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Welcome to the NBA Blog Squad, a varied collection of insiders, media members and fans from around the world who will share their thoughts about the NBA, WNBA, and whatever else comes to mind on an ongoing basis in online journals - or "blogs" - right here on NBA.com.

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  • Simone Sandri
    Co-Host of Basketball International
    With Andre Aldridge, Simone is co-host of Basketball International, a weekly show airing live on NBA TV at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesdays. Simone has been working since 1997 as the United States correspondent for Sky Italia, Italy's sports television network. He also writes a daily NBA column on Gazzetta.it, the online version of Italian sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport. Simone can also be heard weekly on Italian news radio -- Radio 24. Simone graduated with a degree in communications from Seton Hall University (1990-94), where he attended on a soccer scholarship. Simone, born and raised in Novara, Italy, now lives in Manhattan.

    International insight into the Draft
    The questions were on the minds of international basketball fans for the past few months:

    -- Where will Andris Biedrins be selected?
    -- What team will call on Pavel Podkolzine to turn their franchise around?
    -- What about Monia, Khryapa, Ramos and a large group of college stars who hail from parts all over the world?

    Last week, the waiting ended and the NBA's decision makers spoke loudly. Here are my thoughts on their thoughts.

    This may sound surprising but I think the player best suited for his team just may be Rafael Araujo, the Brazilian center who went to BYU and was chosen with the eighth selection by the Raptors. He will get immediate playing time and although most of the fans at the draft were shocked, I wouldn't be shocked if he makes an immediate impact in Toronto. He is battle tested having played four years of college basketball (two at Arizona Western and two at BYU), has competed for the Brazilian National Team, and will no doubt get every chance to earn plenty of playing time with a Raptors team in need of a dominant big man.

    Luol Deng from Sudan, is another college player who should have a prime opportunity to shine early and often with the Chicago Bulls. He loves the game and his basketball travels have taken him to Egypt, London and then onto New Jersey, all in the name of improving his skills. He's a bright kid, who was taught the game by Manute Bol who is a member of the Dinka tribe, just as Deng is.

    Eighteen-year-old Andris Biedrins was chosen by the Warriors. I thought he was going to go to the Sixers at No. 9, but Golden State was more than happy to grab him at No. 11. I sat down and conducted a 20-minute interview with Andris at the NBA All-Star game back in February in Los Angeles. After talking with him I know this: Warriors fans will love this guy. He is mature, engaging, funny and is ecstatic about staying in California, the state where he presently resides. If you don't believe that, rewind the tape from the draft. The tears don't lie!

    There's no doubt that the biggest question mark coming into the draft was where exactly was Pavel Podkolzine going to land. I heard anything from top five to somewhere in the 20s. It seemed like everyone had a differing opinion on the 7-5 Siberian center. David Stern ended the speculation when he announced "Pavel Podkolzine" as the 21st pick in the draft.

    Utah made the selection, but sent him packing to the Dallas Mavericks who have yearned for an inside presence for years. I can't believe he went so low. He possesses such a unique group of skills. I thought for sure someone would take the gamble on him earlier. After all were the eight high schoolers chosen before him that much more of a sure thing. I don't think so, but then again I am a journalist and not a GM. The good news for Pavel is that like Araujo he went to the perfect team. In Dallas he'll be tutored by one of his bigger fans Donn Nelson, an international basketball guru.

    Although the draft can provide unparalleled thrills for youngsters of all backgrounds, it can also be a rude awakening for those who slip a little. This was the case for Sergei Monia and Viktor Khryapa, teammates with CSKA Moscow. Both are property of Portland (Monia was selected at No. 23, while Khryapa was taken at No. 22 by New Jersey and then dealt to the Blazers). It is not certain that either or both will play in the NBA next season. The reason is that the Euroleague's Final Four will take place in Russia, and Moscow is eager to become the third consecutive host to capture the title. If I had to chose I think that Khryapa is the more likely candidate to play in Portland.

    Two more players to discuss:

    I met Sasha Vujacic the Slovenian star and his father for the first time at the draft (we did speak though when he was a great guest on Basketball International). What a great player and a great guy! I wish him lots of luck in LA; and I think Lakers fans will fall in love with this do-everything 6-7 guard.

    And San Antonio liked what they saw from Beno Udrih in Chicago at the pre-draft camp and picked him to be Tony Parker back up next year. Great choice, the former Breil Milano player has experience, leadership and talent to be a solid contributor with the Spurs.
    Posted by Simone Sandri - Jul 1 2004 1:06PM

    Plenty of international talent in this Draft
    Only a few things are certain in this year draft. It will be held in New York and it will be, as always, extremely interesting. After that it's anybody's guess which player really slipped in workouts and which players improved their stock in the past few weeks. Predictions are certainly not easy especially when talking about the international group. There was supposed to be a huge contingent of international talent, but at the last minute many intriguing prospects dropped out. It was no surprise that Martinas Andriuskevicius, Kosta Perovic annd Tiago Splitter decided to put their NBA dreams on hold, but I was more surprised when Peja Samardziski, Damir Omerhodzic and Roko-Leni Ukic pulled out.

    Still there is plenty of foreign talent left; and it's each teams top decision makers who must determine which players are ready for the NBA and which ones need a bit more seasoning. In my opinion the player most ready to impact the league is 7 foot 5 inch Siberian star Pavel Podkolzine. He's just 19 and didn't get too much playing time with Varese in Italy, but if you talk about that famous sports phrase "upside potential", well that is Pavel. I have never seen such mobility, agility and coordination in such a big man. He can and should be a dominant force in the paint, and as far as a sweet stroke, well he's got that too. He does need some work with his post moves, and defense, but in the right system he could become something very special in a few short years. Where do I think he will go? Toronto at 8... Phoenix at 7... Washington at 6... certainly he won't pass Seattle at 12. And if I were an NBA GM (that would be pretty cool, by the way?) I would snag the big man at 5 or 6. I feel strongly that the gamble would reward me down the line (and maybe I would be voted GM of the year as well).

    Latvian teenager Andris Biedrins is an interesting prospect too. At 6-11 he's a good defender (although he thinks he can block anything and everything), has great hands and a nice offensive package. He put up good numbers for Skonto Riga (Latvia), but he certainly didn't face great competition. On draft day he could even pass Podkolzine but I see him getting drafted more in the 10 to 14 range.

    Sergei Monia is another top talent. He's a versatile guard who started and starred for Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow. Monia is in my opinion the most NBA ready player of the entire international crop. He plays great defense and is pretty polished on the offensive side too. Some experts pencil him in at 14 for Utah, (the Russian connection with Kirilenko) but I think he could go even higher. Monia's teammate in Moskow, Viktor Khryapa (a Kirilenko type player with long arms and great versatility) should go in the first round too, probably a bit later. I also like Sasha Vujacic, an athletic 6-7 combo guard who had a solid season with Snaidero Udine (Italy)...he possesses great passing ability and is capable of making the big shots...He could go as high as 17...There's also 7 foot 3 inch Peter Ramos of Puerto Rico... Brazilian forward Anderson Varejao and his teammate at Barcelona Christian Drejer.

    All these players have received publicity, but one player who hasn't gotten as much "shine" is Slovenian guard Beno Udrih. I saw him playing in Italy for Breil Milano a couple of times in March and he improved so much recently, that I was convinced I was watching his twin brother when I saw a week ago at the pre draft camp in Chicago. I wouldn't be surprised to hear his name being called at the end of the first round.
    Posted by Simone Sandri - Jun 22 2004 11:25AM

    Dumars does it right
    Don't dis Darko, the Pistons do their homework
    I know a lot of people right now are saying: "Imagine if the Pistons would have chosen Carmelo Anthony (with the second overall selection)?". Well don't put me in that group. No disrespect to Carmelo of course, but in my opinion the Pistons did a fantastic job on draft day last year.

    First of all, basketball is not math. You can't just assume that adding a 21 points per game scorer would automatically put a team over the top. Who's to say that team chemistry wouldn't be affected in a negative way? What about team defense? Don't forget rotation; somebody must sit down in order to give minutes to a new player. But even if after taking all of this into consideration and you are still not convinced, the bottom line remains that the Pistons are playing for the NBA title with Darko Milicic on their roster.

    Detroit not only is representing the East in this years Finals, but with the combination of their savvy offseason, and regular season moves, this team is stacked and should be contending for the trophy for years to come. With long-term success in mind, the choosing of Darko Milicic makes so much sense.

    Not many people had the chance to see this teenager play last season, but those who did are convinced that Darko is the real deal. I have no doubt that this 18 year old, (let me stress again his age ...18) in two or three years will become one of the most dominant centers in the East. He didn't see the court too often this year, but knowing his potential, it is difficult for me not to envision him playing in an All-Star game in the near future.

    Darko Milicic was a great pick, but Joe Dumars, my executive of the year, also may have struck gold by selecting a standout guard of the future, Carlos Delfino. If Delfino, a versatile Argentinean who plays for Skipper Bologna was in this year's draft, he would be a lottery pick, no question about.

    The bottom line is that the Pistons do their homework. This is why they are in a position to capture the league's ultimate prize this year, while still keeping an eye on the future. Yes they raised a few eyebrows by passing on Carmelo Anthony, but with the brains and blessings of Dumars and international scouting guru Tony Ronzone, there's no doubt in my mind that Darko and Delfino will shine in Detroit for years to come.
    Posted by Simone Sandri - Jun 4 2004 5:07PM

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