-- Tony Ronzone would like to know about your ancestry.
Detroit selected Darko Milicic at No. 2 in the NBA Draft 2003. The Pistons consider him to be a long-term investiment.|
The Pistons' director of international scouting doesn't mean to get personal and he's not indignant, but really, where are your grandparents, your great-grandparents or your great-great grandparents from?
Because when people complain about the amount of young international players entering the NBA he doesn't understand the commotion.
"It's not America against the rest of the world," Ronzone said. "Our country is a melting pot. Everyone in our country comes from some other origin. We have to understand that. Just as our ancestors came over here, these kids are coming over here.
"That's they way you have to look at it. If it makes our game better, we want the best players. It's that way in baseball, hockey, golf and tennis. And now it's here in the NBA. Let's accept it and let's make our game better. Let's help international players get better and let's help American players to become better. Let's keep the entertainment alive."
So, yes, on June 24 at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, just a few miles north of Ellis Island, the NBA will welcome with open arms your tall, your soon-to-be-not-so-poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free on an NBA court. The floodgates are open and they're here to stay, says Ronzone.
"It's going to continue to stay open," Ronzone said. "It's not stopping, it will not stop. The game is an international game and the fear factor [for international players] is gone. The internet is here. TV is here. The players will continue to come."
And the NBA is willing to have them. International stars such as Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, Sacramento's Peja Stojakovic and San Antonio's Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker dot NBA rosters. Others, like Detroit's Darko Milicic, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, wait their turn. Ronzone said the Pistons have had no second thoughts about last season's second overall pick.
"The way we felt, one, we can't teach height," Ronzone said about the 7-foot, 18-year-old rookie. "If we have the draft again and Darko's in the draft this year, he's in the top three, no question. He'd probably be No. 1.
"But we knew it was going to take time. He's playing on a team with Ben Wallace and now Rasheed Wallace, Mehmet Okur and Elden Campbell. That's four guys with veteran experience. It's going to take time, but people want instant gratification."
Ronzone said with Milicic playing only 34 games in his rookie season may have scared some prospects away, but those top prospects who do stay can expect to go in the first round and get some playing time. Here are Ronzone's top four international prospects for the 2004 NBA Draft.
1. Pavel Podkozline, 7-5, 260, Varese (Italy)
Podkolzine declared himself eligible for the 2003 NBA Draft, but pulled out because of a thyroid condition. He's healthy now, Ronzone said.
"He's definitely improved and his body's improved," Ronzone said. "I was just at the Reebok camp in Italy and he played really well. He stole some of the thunder from the kids there. A lot of the GMs there were very impressed. He looked great. He's 7-5. He's a presence. He's a guy you can't ignore. He's not a stiff, he can move, he has mobility."
2. Sergei Monia, 6-8, 220, CSKA Moscow
"I think he's one of the best two guards," Ronzone said. "I think he should go a lot higher in the draft. I love this kid. He plays for one of the top Russian teams. He plays hard. He has an NBA body. He has a great stroke. He puts the ball on the floor.
"He plays on a veteran team, so some nights he plays 25 minutes, other nights he plays 15. You can't take away his aggressiveness and his body and what he can do with the basketball. I think he's pretty special. I think he's going to have a great career in the NBA."
3. Andris Biedrins, 6-11, 240, BK Skonto Riga (Latvia)
Averaged an impressive 18.6 points per game in 11 Euroleague games this season for BK Skonto Riga. With numbers like that, Ronzone sees Beidrin sneaking into the lottery. "He may not be ready yet, but he's very talented."
4. Victor Khryapa, 6-6, 210, CSKA Moscow
"People aren't focusing on him, but I think he's going to be pretty good," Ronzone said. Khryapa started 42 games for CSKA Moscow, which lost to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague Final Four this season. The 22-year-old's game is compared to the Jazz's Andrei Kirilenko.