Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM
| October 31, 2006
When Seattle SuperSonics rookie center Mouhamed Sene
was asked Tuesday morning about making his NBA debut as a starter Wednesday when the Sonics host the Portland Trail Blazers for Opening Night (7:00 p.m., , FSN, KTTH 770)
, he revealed his growing familiarity with the English language.
"I'm not nervous," Sene told reporters after Tuesday's practice. "I'm good. I'm chill, man."
"I'm not nervous. I'm good. I'm chill, man."
After Robert Swift
was lost for the season with a torn right ACL last week, Sonics Coach Bob Hill
had an opening in the middle. He chose to fill it with Sene, marking the second straight year the Sonics will start a rookie at center on Opening Night. Last year, it was Johan Petro
- who was actually eight months younger at the time than Sene is now. Petro had eight points and five rebounds against the L.A. Clippers and did not hurt the team.
Hill is optimistic Sene can do the same.
"I asked the team this morning, 'What's your greatest fear about tomorrow's game?'" said Hill. "I made everybody tell me what it was. I didn't understand him at first, but his greatest fear is that he executes the plays. He'll be fine defensively, because that's what he does. It's up to me to run stuff that I'm sure he's familiar with. He'll be just fine."
"It was hard, but right now I start to know where I'm supposed to be on the court to play offense," said Sene. Defensively, not a problem. The NBA and Europe are not the same, but right now I think I can play in the NBA. I practice all the time."
Sene played only spot minutes in the Sonics first seven preseason games, though Hill was comfortable enough with his performance to indicate that Sene likely would play brief stints in the rotation most nights as he gets comfortable with the NBA. The injury to Swift opened the opportunity for more playing time, and Sene responded with six points on 3-for-7 shooting, six rebounds and three blocks as a starter in the team's final preseason game in Spokane against Golden State. That quickly, Sene earned a starting spot.
"This is such a wonderful, wonderful experience for Mouhamed," Hill said. "The more minutes I can get from him in the first quarter, the better we'll be."
While Sene is the starter, the center position will be filled by committee. Petro, who started 41 of the 68 games he played last season, is expected to play the most minutes at the position. Starting Sene allows Petro to avoid early foul trouble, which has plagued him in the past. Nick Collison will play in the middle when the Sonics go small, while Danny Fortson will earn minutes as his chronically sore left knee and relationship with the officials allow. Fortson will miss Opening Night because of an NBA suspension after having his flagrant foul in Wednesday's preseason game against Sacramento upgraded to a Flagrant 2.
"I never really place a lot of importance on the starting unit," said Sonics All-Star Ray Allen, who pointed out that in the Sonics 2004-05 Northwest Division Championship season starters Reggie Evans and Jerome James played limited minutes. "It's more about the five that finish the game."
Starting Sene means he will not be pressured to score. Hill plans to ask him only to convert at the basket when opponents leave him open, though Allen noted that last year Petro was an afterthought in the offense during the preseason only to become more aggressive during the regular season.
"We are not counting on him to score points for us and we are not going to run plays for him, like I told you when we drafted him," Hill said. "We expect him to use his fouls and be aggressive defensively and he's got to help us rebound the ball."
That much Sene is confident he can do.
"I think I can do it," he said. "We'll see."
The Sonics have lost their last two season openers, both to the Clippers, but the two games proved very different in terms of portending the rest of the season. Two years ago, the Clippers beat the Sonics by 30 points in Los Angeles. The Sonics went on to win their next nine games en route to winning the Northwest. A year ago, the Clippers came from behind to win in Seattle and the Sonics would lose four of their next five games in a disappointing campaign.
"To me, it's a game that's on our schedule," said Hill. "It's a division team, which takes on a little more importance. My focus is on where it should be."