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05-28-2003, 05:13 PM
Darko discovers new world
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Wednesday, May 28
Updated: May 28
2:04 PM ET

Editor's Note: NBA Insider Chad Ford is in Detroit this week chronicling a day in the life of several draft prospects as they work out for the Pistons.

DETROIT -- Eight days ago, Darko Milicic was living in a tiny apartment in the little town of Vrsac, Yugoslavia, and playing for a coach who made Bobby Knight look like Phil Jackson.

He had nothing but several sets of AND-1 workout clothes, a few pair of shoes and a dream of one day playing in the NBA. Last Thursday, Milicic's world changed forever when the Pistons won the second pick in this year's draft.

Tuesday, Darko got his first glimpse of just how different his world is about to become. Darko and his agent, Semi Pajovic, arrived in Detroit in preparation for a workout Wednesday.

The Pistons rolled out the red carpet for the kid they'll select with the No. 2 pick in the draft ...

11:30 a.m., Detroit Metro Airport
A stretch limo pulls up outside the terminal. Pistons director of player personnel Scott Perry and director of international scouting Tony Ronzone are there to greet the 17-year-old, 7-footer. Darko has never traveled in a limo before.

He smiles as he walks out to the car. Darko already has upgraded his wardrobe since we saw him last. He's wearing brown Italian leather shoes, a khaki button-down shirt and jeans. It's a long way from the three-day old sweats he was tooling around New York in.

"What, are you following me now?" Darko asks as we greet each other. The trip to Detroit had been planned well in advance of Darko's visit. It's a coincidence that our paths have crossed again so soon.

On the trip to Auburn Hills, Perry, who coordinates the workouts for the Pistons, gives Darko his itinerary for the day. Darko has two questions. "When do I get to play basketball?" he asks. Darko's formal workout won't take place until Wednesday, and Perry tells him he has the day off. "But can I work out today?" Now it's the Pistons who are grinning.

12:25 p.m., Pistons practice facility
Darko gets the grand tour of the Pistons' practice facility, which sits across the parking lot from the Palace arena.

Within minutes of his arrival, the Pistons are already asking him what number he'd like. "Eleven," Darko responds.

That's not going to work. Isiah Thomas wore No. 11 for the Pistons. It's now hanging from a banner inside the arena.

"Thirteen," says Darko. It's the number he wore this season for Hemofarm in Yugoslavia. That won't work either. Rookie Mehmet Okur wears No. 13, and he won't give it up. Darko seems unfazed.

"Thirty-one?" he asks. That will work, but equipment manager Mike Abdenour has one reservation. "That was Mikki Moore's number."

No one's sure that's the legacy Darko wants to evoke on his arrival to Detroit. Darko shrugs and says he'd like to stick with 31 (13 backwards). "He doesn't remember Mikki," Pajovic says. Luckily, neither does anyone else.

12:45 p.m., Joe Dumars' office
Dumars is still grinning like a dog in a bone factory. He sits behind his desk and stares at Darko through much of lunch. He keeps shaking his head in amazement. Dumars looks tired. He was up until 3 a.m. the previous night, watching video of several obscure international prospects. The Pistons might have the No. 2 pick locked up, but they still have No. 25 and No. 58 to plan for.

Dumars begins quizzing Darko on some of the players Darko has faced. There's a purpose behind his question. Dumars has seen hours of Darko videotape and wants a good feel for the players the future Piston has matched up against. The most intriguing is Nenad Kristic, the Nets' first-round pick last season. Kristic is the poster child for everything that's wrong and right about international scouting.

Kristic was a relative unknown when he put his name in the draft last year. Because of team commitments, he was unable to come to the U.S. and actually work out, so most teams were stuck evaluating him based only on some game film. A large buyout for the upcoming season meant Kristic would spend at least one more year in Yugoslavia.

Those who had been to Belgrade to watch him were impressed, and the personal endorsement from Vlade Divac didn't hurt, either. But on draft night, the kid, a legit center, slipped all the way to the Nets at 24. Rod Thorn and Co. had done their homework and felt Kristic would have been a lottery pick if he waited one more year, so they struck while they had the chance.

It looks like the move will pay off big time. Kristic really blossomed this season. He got bigger, stronger and more assertive on the offensive end. He dominated several Euroleague games this year and many feel he's now the best center prospect in Europe. He'd be a lock for the top 10 if he was in this year's draft.

The Nets get a steal. Several other teams, desperate for big man help, are left holding the bag. Darko confirms Dumars' analysis -- Kristic is for real. "He's very tough inside, and he can shoot from the outside," Darko says. "He's very good."

The Pistons passed on Kristic to draft Tayshaun Prince. And while no one in Detroit is complaining after Prince's impressive play during the playoffs, I'm sure Dumars wishes he could have had both.

2:30 p.m., Mehmet Okur's house
Pistons vice president John Hammond thinks it would be a good idea for Darko to meet the team's other sharp-shooting, multi-talented 7-footer, Mehmet Okur.

Okur lives a short drive from the Palace, and Hammond believes seeing Okur's house will give Darko a peek into the lifestyle he'll be walking into now that he's about to join the NBA. Okur's house is guarded by a crazy Rottweiler that makes Cujo look like Scrappy Doo. After wrestling the dog (which seriously appears to be foaming at the mouth) into another room, Okur lets us in and gives a tour.

Okur's home has all the essentials for an NBA player -- leather furniture, a big-screen TV, a pool table and lots of NBA action photographs on the walls. The attack dog and a big Turkish flag hanging from the door appear to be the only deviations from the plan.

Darko is amazed by the size of the house. "This is just for you?" he asks Mehmet. "I don't like this big of a house for me," Okur answers, "but my dog needs space." As Mehmet speaks, the dog is staring at us (cross-eyed) from behind a pair of French doors. The drool is pooling underneath his chin. Seems he needs more than space.

I lean over to Hammond and ask him if the Pistons have measured Okur lately. Darko looks to be two inches taller when they stand next to each other. "We just measured him at a little over seven feet with shoes," Hammond replies.

I turn to Darko's agent, Pajovic, and ask the same question about his client. "We haven't measured him in a little while," he said. "Maybe he's grown." Alexasandar Pavlovic , another of Pajovic's clients, just arrived in the U.S. last week. He's listed at 6-foot-6, but he hadn't been measured in two years. When Pajovic measured him in New York over the weekend, Pavlovic stood at 6-foot-8. Not bad for a two-guard.
If Okur is 7-foot, Darko must be closer to 7-2. We'll find out for sure Wednesday, when he goes through his official workout.

3:30 p.m., House shopping
Hammond takes Darko to several other player homes in the area. Chauncey Billups' mansion is the most impressive. Darko's jaw is on the floor.
Hammond takes him on a tour of a 4,000 square foot "condo" close to Billups' place. Darko just looks stunned.

"I don't understand," he says to me. "Exactly how many people will be living with me?" This is just for you, Darko," I replied. He looks around and shakes his head. Three bedrooms, a bonus room, a living room, a finished basement with a media room. His whole apartment in Yugoslavia would fit into the bonus room.

It's not easy to figure out what's going through a 17-year-old's head in a situation like this. He's silent through most of the tour, but he finally speaks up at the end. "This is unbelievable," he says. "It doesn't feel real. I could live anywhere. I just want to play basketball you know. I don't know if I need all of this."

It's that type of humility that has the Pistons saying the same thing.
"He's an unbelievable kid," Ronzone says. "He's polite, humble and seems so mature. You keep forgetting he's 17."

5:30 p.m. Darko's hotel
Darko is still quizzing Hammond about when he can learn how to drive.
In Yugoslavia, teenagers aren't allowed to drive until they turn 18. The Pistons are about ready to turn the franchise over to a kid who can't legally get behind the wheel. Hammond quizzes Darko about what kind of car he wants. Escalade? Hummer? "Maybe Yugo," he says with a laugh. A few minutes later, Darko checks into his room, the Presidential Suite.

There's a conference table in the living room that looks like something pulled out of the West Wing. "Who is all of this for?" Darko asks.

You, Darko. "Oh ..." he says.

8:30 p.m., dinner, Birmingham, Mich.
Darko shows up at the restaurant decked out in Pistons gear he picked up earlier that afternoon. "Now, I like that," Dumars says with a smile.
George David, the Pistons' director of scouting, asks Darko what he's been up to the last three hours. "Working out," he says. Darko did 200 push-ups and 300 sit-ups in his hotel room. "I'm pretty sure that's the first time we've ever had a prospect do that during their free time," David says. "Most of them just take naps."

Over dinner, the conversation turns to Darko's life in Yugoslavia.
Dumars is an avid reader and studies global conflict with a passion. He quizzes Milicic and Pajovic on everything from the NATO war in Yugoslavia to the recent assassination of their president.
Pajovic does most of the talking. He grew up in Sarajevo and watched his homeland destroyed during the war.

"Times were so hard," he said. "We lost so much of what we loved then."
Pajovic then goes on to tell a story about Darko's mother. During the war, Darko's father, a policeman, was forced to join the army. The bombings in Novi Sad knocked out the water to Darko's home. Darko's mother was forced to dig a ditch to get water to their home. It took her months. "I don't know if I could've done that," Pajovic says.

"Yes you could've," Dumars responds. "People can do anything when they have to survive. He's a survivor." Darko just smiles and lowers his head a bit. He's said nothing during the story. He doesn't have to.

05-28-2003, 06:41 PM
Thanks for the article OP.

05-28-2003, 07:42 PM
Why do I have an eery feeling that this guy will be the best player in the leauge in a few years?

LeBron and Darko....maybe the East will rise again soon.


05-28-2003, 10:32 PM

Detroit Pistons prospect Darko Milicic talks with the media at the Pistons' practice facility Wednesday, May 28, 2003, in Auburn Hills, Mich. Milicic is listed as a 7-foot-1, 245-pound forward from Novi Sad, Serbia-Montenegro.