Overseas draft wave more of ripple

Top foreign team players likely late 1st-round picks due to a variety of fears

June 28, 2005|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

It's likely that Yaroslav Korolev and Fran Vazquez, a pair of 6-foot-10 forwards from Europe, will have to sit for a while during the NBA draft tonight.

Having to wait until the middle of the first round doesn't seem like a tough life, but it's a far cry from the treatment the league was lavishing upon the best international players in the draft at the beginning of the decade. In 2002, three of the top 10 picks - Chinese center Yao Ming, Georgian Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Brazilian Maybyner Hilario - were players who had never performed regularly in the United States before being drafted by Houston, Denver and New York.

This year's projected number of seven first-rounders from overseas teams won't look much different than the event three years earlier. But instead of sending several players to the lottery, international first-rounders Roko Ukic, Johan Petro, Mile Ilic, Martynas Andriuskevicius and Ersan Ilyasova will probably go in the late part of the round.

But Ryan Blake, the NBA's assistant director of scouting, advised draft watchers not to read too much into where the players are picked so much as external factors that come into play. Possible buyouts from international teams are an obstacle. So is a lack of experience with some players.

"It's a case-by-case basis," he said of possible reasons that make players less enticing. "With Martynas, he hadn't been able to get major time, and you're not sure if he's going to come to play."

In the case of Vazquez, his buyout from his Unicaja Malaga team will be low only if his draft position ends up being low as well. It's possible that the buyout could be too large for a lottery team to pay, as the NBA does not allow teams to pay buyouts larger than $350,000.

"You have some of those issues that go into this," Blake said.

In general, worldwide scouting has matured from the days in the mid-1980s when the Atlanta Hawks and Portland Trail Blazers were the only real takers for international players.

With the success of players like Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja in the early 1990s, front offices felt more emboldened. That led to a first round in 1996 that included five international players, including regular starters like Sacramento's Peja Stojakovic and Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

When Dirk Nowitzki, the first top 10 pick to come from the international ranks in 1998, became a star in Dallas, it became a relative overindulgence at the beginning of this decade. Until recently, some teams have found themselves drafting players who hadn't played much.

But the chances of that happening have lessened with the NBA and most teams having someone overseas.

"Most teams have European guys who have a job to know," said Utah player personnel head Walt Perrin. "We do a better job in seeing the players."

Chris Monter, a draft observer, acknowledges that the slow starts of Tskitishvili and Detroit's Darko Milicic give pause and might be a factor in the low draft position.

But he also doesn't see any reason internationals should be punished any more than any pool of talent.

"There's more of a fear factor," said Monter, who runs Monter Draft News, a publication out of suburban Minnesota. "If a player is good enough, even four-year [college] guys bomb out."

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