Seneís Reward Outweighs Risk For Sonics
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Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM | June 28, 2006
The Seattle SuperSonics made Senegalese center Mouhamed Sene their first-round pick, 10th overall, in the 2006 NBA Draft on Wednesday, but really the wheels were set in motion for the pick four months ago. In the two weeks leading up to the trade deadline, the Sonics dealt for guard Earl Watson and forward Chris Wilcox, filling the team's two biggest needs and - should they be able to re-sign Wilcox, a restricted free agent - largely completing the team's nine-man rotation for next season.

As a result, the Sonics felt no pressure to fill a need with their lottery pick, freeing them up to look at every position - even one, center, they had addressed in the first round the previous two seasons. Robert Swift, picked 12th in 2004, and Johan Petro, taken 25th a year ago, already showed great promise during the second half of the 2005-06 season. Now, the Sonics will add in yet another athletic young 7-footer.

"We don't see one of these guys coming down the pike the next two or three years, especially one that can touch the rim without jumping."
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty
"You have to factor in the risk versus the reward," said Sonics Director of Basketball Operations Dave Pendergraft. "With the fact that we have two young post players that we're thrilled to death with and they're showing progress every day, it wasn't a huge gamble on our part. The risk versus the reward was too great.

"I'm sure some people are going to have a hard time accepting the fact that now we've added another 20-year-old center to the two young ones we already have, but we like the progress that ours are making and we don't see one of these guys coming down the pike the next two or three years, especially one that can touch the rim without jumping."

The active Sonics discussed moving up, particularly after UConn forward Rudy Gay slipped to the eighth pick. They talked about moving down, getting offers from teams picking in the 17-25 range. But there was doubt that they could get Sene much lower. The Utah Jazz, picking 14th, were believed to covet Sene, who had worked out twice in Utah, once in front of an impressed Jazz legend Karl Malone. So the Sonics stayed put and picked a 20-year-old they are confident has a bright future.

"I understand the value of centers," said Sonics Coach Bob Hill, who has emphasized the development of Petro and Swift. "I understand they make a difference in the game. This guy can really block shots. In my mind, he blocks shots as well as these other guys do what they do best. We needed that."

Sene dramatically improved his stock in the Draft during the April Nike Hoop Summit in Memphis, which pits a team of top American high-school seniors against international players 19 or younger (Sene was 19 at the time, turning 20 in May). Playing against a team with, Pendergraft estimates, four or five future first-round picks (Seattle Prep grad and Washington-bound Spencer Hawes was on the roster), Sene dominated, finishing with 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting, six rebounds and nine blocks in 27 minutes. Sene's nine blocks tied Kevin Garnett's Hoop Summit record.

The Sonics were already familiar with Sene, whom Pendergraft scouted multiple times in Europe, and he was one of the team's first workouts last month. It was while working out at The Furtado Center that Sene caught Hill's eye.

"The first day he came in here, J.J. Redick and Randy Foye were here," Hill recalled. "I knew this kid was here, but I didn't know anything about him. I was sitting underneath the basket and he starts moving around and blocking shots and I get up and say, 'Who is this guy?' I didn't know anything about him; it was our first workout. He blocked everything. He disrupted the drill because we couldn't get the ball in the low post. I was blown away, to be honest with you."

Last week, the Sonics brought Sene back for a second workout, this one against three other big men who were drafted in the first round - UConn's Hilton Armstrong, Ukrainian Oleksiy Pecherov and N.C. State's Cedric Simmons. Sene's performance in that workout, including one play where he powerfully blocked an Armstrong dunk attempt, secured his spot in the minds of the Sonics front office.

"When we brought him in the second time," said Sund, "we pretty much made up our mind that he was the guy we were going to select and he was going to be on the roster."

Hill made it clear that Sene is going to be on the roster next season, despite some scuttle that he could remain in Europe, where he had been playing in Belgium.

"We have no plans of sending him to Europe," Hill said. "You can etch that in granite. We have every plan of getting him on the court as soon as possible and getting his development started."

There is certainly improvement that Sene needs to make, particularly at the offensive end of the court. The NBA is a significant step up from the competition Sene faced in Belgium, and he has been playing basketball for only four years. Sene's development over the last year has already amazed scouts.

"Is he a project on the offensive end? Yeah, without a doubt," said Pendergraft. "But he can catch, he can make free throws and defensively, we feel like he can be a dominant player in a year and a half. He's catching up. He can make half-hooks. If you put him in a game, would you have to hide him offensively? Without a doubt."

Still, Hill expects to use Sene as soon as next season, drawing the comparison to Petro a year ago, when he was not expected to be a factor for at least one or maybe two seasons. Instead, Petro ended up starting 41 games as a rookie.

"I'll throw him in there," said Hill. "I won't be afraid."

"By February, do I think we can put him in a game? I think we can," tempered Pendergraft. "A lot of it is going to depend on what we can do with him this summer. Can he join us in the Rocky Mountain Revue in Salt Lake, or does he have to go immediately to the Senegalese National Team and compete in Japan?"

Sene's agent told Seattle reporters that he would not play in this summer's World Championship, but the Sonics front office is anticipating he will have to miss their summer league because of his commitment to his National Team.

Regardless of when it is, the Sonics are excited to get Sene to Seattle and begin working on the next 7-foot Sonics success story.

"If you look at the development of Robert and Petro, it's a real credit to this staff," said Sund. "That was a big emphasis with Coach Hill - 'Hey, we've got this staff that does a great job with developing bigs.'"

Now they'll try to do it again.