Suns Sign Yugoslavian Center
By Steven Koek, Suns.com
Posted: Oct. 8, 2003
The Suns' center-by-committee position became more of an international committee Wednesday with the signing of Yugoslavian big man Dejan Koturovic (pronounced DAY-un Kah-tour-o-vich). The 31-year-old from Serbia & Montenegro became a free agent when his Italian club, Virtus Pallacanestro Bologna of the Euroleague, recently folded.
“I’m glad I signed for the Phoenix Suns, to finally be in the NBA," he told Suns.com. "I’m going to do my best to do my job very well. I know I need to make the people around me happy with me. And then they’ll make me happy. That’s how it is.”
The 7-foot, 260-pound center has played 13 seasons internationally, including stops in Yugoslavia, France, Turkey, Germany and Italy. With Virtus Pallacanestro Bologna, he averaged 10.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 2002-03.
“He’s more of a banger than he is a skill guy, and he's got experience at the five position,” said Suns President General Manager Bryan Colangelo. “We’re going to see what kind of shape he’s in, what kind of condition he’s in and we’re going to see how he stacks up with these other guys. Obviously, with Scott (Williams) being out for the next six weeks (after thumb surgery) and with (Jake) Voskuhl’s (Achilles) injury status uncertain right now, it has forced us to look at alternatives.”
The Suns' newest alternative posted averages of 12.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks on the Yugoslavian National Team that captured gold at the 2002 World Championships, during which he roomed with current Suns rookie Zarko Cabarkapa. "Zarko was an influence on Dejan coming here," said Radi Filipovich, the agent for both players. "When Zarko first came here, he loved it. He expressed that to Dejan to 'check it out.'”
In his latest online journal, Cabarkapa expressed his excitement over having a fellow Serbian on the Suns' roster. But he also told Suns.com on Wednesday that he's happy the team checked out Koturovic and that the little-known big man could be a big contributor this season.
“He’s a great fighter,” said Cabarkapa, “a great defender, a good rebounder and he runs the floor very well. He’s tough as a center. On the national team, he ended up as starting center for the world championships in Indianapolis, taking the gold medal. He had good success against American players.”
After two previous unsuccessful attempts at an NBA roster spot with the Lakers and Celtics, Koturovic is hoping that the "third time is the charm" and he will be able to produce at the highest level of basketball in the world.
“There is more quality in this league,” said Koturovic. “(The Suns) are a more serious organization. It’s a real place to want to be for coaches and players. In Europe, there is a lot of pressure. On some clubs, you have to play injured. (There’s) pressure to score. Sometimes clubs want more than they deserve or (players) can do. Here if you play well, everybody’s going to see it.”
With Wednesday’s release of free agents William Pippen and Trevor Huffman, the Suns' roster now stands at 18 players heading into their second preseason game in Denver Thursday night.
Long-time NBA Head Coach George Karl has been a guest of assistant coach Tim Grgurich at Suns training camp this week and likes what he has seen of the purple and orange gang. He admits it will be a tough battle in the rugged and improved Western Conference, but has been particularly impressed with the play of last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year, Amaré Stoudemire.
“(The Suns are) an exciting team,” the former head coach at Cleveland, Golden State, Seattle and Milwaukee said after watching Wednesday morning’s workout at the AWA practice court. “It’s a team moving in an upward direction. This Stoudemire kid, in the three or four days I’ve been out here, has been extremely impressive. I think that’s something that’s going to get better. How fast it gets better and where it goes, is exciting for everybody. For this city, for himself, and also for the coaches.”
Karl is content to take some time off after coaching in the professional ranks for more than 16 seasons. And while he will spend the next year golfing and spending time with family and friends in between doing some basketball commentary for ESPN, the 52-year-old says he would still like one more shot to draw the Xs and Os for an NBA team.
“Right now, I just like to be free and enjoy the year,” he said. “The game has a way of figuring it out and I’ve been blessed. I’ve had great opportunity. I don’t know if I’m a lifer, but I could be a lifer and definitely think I could go ‘round one more time.”