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"He's going to own the game"...

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Darko receives ringing endorsement

By Chad Ford

NBA Insider

Send an Email to Chad Ford Thursday, May 29

Updated: May 29

5:30 PM ET

Editor's Note: NBA Insider Chad Ford is in Detroit this week chronicling the process of pre-draft visits as several prospects work out for the Pistons.

DETROIT -- Meet Will Robinson.

Robinson is the assistant to the president of basketball operations for the Pistons. He is the NBA's oldest scout, at the ripe age of 92. He has been inducted into 24 Halls of Fame. He has coached the likes of Doug Collins and Spencer Haywood. He was the first African-American head coach in the history of NCAA Division I basketball.

And if you listen to him, he invented such things as the full-court press and the fast break.

It's tough to find anyone who's been around long enough to dispute that.

You've heard of six degrees of separation? Robinson plays about three. Rumor here in Detroit has it that he cut the hole in James Naismith's peach basket.

He comes to work every day, watches game film and never misses a workout. Robinson has sat through the Pistons' draft workouts for the past 28 years, witnessing the auditions of Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman and Grant Hill.

Dumars, now the Pistons president, smiles when he sees Robinson walk onto the court Wednesday in preparation for Darko Milicic's individual workout. Call him a comfort blanket.

"Let me tell you something about Will Robinson," Dumars says. "He's seen it all. You can't fool Will Robinson. Nothing gets by him."

Robinson's a little early today for a reason. He's a late-comer on the international bandwagon. He has listened to the talk radio hosts and local writers imploring the Pistons to take Carmelo Anthony over Milicic with the No. 2 pick in next month's draft. Like the rest of them, he has yet to see the young Yugoslavian in person.

"In the past, when we brought in the guys from overseas, Will would sit there, shake his head and say 'Send him back ... he needs to spend more time in the oven,' " Dumars says with a laugh.

Darko Milicic has impressed the Detroit Pistons both on and off the basketball court.

Robinson takes his seat courtside, crosses his legs and stares Darko down as he begins warming up. For the next 45 minutes, his eyes never leave the 7-footer.

From agility exercises (Darko ranks in the top 15 percent) to tests that gauge lateral quickness (Darko ranks in the top 2 percent), vertical jump (a little above average) and upper and lower body strength (OK on the first, above average on the second), Robinson is watching Milicic's every movement.

It isn't until Milicic picks up a basketball and starts effortlessly draining NBA-range 3-pointers (remember, his coach in Yugoslavia wouldn't let him take European 3s, let alone from the NBA distance) that Robinson begins speaking up. He doesn't stop talking until well after the workout.

"We hit the jackpot," Robinson says with a smile. "Jackpot!"

Milicic moves into the post and begins hitting jump hooks, first with his left hand. Then with his right. Robinson can't tell whether Milicic is left- or right-handed. That's a good thing.

"How'd that boy learn to shoot with both hands?" he asks.

“ He's going to own the game. Own the game. We're going to have to build a new arena. The only thing that could destroy a kid like that is a woman. ”

— Will Robinson, on Darko Milicic

Interesting story. Milicic was born left-handed, but his parents and teachers encouraged him to do everything with his right hand. He shoots 3s with his left, signs autographs with his right and handles the ball equally with both.

"That's just unfair. Very few players can do that."

At one point, a clearly exhausted Milicic bends over and, for a moment, looks like he can't go on. He sips a glass of water, slaps his hands together and gets back on the court.

"Did you see the way he just gutted that out?" Robinson says. "That's the type of kid you want to coach. If I was coaching him, we'd go to the moon."

Soon Darko is running the floor, handling the ball on the break and finishing with thundering dunks.

"He's going to own the game. Own the game," Robinsons exclaims. "We're going to have to build a new arena. The only thing that could destroy a kid like that is a woman."

Another big dunk, and Robinson gets up from his chair and begins walking toward Dumars.

"I've seen all I need," he says.

"Take him," he screams at Dumars.

The Pistons aren't through with Milicic yet. After lunch with Dumars and Co., Milicic is back at the workout facility receiving his homework assignments from strength and training coach Arnie Kander.

Kander isn't taking the usual approach to tall, skinny Europeans. Over the few hours since Darko's audition, Kander has been devising a workout plan for the kid that will get him up to speed for minicamp.

Milicic and his agent, Semi Pajovic, have asked for the help. Until now, Milicic has been living on a steady diet of 200 push-ups and 300 sit-ups per day.

Kander's plan calls for no weight lifting, fewer push-ups and zero protein supplements. Kander is blown away by what he calls "Darko's tremendous gift of speed."

"He's got a naturally strong body," Kander says. "I don't want him to bulk up. If he does that, he'll lose that quickness he's been blessed with. I just want him to get a little stronger, work on his base and improve his flexibility. I love his body for a 17-year-old. I just want to let it grow."

Kander prescribes a number of exercises meant to give Milicic upper body strength, better balance and more explosiveness in his jumping ability.

“ That kid's going to be a star. He's a 7-footer that plays like a point guard. That kid's something special. ”

— Will Robinson

He also gives him a tip or two about rebounding by pulling a page out of Ben Wallace's book. The key to Wallace's rebounding prowess, according to Kander, is the way he always keeps his arms bent. It allows him to free himself from defenders and get to the ball quicker. Kander shows Milicic exercises that will get him in the right position to rebound. Nothing like learning from the best.

"He has all of the physical tools to exceed," says Kander, who has been testing draft prospects for the Pistons the last 10 years. "My job is to teach him how to use them."

Kander lectures Milicic on everything from posture to shooting form to push-up positions. Darko eats it up. He had nothing even remotely close to this in Yugoslavia. Kander promises that if Milicic faithfully follows the regime four times a week, he'll be in NBA shape by the start of summer league.

After the workout, Milicic measures out bigger than expected: 7-foot-1, 253 pounds.

Robinson has found religion.

"I've seen a lot of kids come through here in my day," Robinson says. "And none of them have ever played like that. That kid's going to be a star. He's a 7-footer that plays like a point guard. That kid's something special."

From the looks on the faces of the rest of the Piston brass and assistant coaches, they're on the same page.

"Welcome to the Pistons, young fella," Robinson tells Darko after the workout. "Ain't youth a wonderful thing?"

Yes it is. Like just about anything else Robinson says, it's awfully hard to argue with 92 years of experience.

In a league that can be swayed by the whims of trends and fleeting success stories, it's nice to have an anchor that keeps the ship from straying too far beyond shore.

Will Robinson is sold on Darko Milicic. The question, for the unbelievers still out there, is why aren't you?

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Wow, of course I say wow after almost every article I read about Darko. I don't think it's hype either, it's coming from too many sources. The Pistons are going to have a group of big men that will make them contenders throughout the entire league, not just the east.

Thanks for posting this cruzer.

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This is what they're missing to compete with the west teams. A big man that can go up against a Shaq or a Duncan. Another rebounder to help out Wallace. A young player to take over for an old and worn out Cliffy. A guy who creates a mismatch that teams without a legit or quality center have to account for, thereby allowing for more opportunities for our guards, or he'll make then pay for it. The guys who have dealt with hype effectively have had solid backgrounds and humility. Shaq had his stepfather who raised him like he was in the military, Duncan is a humble guy, Kobe came from a middle class family with good values and was a very intelligent kid, David Robinson was a class act coming out of Navy. Lebron is coming from a family that is more concerned about making a buck off of him and making sure everyone knows he's the best and keeping him in the public eye that he better hope that his talent is enough to keep at bay all the obvious warning signs for a bust. I feel much safer picking Darko or even Anthony. Lebron is a huge maybe and at the very least I think there are gonna be some growing pain years like AI and Kemp had.

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What if this happens..... (long shot, but what if?)

What if on draft day Cleveland has been watching and reading about this kid and decides...we can't pass him up and makes a shocking draft day choice of Darko. Who do you take then?

Lebron puts butts in the seats and sells tons of Pistons jerseys. Carmelo gives you a much more prepared and maybe even a better player. Which would you take then?

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Cleveland's owner, G-M & new head coach would be crucified if they passed on Lebron James. Having said that, I think you take Lebron over Carmelo.

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