Posted Jun 14 2011 10:00AM
TREVISO, Italy -- At this moment, sitting in the coffee shop in the hotel lobby -- just the two of us, without personal trainers or agents around -- there is no mystery man, no myths about his age. Bismack Biyombo shows maturity well beyond whatever years he may have, and definitely no misunderstandings.
Biyombo makes direct, if not challenging, eye contact and in clear English explains specifically what will happen. He will lead the NBA in rebounding. He will lead the NBA in blocks. It is more declaration than explanation, really, with peppered references to hard work softening arrogance into determination.
What he does not say, what he could not possibly know, is that Biyombo will need all of a few weeks to become a fan favorite wherever he goes in the Draft. Depending on the roster, he may be the fan favorite. His passion, in conversation and certainly on the court, is that commanding.
What he will not say is that he may get a general manager fired because Biyombo is that much of a risky pick. His defense is so good that it gets compared to Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace and his offense is so bad that it gets compared to ... Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace. Even that critique of Biyombo's offense might be giving it too much credit. At least Rodman could pass. That would be considered an advanced skill in this case.
And it's not just that Biyombo is incredibly, perhaps historically, one-dimensional. He is untested as well, at 18 years old (a topic of some debate) with a resume topped by a single breakout game, the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland in a meeting of the best U.S. players heading to college and the best international players of the same age group.
He's played less than a full 2010-11 season in Spain's ACB, regarded by many as the second-best league in the world. His pre-Draft workouts, while credible and even impressive on occasion, are scripted without real competition. They are simply Biyombo against himself in Spain or here as part of the adidas Eurocamp.
Opinions are understandably mixed. One general manager said Biyombo ranks somewhere between 15th and 25th in talent among the draftees. Another said Biyombo coming off the board in the first 10 picks -- which some consider a good possibility -- would be nothing more than a team buying into hype.
Other front-office veterans, some who have travelled the globe to watch him in games and the individual auditions, say the intrigue is warranted. They say he definitely deserves lottery status because he's the kind of defensive game-changer that rarely becomes available.
Either way, his background as a native of the Republic of Congo and his decision to come to the United States for individual workouts has turned a relatively unknown power forward into a Draft curiosity.
All of which brings us back to the coffee shop.
"There is a reason why people sometimes say things I can say probably are wrong, because no one took the time to look at me, no one took the time to know who is Bismack," he said. "The first question in Spain when I first stepped on the floor, it was, 'Who is this guy? From where is he coming from?' At the end of the day, I understand that. If I was one of the young guys they've been following for a long time, we would not be in this situation."
This situation. That's one way of looking at it.
Biyombo feels his meteoric rise has worked against him as much as made him one of the major Draft-night storylines. His small body of work, though, is what really has many wondering. If he had two seasons of anything close to what he's done in Spain, a lot of the skepticism would have ended. He seems to understand that as well.
The passion of Biyombo is viewing being drafted not just as the chance to start his NBA career, but as a statement from a front office that they believe in him. The way it comes off, he desperately wants the emotional tie.
"Sometimes," he said, "people are asking me, 'How did you just go up there? You go block five shots in one night. How? You go block seven seven shots. How?' I can just wake up one day and say, 'Today, I'm going to play the game and I'm going to put 10 blocks. I'm going to have to make a mistake on the floor, but I don't care which mistake I will make. But I will get there.'
"In the NBA, I'm sure that I can block a lot of shots, more than I do in the ACB. I can get a lot of rebounds than I do here in the ACB. Why? The reason is, in the NBA there is a lot of one-on-one. A lot of times I watch games, they're trying to force stuff. They're trying to go just one-on-one and get the basket. I can say for myself the best block shots are not with your man. It's when you're going to help someone."
So, do you believe you will lead the NBA in blocks?
Will you lead the NBA in blocks?
Can you lead the NBA in rebounding?
"Yes, I will."
You will lead the NBA in rebounding?
"Yes. Of course. Hundred percent.
"I don't care how tough people are over there. I don't care how strong they play over there. I know that I'm strong, too. I know that I'm tough, too. I never let people just beat me easy. They're going after me and I'm going to go after them.
"I have one guy that I watch in the NBA, the way he rebounds the ball, Kevin Love. He's very smart. He knows the place he needs to be to go after rebounds. Every time I watch his game, I don't watch how he scores the basket. I watch how he rebounds the ball. He's very smart. He's not jumping like me. He don't have a body like me. But he's smart. So a lot of times I try and learn something from him, and that helps me a lot. Someday, I'm just going to wake up like I'm going to 20 (rebounds) -- and I'm going to get 20. I'm going to do the same thing I was doing in the ACB and I'm just going to keep going and make some things happen."
The age issue, from differing reports about the validity of his earliest documents from the Republic of Congo, has basically faded. One general manager who has looked into the issue is asked how old Biyombo is and answers, "Your guess is as good as mine," but also stresses it is not a major concern. The difference between being 18 and, say, 25 or 27? That's a big deal because it indicates in stronger terms what Biyombo's ceiling is and it reduces the potential length of his career. But the difference between 18 and the 21 or 22 some suggest is minor by comparison.
"At some point, it becomes like a little fun to me," he said. "I watch a lot of players. I watch a lot of guys. So why they trust the other guys in the Draft and they don't trust me? That's my question."
We get up from the table in the coffee shop and Biyombo, with the largest wing span of any player measured here or at the Chicago pre-Draft combine, extends his right arm. He shakes hands and maintains eye contact in a way few with 10 years in the league do. He says he appreciates the chance to tell people about his story. There is no mystery man here.
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