Monday, July 4, 2005
Updated: April 15, 11:45 AM ET
By John Gustafson
Andrew Bogut looks tired. Maybe it's the 500 shots he hoisted in the morning, or the grueling legs-only workout he endured in the afternoon. Maybe he's just emotionally drained. But as he sits barefoot, folded into a leather chair in front of his agent's enormous flat-screen, a look of weariness washes over the seven-foot Australian.
It's the night of the NBA draft lottery, an event Bogut has never watched before. But tonight's drawing is different. The random bounce of these Ping-Pong balls will determine the big man's future. Dressed in sweats, Bogut wolfs down a burger as his agent, David Bauman, charts positions with each opened envelope. Bogut says he has no favorites. In fact, earlier in the afternoon, he faxed seven lottery teams a personal letter of good luck. A native of temperate Melbourne, Bogut is hoping for a warm climate. Considering the three teams with the highest probability of landing the top spot are Atlanta, Charlotte and New Orleans, he feels pretty good. Of course, the lottery almost never goes according to plan. With only the Hawks, Bucks and Trail Blazers remaining, it's time for a little positive reinforcement. As the program cuts to a drama-building commercial break, Bauman turns to Bogut and says, "We're golden."
The warm-city Hawks come up just short; the last envelope says Milwaukee Bucks. So how does he feel now? Bogut doesn't flinch: "Pretty much the same as I felt 10 minutes ago."
After David Stern signs off, reality sets in. Sure, the Bucks need a dominant big. But … "Is Milwaukee as cold as Utah?" Bogut asks. "Colder," Bauman says. "That's why I secured the deal with Nike. They make the warmest parkas." Before Bogut can register that statement, his cell buzzes with a text message from his girlfriend. Bogut's phone rings again. A friend in Milwaukee is calling with a weather report. Bogut breaks into a rueful smile as he says, "That's not funny, man."
THE RIPE adage among potential draftees is you need to impress only one team. But when you are gunning to be No. 1, there is only one team you want to impress, wind-chill be damned.
Bogut's résumé screams chalk. Wooden and Naismith winner. First-team All-America. A 20.4 ppg average and 26 double-doubles. Second in the nation in rebounding (12.2 rpg), eighth in field goal percentage (62%). Some say he is the best passing center since Bill Walton. And yet Andrew Bogut is still trying to shake the stereotype of the plodding Euro big man.
He has five weeks to make his case, to prove he is worthy of the top spot. The big-man bar was set high by last June's first two picks, Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor. Bogut knows how hard he works and how well he sells himself will determine if he's the first to grab a hat from Stern on June 28.
The son of Croatian immigrants, Bogut grew up in a vibrant expat community in Melbourne, where he picked up the language and developed a near obsession with Drazen Petrovic. Bogut was attracted to the single-mindedness his countryman brought to his life and admired that NBA players thought Petrovic crazy for working out on a stair-climber before games. "Andrew has an Australian passport," says Bauman. "But he has the Croatian mentality."
Bogut has been zeroing in on the No. 1 spot for as long as he's been playing ball. Five years ago, he was cut from his state's under-18 team. "That's the last time I'm last," he told his father. His parents hired a private coach, Sinisa Markovic—a Croatian, of course—who picked up Bogut after school to make him run with ankle weights and dribble with blinders on.
Bogut still trains twice a day, five to six times a week, to debunk what he calls "the myth of the great white stiff." To be fair, while he shoots with the touch of Vlade Divac and passes with the grace of Arvydas Sabonis, he's a superior athlete to both. "I'm not super-athletic," he admits. "But I'm not unathletic. I can run and jump with the best at my position. I'm not going to put my energy into dunking every time I get the ball. That's stupid."
Bogut is sure his skills and competitive nature will pop in workouts, but he also knows that these days, the No. 1 spot is a place for "character" picks more often than not. And he knows he's covered on that front. As soon as he left Utah, he established the Andrew Bogut 4 Foundation, which will aid kids in all the places he's stayed: Australia, Croatia, Utah and his future NBA city. He also pledged $125,000 to upgrade the Utes' locker rooms.
Before his late-June workout with the Bucks, he'll meet with their owner, U.S. senator Herb Kohl. And although they will undoubtedly discuss his game, the conversation will also get around to charitable opportunities in Milwaukee. To prepare for the meeting, Bogut has researched all the committees the senator sits on. "He's taking the process very seriously," says Bauman. "Like it's an interview for a Wall Street investment job. We expect the senator to show up in a suit and tie. Why should Andrew come in anything less appropriate?" Bauman is sure his client's thoughtful maturity will convince the Bucks that Bogut is their guy.
But Bogut can only do what he can do. The Bucks need a big man, but they also need to pick someone to help convince their star, Michael Redd, to re-sign. Redd says he wants to stay put, but he also wants the Bucks to get serious about building a winner. "With the way Bogut plays in the post, he's perfect for a player like Redd," says one scout. But will Redd agree?
And there will always be naysayers. No less than Bogut's first Utah coach, Rick Majerus, has knocked him. Majerus, a friend of Kohl's who is helping the Bucks work out players, thinks Marvin Williams is a better pick. Majerus has said Bogut has problems with his eyes. Current Utes coach Ray Giacoletti says he didn't even know Bogut wore contact lenses, and Bauman says that his client's eyes are fine—his vision is 20/15 with contacts, 20/40 without. Bogut blames the dustup on his strained relationship with Majerus, but should it sway the Bucks, so be it. He says he's spoken to the Hawks, and they're "dying to get me." In a bit of gamesmanship, he said during the predraft camp workouts in Chicago that he'd characterize the Bucks passing on him as "their loss." He knows he's done all he can to make the Bucks have to pick him.
But even the sure thing knows there's no such thing as a lock.