Clippers take a look at Schortsanitis
L.A. drafted him in 2003 and now he finally has the chance to give the NBA a shot
Look and you will find it -- what is unsought will go undetected.
LAS VEGAS -- For the past seven years, he has been an exotic curiosity.
The big Greek tied down by his club team in Athens. The so-called "Baby Shaq" with a name straight from the shores of the Aegean.
At 6-foot-9, 345 pounds, Sofoklis Schortsanitis seemed entitled to a mythic name. And in keeping with the theme, someday destined to go on a grand journey.
In his case, the destination has always been clear: the NBA.
"God gave me some talent and this body, so I'm just trying to take advantage of it and be the best I can be," he said after a recent workout with the Los Angeles Clippers.
"I have always wanted to come to the NBA to see how far I could go. Most guys in Europe who have done well don't think they need to go somewhere else and try to do something different. They just stay in a comfortable situation.
"I don't think like that," he said. "I really want to try and see how far I can go. How far my body and my abilities will take me. That's why I'm here now."
The Clippers drafted Schortsanitis in the second round of the 2003 draft and have kept a close eye on him as he starred for the Greek club, Olympiakos, and the Greek national team.
Schortsanitis and his advisers kept in close contact with the Clippers over the years, waiting for the opportunity when he could come to America without having to pay a hefty fee to his club team.
This summer, the timing was finally right.
"I've wanted to come for a few years, but they didn't want me to go," he said of his teams. "But now that my contract was up, I just told them, 'I'm going to go. You can try to talk me out of it, but I want to go and try to play in the NBA.' "
It will not be a long tryout. Schortsanitis arrived in Los Angeles about 10 days before the team was due to begin summer league play in Las Vegas. He will return to Greece almost immediately afterward to prepare for the FIBA World Championships in Turkey next month.
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So far, the results of this grand, Greek experiment have been hard to judge because of the style of play in Las Vegas, which is far less structured than a typical NBA game.
"He can definitely function at this level," Clippers general manager Neil Olshey said. "But it's hard to see in summer league. He's a half-court, set-screens, play-in-space, use-his-physicality kind of guy, and that's not what this is about. This is more like a glorified pick-up game."
As such, playing time in Las Vegas has been hard to come by for Schortsanitis. He's averaging little more than 13 minutes a game in the Clippers' first three games.
Although the Clippers are intrigued by his potential, it's hard to consider him anything more than a long shot to make the team next season.
"It's been great to be around him because he's such a unique kid," Olshey said. "We've enjoyed having him here. You have to give him a lot of credit for coming over here, taking a shot at it and competing."
If you spend any length of time with him, it's no mystery why he decided to give the NBA a shot.
Despite his size and skill, basketball was never a manifest destiny for Schortsanitis. It has simply been a gift given, with an explanation unwritten.
He inherited his size from his mother, a Cameroonian national who came to Greece after falling in love with Schortsanitis' father while he was stationed in the African nation on business.
He says his maternal grandfather was "about 7-foot-2 or 7-3" but worked his whole life as a farmer.
"Basketball isn't very big in Cameroon," Schortsanitis said. "And in Greece everyone cares about soccer. So when I first played basketball when I was like 7 or 8, I didn't like it very much."
He didn't pick up a ball again until he was about 13, when a few friends in the small town of Kavala talked him into playing.
This time it sparked his interest. Within two years Schortsanitis had signed his first professional contract.
"I wasn't very big when I was younger, then suddenly I got big," he explained. "I grew about four or five inches in a month. I grew so fast that I couldn't walk for a few weeks and my mother was concerned. She took me to the doctor, who said I'd be OK.
"And I didn't have a problem because I didn't have to go to school for a little while."
His strength came naturally as well. He says he has lifted weights but never very heavy or for very long.
"No, I'd get too big if I lifted," he said. "If I get too big, I won't be able to lift my arms and shoot.
"All of my muscles just grew when I got my spurt. I gained like 10 kilos a year for a few years."
By the time he was in his late teens, he'd acquired a reputation ... and a nickname.
"People started calling me 'Baby Shaq' but then my friends told me that if he finds out and we ever play, he might destroy me, so I didn't like being called that," Schortsanitis joked.
"In Greece, they call me 'Big Sofo' now. I like that."
Whether that nickname sticks here in the United States is still unwritten. Perhaps this summer, perhaps some other time down the road.
Whatever happens, Schortsanitis is glad he gave it a shot.
After all, what is unsought will go undetected.
Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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