwork, coordination, balance, and jumping ability are key attributes.
Third, players must have a good mind. Basketball IQ is important, Ronzone says, but the player's work ethic, practice habits, desire and ability to listen to his coach are also major factors.

Ronzone claims European players' hands are the big reason they're the rage right now. Teams are no longer yearning for raw athletes who run the floor like gazelles. They want skilled players who can bring the ball up the floor, play multiple positions and shoot when open.
However, it's the Europeans' feet that get them in trouble. While the talent over here is improving, very few Europeans have the athleticism, quickness or strength to play in the NBA right away. That aspect must be developed.

5:45 p.m. The team takes a break. As the players head to the bench to rest or to get a drink, Pietrus runs over to the sidelines, grabs a ball and heads to the free-throw line. He's the only one still on the court. "That's as impressive as anything else he's done today," Ronzone said. "He's showing that he likes to play the game and he's dedicated to improving it."

Give Pietrus an "A" for his mental skills.

6:45 p.m. After practice, Pietrus and I sit down. I pull out an interesting quote for him. "I can't take 1-for-8 shooting. I need to get back in the gym and get back to work. I won't take a vacation this Christmas. I just need to get back to work. It's a bad game for me for Christmas. Don't worry, I'll keep working hard. You'll see. I'll change. Next time you come I'll be more focused on basketball." He laughs. The quote is from when Ronzone and I saw him struggle in Zagreb in December. "Do you see I've been working on my shooting?" he says with a wide smile. "I told you."

I never thought he was a bad shooter, but the performance he put on in practice today was impressive. "I told you," he says again with a smile.
Pietrus recounts what he's been doing since December. His grandfather died earlier in the year and Pietrus chokes up a bit as he remembers returning to Guadalupe (his home) to attend the funeral. "I always wanted him to see me play in the NBA," he says in a quiet voice. "But now I play every game to remember him."

Pietrus claims his grandmother is less impressed. "She doesn't even know what the NBA is. She just keeps asking me when I'm getting a real job." It could be pretty soon. Several teams are in love with Pietrus right now. The Bulls are looking at him hard at No. 7, and the Grizzlies won't let him slip past No. 13. Or at least that's what the rumor mill is today. Pietrus is caught up in the moment. He admits to staying up at night dreaming about what jersey he'll wear in the NBA. He tries to stay focused, but it's hard when the draft is just six weeks away. His brother, Florent, walks in. And so does reality.

Florent heads to the U.S. next week to begin a series of workouts for the Clippers, Lakers, Cavs, Nuggets and Hawks. Unlike Mickael, who doesn't need to bother with workouts to land in the lottery, Florent is struggling to stay relevant. Pietrus is caught up in the moment. He admits to staying up at night dreaming about what jersey he'll wear in the NBA. He tries to stay focused but it's hard when the draft is just six weeks away. Like Mickael, he's a super athlete and, at 6-foot-7, he's an inch taller than his brother. However, he doesn't have the perimeter game that Mickael does, and he's projected as an undersized power forward in the NBA. Florent, an excellent rebounder and a huge leaper, has taken the news hard. He wants to follow his brother to the NBA, but his journey is much tougher.

He has to prove to NBA teams that his skills break the mold. He brings up Malik Rose of the Spurs when talking about his game. "I'm tough, I have great energy and I play my heart out. And I am taller than Rose. So why can't I at least get a shot?" Mickael smiles and defends his brother. They've been playing one-on-one almost daily. Florent is helping Mickael with his mid-range game (his biggest weakness) and Mickael is helping Florent with his shooting (Florent's Achilles' heel). The scene of them together is classic, but it's clear there is a strain on the relationship that wasn't there in December.

The thought of splitting up (they've been on the same team for three years) is hard for both brothers to fathom. Mickael is off to the NBA soon, and Florent, even if he is drafted, won't be on the same team.
The brothers claim it will be hard. "I'm a professional, so you do what you have to do," Florent said "But I'll miss him. No one knows my game better than he does." They walk out of the arena separately just minutes later. Ronzone shakes his head and smiles. "That's a tough act to break up."

7:30 p.m. We're starving and Ronzone suggests we catch a bite to eat in Pau. Being the good Americans we are, we come up with a better idea.

We saw a McDonald's sign on the road in. Always willing to snub the French, we decide to eat at McDonald's in France and let our dollars funnel back to the mothership in America. That'll show 'em. It's a stupid idea, but the burgers actually taste great. Both of us are getting a bit homesick.

10:50 p.m. Tomorrow, Ronzone and I are ready to head home. Exhausted, we drive the three hours back to our hotel, pack and say our goodbyes.
In the space of a little more than a week, we've seen six potential first-round picks this year -- Mickael Pietrus, Pavel Podkolzin, Anderson Varejao, Maciej Lampe, Boris Diaw and Victor Khryapa -- and two potential first-rounders of the future in Marko Markoshivili and Sergei Monya.

But more importantly, we've been able to get a little peek into the lives of many NBA hopefuls. More scouts will follow in our footsteps. As we speak, the Phoenix Suns are heading to Madrid to check out Lampe. Several other NBA teams are descending on Paris on Wednesday. And many top international prospects are waiting patiently for their seasons to end so they can head to the U.S. and begin individual workouts.

Last year's draft was dubbed the year of the international player. A record six international players were chosen in the first round. This year as many as 13 of the 29 first-round picks could be international players. In Europe, the talk of the international invasion is over. Players are no longer dreaming of simply getting to the NBA.

"We don't want to just play well and not embarrass ourselves any more," Mickael says later in the hall. "We want to dominate."

Who's going to stop them?

Coming Wednesday: Insider's new top 15 international players list.

signoftimes
05-13-2003, 02:44 PM
<< there are three skills that scouts are looking for when evaluating talent.

First, a player must have good hands. His ability to dribble, pass, shoot the ball and catch the ball are the elements scouts focus on.
Second, he must have good feet. Athleticism, footwork, coordination, balance, and jumping ability are key attributes.
Third, players must have a good mind. Basketball IQ is important, Ronzone says, but the player's work ethic, practice habits, desire and ability to listen to his coach are also major factors.
>>



How did Bradley ever make it past the scouts?

ariosto
05-13-2003, 03:46 PM
<<

<< there are three skills that scouts are looking for when evaluating talent.

First, a player must have good hands. His ability to dribble, pass, shoot the ball and catch the ball are the elements scouts focus on.
Second, he must have good feet. Athleticism, footwork, coordination, balance, and jumping ability are key attributes.
Third, players must have a good mind. Basketball IQ is important, Ronzone says, but the player's work ethic, practice habits, desire and ability to listen to his coach are also major factors.
>>



How did Bradley ever make it past the scouts? >>



7'6&quot; trumps all other concerns.

Evilmav2
05-13-2003, 04:21 PM
How did Bradley ever make it past the scouts?

signoftimes, you answered your own question in your earlier post...

http://starbulletin.com/1999/08/18/sports/artb.jpg
Shawn Bradley: there are three skills that scouts are looking for when evaluating talent.

First, a player must have good hands. His ability to dribble, pass, shoot the ball and catch the ball are the elements scouts focus on.
Second, he must have good feet. Athleticism, footwork, coordination, balance, and jumping ability are key attributes.
Third, players must have a good mind. Basketball IQ is important, Ronzone says, but the player's work ethic, practice habits, desire and ability to listen to his coach are also major factors

Fidel
05-13-2003, 10:21 PM
<< Tomorrow, they are publishing a NEW Top 15 for the non-American players...and I'll be sure to post that. >>


Looking forward to that.

And thanks for the one you posted today OP.

Drbio
05-13-2003, 10:42 PM
OP rules.

http://www.kingsfans.com/forums/avatar.php?userid=21&amp;dateline=1048991692

Avrillicker
05-16-2003, 04:46 PM
only an idiot would eat at McDonald's in France

OutletPass
05-19-2003, 11:56 AM
OP rules.

Thanks Doc...I enjoy posting these articles for everyone to read. And, because of popular demand, I'll keep doing so.

LRB
05-19-2003, 12:01 PM
<< only an idiot would eat at McDonald's in France >>



Who wants to go to France now anyways. Their women have more body hair than Vlade and Peja combined. i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif

Drbio
05-19-2003, 12:03 PM
<<

<< only an idiot would eat at McDonald's in France >>



Who wants to go to France now anyways. Their women have more body hair than Vlade and Peja combined. i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif >>



And that's just UNDER THEIR ARMS!!!!

Ugh.

LRB
05-19-2003, 12:04 PM
<<

<<

<< only an idiot would eat at McDonald's in France >>



Who wants to go to France now anyways. Their women have more body hair than Vlade and Peja combined. i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif >>



And that's just UNDER THEIR ARMS!!!!

Ugh. >>



LOL. i/expressions/face-icon-small-happy.gif

Avrillicker
05-19-2003, 04:08 PM
only a super idiot (or a queer) would despise french women

Drbio
05-19-2003, 04:41 PM
<< only a super idiot (or a queer) would despise french women >>



You always have such nice things to say.

LRB
05-19-2003, 05:39 PM
Question: How do you tell French men from French Women?

















Answer: French Women have more hair on their chests. i/expressions/face-icon-small-wink.gif

TheNightfly
05-19-2003, 05:48 PM
French girls are hot. Never met a hairy one.

Avrillicker
05-19-2003, 06:24 PM
those wankers never met a WOMAN,period.

Drbio
05-19-2003, 08:17 PM
Good one LRB.