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"If I'm Carmelo, I'm sweating right now"...

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The ultimate out-of-nowhere story

By Chad Ford

NBA Insider

Send an Email to Chad Ford Saturday, June 7

Updated: June 7

12:35 PM ET

CHICAGO -- The giant is out of the bag.

Sleeping Giant

Until last December, when Insider Chad Ford heard the tale of a mysterious big-man discovered in Siberia and stashed in Varese, Italy, to develop, few people in the NBA had even heard of Pavel Podkolzine.

But between Ford's story then and his visit to Italy for a first-hand look last month, Podkolzine went from anonymous to the top of the charts.

Dec. '02: Big men, tall tales

May '03: Meet goliath

Two hundred NBA scouts and GMs crammed into the Gold Coast Multiplex on Friday to watch 7-foot-4, 300 pound Siberian center Pavel Podkolzine.'s first workout. The obscure 18-year-old big man whom no one had heard of six months ago went from the ultimate sleeper to a top-10 lock in slightly more than 40 minutes.

"Holy sh--!" one NBA GM told Insider. "He's amazing."

"I don't believe what I just saw," another GM told Insider. "That's the most potent combination of size, strength and agility I've seen since Shaq."

"I was a skeptic when I read all the reports about him on Insider," another GM began. "I love the international kids, but I thought things were getting out of hand with Pavel. I'm converted now. That's one amazing prospect right there."

"What does Yao Ming do that he doesn't?" another GM said. "Yao's feel for the game at this point is much better, but from a physical standpoint, he's more explosive."


Podkolzine aced his first test in the NBA. He shot the ball extremely well, threw coach Billy Bayno around in the post like a rag doll and ran the floor like a guard.

Almost everyone in attendance quickly drew comparisons between Pavel and a young, agile Arvydas Sabonis.

"People in the NBA don't remember Sabonis when he was young," one international scout said. "They only remember the slow version. Pavel seems to have all of those same skills at the enormous size. If he develops a real feel for the game, you will see him dominate the NBA for 15 years."

For those of you still skeptical about the big fella's NBA potential consider this. Of the 20 or so team executives I talked to after the workout, none of them projected Podkolzine to last past No. 10.

" If I'm Carmelo Anthony, I'm sweating right now. Based on potential, he's right up there with LeBron and Darko. "

— An NBA GM, on Podkolzine

Some think he'll go much higher.

"He'll go anywhere from four to seven," one GM said.

"He won't get past six," said another.

One really went out on a limb. "If I'm Carmelo Anthony, I'm sweating right now. Based on potential, he's right up there with LeBron and Darko."

Indeed, after the workout, the Denver Nuggets were among the plethora of teams calling Pavel's agent, Justin Zanick, trying to schedule a private workout. Ironicaly, Carmelo met Podkolzine in the hotel lobby when Podkolzine checked in. Carmelo looked up (way up) and just said, "Damn!"

Zanick, a new NBA agent who used to work for super-agent Mark Bartelstien, also went from obscurity to one of the most powerful agents in this year's draft overnight. After the workout, he couldn't talk for two minutes without being interrupted by a team trying to arrange to see Podkolzine again.

Most won't get the chance. The buzz is so high on Podkolzine right now, Zanick is thinking of shutting down his workouts.

Podkolzine will take the NBA physical today, then begin a tour of lottery teams interested in him. Whether he actually works out during those visits remains to be seen.

He'll be in Memphis on Tuesday. Milwaukee the next day, New York on Thursday, Miami either Friday or next Saturday, and in L.A. to meet with the Clippers on June 15. The Nuggets, Raptors and Bulls also will get visits.

At 7-foot-4, Podkolzin has size and mobility, but he lacks game experience.

Of course, everyone is taking this workout with a grain of salt. It revealed nothing about court IQ, the ability to be physical with stronger, more athletic players, or game-time savvy. Podkolzine played a total of 120 minutes last year in Varese. That's three full games. In other words, everyone understands he's a project -- a guy a couple years away from having a big impact in the league. But with those type of physical skills, it appears teams are willing to take the risk.

With his buyout taken care of, and concerns about his ankle dispelled, Podkolzine has a great chance of being the second international player taken in the draft. With Darko Milicic, France's Mickael Pietrus (Bulls GM John Paxson just flew over to France to get a second look) and Poland's Maciej Lampe also generating a lot of buzz, it appears a record four international players will be selected in the lottery.

Podkolzine is surprised at all of the attention. "I can't believe how many people came to see me?" he said. "I thought, like, 10 people will be in this gym. I don't even play this year."

Pavel claims he got nervous when the stampede of NBA scouts flooded into the gym. It didn't show on the court. "I wanted to go and shake everyone's hand," he said. "But there is too many. Many, many people came. I just hope I was worth the time."

After the workout, Podkolzine's attention turnsed to food and shopping. He skipped his usual pizza for some more American-style fare. "I'm not Italian anymore," he says with a big grin. "Now I'm American."

After lunch, he was anxious to hit Niketown, hoping to find some Michael Jordan wear. It's impossible to find that stuff in Italy, and even the store manager isn't sure they make things big enough for a 7-foot-4 kid. After some serious searching, they finally find some gear big enough. Size? XXXXXL.

Everywhere he goes, people flock to him. He takes the time to stop and talk to each person. The smile didn't leave his face all day. Even off the court he seems shocked with all of the attention.

For all of his special qualities on the court, Pavel's best attributes may be off it. He's kind, warm and humble. He has no idea who he is or what he could become.

"He is a gift from God," adviser and former coach Gianni Chipparo said after the workout. "Pavel is a great kid. He works hard, and he just wants to get better. He has the chance to be very special on the court. Off the court? He's already arrived."

So, where will Podkolzine go?

Pavel Podkolzine isn't likely to bump LeBron James or Darko Milicic out of the top two spots in the draft, but after that it's almost a toss-up. Here's a breakdown of the teams considering drafting him:

3. Denver Nuggets: Carmelo who? GM Kiki Vandeweghe is intrigued. Would Denver swap the No. 3 pick with Toronto (who really wants 'Melo) for the No. 4 and a couple of future first-rounders?

4. Toronto Raptors: They need a big man in the worst way. Chris Kaman worked out for them earlier in the week, and it went well. But Kaman doesn't have the upside Podkolzine does. Can GM Glen Grunwald wait for the 18-year-old to develop?

5. Miami Heat: Pat Riley looked like he was in love Friday. With 'Zo moving on, they can use the help in the paint. But does Pat have the patience to wait on Pavel. History says no.

6. Los Angeles Clippers: Their scout, Fabricio Besnati, helped discover Pavel. He's been begging GM Elgin Baylor to draft him ever since. Now that Elgin has seen what the buzz is all about, will he pull the trigger? They have to replace Michael Olowokandi someday.

7. Chicago Bulls: If Jerry Krause was still around, he'd be burning up the phone lines to get this kid. However, it looks like GM John Paxson is looking for someone to help the Bulls right now.

8. Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks have scouted him well and will take him if he falls this far. However, no one in the organization believes he'll be on the board for them now.

9. New York Knicks: Podkolzine is no Frederic Weis. Team president Scott Layden said he was impressed, but like the Bucks, he's pretty sure Pavel will be gone. Can he move up and get him?

13. Memphis Grizzlies: Team representatives looked forlorn Friday. They were seriously considering him at No. 13, but now they know he'll be taken long before that. Could they sneak up to No. 4 by offering the Raptors Stromile Swift and the No. 13 pick?

23. Portland Trail Blazers: Despite picking so low, they have their eye on Podkolzine, too. Would the Raptors take Rasheed Wallace in exchange for Antonio Davis, Hakeem Olajuwon's expiring contract and the rights to Pavel?

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Updated: Saturday, June 7, 3:49 PM ET

Seniors used to being first-round snubs

By Andy Katz



CHICAGO -- The biggest news out of Chicago came Friday and took 30 minutes to unfold before the eyes of the NBA.

In a single display of strength, foot speed and unlimited potential, a 7-foot-4, 300-pound, 18-year-old Siberian named Pavel Podkolzine changed the 2003 NBA draft -- from possibly the third pick on down.

After Cleveland takes LeBron James and Detroit likely selects Darko Milicic, every team in the lottery will have to give considerable thought to picking Podkolzine. Denver officials, who own the No. 3 overall pick, said they will certainly bring Podkolzine into town the week of June 16 for a workout -- after the Nuggets' brass returns from a camp for foreign big men in Italy.

That means Carmelo Anthony could end up sliding. Not too far, mind you, but there is certainly now at least a possibility of Anthony not going No. 3.

And, during Friday night's late-games at the Chicago pre-draft camp, more NBA personnel were talking about Podkolzine than watching the final game being played in the Moody Bible Institute.

Boston College's Troy Bell, Arizona's Luke Walton, Brigham Young's Travis Hansen, Duke's Dahntay Jones, North Dakota's Jerome Beasley and Kentucky's Keith Bogans all made strong cases this week at the Chicago pre-draft camp to be selected in the first round.

Bell scored at will. Walton was clearly the best passing big man. Hansen was probably the hardest worker and wasn't afraid of the contact he'll find at the next level. Jones was one of the top athletes, and proved he could make shots. Beasley was efficient in the low post and has the size at 6-9 to be taken among the top 29 picks on June 26. Bogans simply seemed to make every shot he took in three games.

Marquette's Robert Jackson and UCLA's Jason Kapono might still be considered a tad behind, but were pushing the first-round threshold. Jackson led his team in scoring and was always around the ball. Kapono worked hard to get shots off and made a few NBA 3-pointers. Arguments could be made to take Mississippi State's Derrick Zimmerman because of his ability to play at two speeds (fast and faster). Miami's James Jones can't be overlooked due to his range as a shooting forward.

All these positives would have meant something more for seniors hoping to be drafted in the first round -- in the late '90s. But the reality in 2003 is while these seniors might have first-round talent, the majority are likely to end up somewhere in the second round.

"The longer you're in college, the more chances they have to critique you," Bell said. "It's always about the new guy and it doesn't matter if you're better than them or not."

That new guy Friday was Podkolzine. Make no mistake, even before wowing NBA coaches, general managers and others, Podkolzine was going to be a first-round pick. The chance to take a raw, unproven, young, international big man is always more tantalizing for NBA teams than 22-year-old seniors.

And this year, there simply aren't enough spots for seniors in the first round.

There are plenty of reasons why a senior won't hear David Stearn call his name, but politics seem to push them into the second round more than anything else. For every Shane Battier, there is a Steve Logan -- senior All-Americans who for some reason other than their skills are chosen in the second round, rather than the lottery or at least the first round.

Guarantees occur every year for underclassmen and international players, each of which push another worthy senior into the second round. Powerful agents aren't going to keep their clients in the draft if they don't get a guarantee that they will go in the first round. And teams are willing to play this backroom draft game by the agent's rules in the hope they'll receive favorable treatment when it comes to a free agent.

The seniors who will find a spot in the first round must overcome the off-court games they can't control with the talented they've shown on the court for four years at school -- and for some -- three days in Chicago and an endless string of workouts over the next 2½ weeks.

"There are 29 spots and if the players are deemed good enough by those teams then they'll be in one of those spots," said Jeff Weltman, Denver's director of player personnel. "There aren't 29 guys being sent overseas. If you're good enough to be picked then you'll be picked."

Yes, there will still be seniors selected in the first round -- likely as many as six, possibly seven, and maybe eight to 10 if some of the players from Chicago can crack the top 29. Kansas' Kirk Hinrich will probably be the first senior taken as high as No. 8. Louisville's Reece Gaines will probably go toward the the back end of the lottery. Kansas' Nick Collison could also be wearing a lottery team's hat on draft night.

Illinois' Brian Cook, Xavier's David West, Wake Forest's Josh Howard and UNLV's Marcus Banks are all being discussed as mid-to-late first-round picks.

Seniors, however, do get a bad rap, whether justified or not.

Last year's first-round lot didn't fare so well as NBA rookies. Seven were taken in the first round, only Tayshaun Prince was a major contributor, and that didn't occur until late in the season and during Detroit's playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals. None of the rest -- Juan Dixon (Washington), Ryan Humphrey (Orlando), John Salmons (Philadelphia), Dan Dickau (Atlanta), Freddie Jones (Indiana) and Melvin Ely (L.A. Clippers) -- were able to earn significant minutes.

"I don't see why seniors don't (get taken)," Hansen said. "We've got a great group of seniors here. Hopefully they all can take their game to another level like Tayshaun Prince did."

Being a first-round pick is the prize coveted by every player in the draft. The main perk is the guaranteed money that comes with it. But coming out of the second round isn't awful, either. Players like Bell, Walton, Hansen and Jones are using Gilbert Arenas and Carlos Boozer as successful second-round examples out of the past two drafts. Arenas is ready to cash in after two years of making second-round money.

"I try not to let it bother me (about the politics of the first round) and being a second rounder has positive points," Jones said. "I'll make the best out of it. You can still make good money in the second round."

The beauty of the Chicago camp is that players arrive with the hunger and passion to try and earn a spot in the first round. And the chemistry on some of the teams made it seem like they had played together for years. Walton, Hansen and Bell worked seamlessly on the court for three days.

"I was real comfortable out there, more than I thought," Walton said. "I thought there would be a lot of guards shooting a lot and being selfish. We're out there having fun."

Walton said that Bell, who averaged 18 points and 7.5 assists in three games, helped him play at his best throughout the week. He said he was vocal and was everything a point guard should be. "From the first day I knew he was a great teammate to have," Walton said.

Bell, in turn, said he wanted to come to Chicago to prove that he could play the point and wasn't about to duck the competition.

"Why not come?" Bell said. "I'd do it again."

But the question will remain: Is he good enough to be in the first round?

"I thought we were good enough to get into the NCAA Tournament," said Bell of Boston College's apparent snub last March. "I don't know. I'd like to think I am better than a lot of people. I just happened to be in this position (of trying to crack the first round). As long as I get my foot in the door, it's OK. I think I played well enough to get into the first round."

Bell and the rest of the seniors are lucky there is a second round. Sixteen seniors were taken in the second round last year and the NBA isn't about to turn its draft into a one-round affair. But not for the sake of seniors, but rather largely because of the benefits it brings from a European standpoint.

"The second round plays to the strength of the draft today," Weltman said. "You can draft a younger European player and bring him over later. I know having one round was bandied about in the collective bargaining agreement, but we've always taken advantage of the second round."

When Weltman was with the Clippers, the team selected Marko Jaric in the second round in 2000. Jaric spent the 2001-02 season in Italy before coming over to play in 2002-03. Now that Weltman is with the Nuggets, he's inherited their '99 second-round pick Francisco Elson out of California. Elson went back to his native Spain and Weltman said he's due to return next season to the Nuggets. Teams own a player's second-round rights for as long as they are playing somewhere on the globe. Knicks general manager Scott Layden said he's in favor of the second round, and why not? New York gets Milos Vujanic in another year (most likely 2004-05) after the 2002 second-round pick gets another season of seasoning at no cost to the Knicks in Yugoslavia.

"The second round is great for taking players who someone else took a pass on in the first round, or was afraid of them for some reason," said Weltman. Minnesota did exactly that with Loren Woods in 2001 after teams in the first round were afraid of his back injury. "The second round factors into the overall strategy of the draft. Second-round picks are very valuable."

The value of being selected in the second round to seniors, however, is nothing compared to the guarantee of the first round. But, it's from No. 30 to No. 58 where you'll find most of this season's college seniors, not to mention the stars of the Chicago pre-draft camp.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

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In a stunning development, Carmelo will not work out for the Pistons. Carmelo cancelled the workout himself. Quitter.:devious:

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All I've cared is if he went to the Pistons, since the Pistons will be taking Milicic, it doesn't matter where he falls to. Draft order doesn't guarantee success so we'll just see how we performs in the NBA.

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It'd be better for him...if that TRADE I read about comes true, and Denver and Toronto swap 3 and 4. Carmelo and Vince Carter, would be far better than him...and Rodney White.

For your sake - I hape he goes to Toronto.

It'd also be cool to have the top three players - the so called can't misses - all coming to the EASTERN CONFERENCE. It'd be good for the league, and to get a good balance.

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