|AP Photo BA820, BA808, BA804|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 12 October 2007 18:40|
Now with the Memphis Grizzlies, a revamped team also searching for an identity, Milicic said he feels supported for the first time in the NBA. The 7-foot Serbian has approached his new team with a fresh attitude. He wants to get comfortable - finally - and leave his rocky start behind.
``Any little thing used to frustrate me,'' Milicic said. ``I don't let things bother me anymore. I'm not an angry person. I just want to play. Everything that happened before, it's history.''
Milicic is best known as the 7-footer drafted by Detroit ahead of Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony in 2003. Mocked by fans and media as the waste of a No. 2 pick overall, he was compared to draft bust Sam Bowie - the man selected between Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan in 1984.
Milicic couldn't get off the bench on Pistons teams filled with veterans. He was traded to the Orlando Magic in February 2006, but was inconsistent as a reserve and again failed to play up to expectations. He's averaged just 5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 15.0 minutes per game for his career.
Just 22 years old, Milicic insists he's come a long way from the 18-year-old who arrived in the United States and had to adjust to a new lifestyle and the NBA at the same time. He's shown glimpses of what could be - the reason the Grizzlies are the third team to risk millions on potential.
``We think he can really break through,'' said Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, who replaced Jerry West in June. ``He's going to get an opportunity here maybe he hasn't gotten at other places, and I think that will allow him to shine.''
For his part, Milicic said this is the first time he has enjoyed playing basketball since entering the NBA.
Even so, he continues to struggle with his temper, which has been a problem since be began playing professionally in Yugoslavia as a 14-year-old to help support his family.
Upset with the referees after a loss last month to Greece at the European championships, he went on a profanity-filled tirade to Serbian reporters in which he said he would murder the referees and harm their families. The outburst resulted in a $13,770 fine.
He said his emotions got the best of him like they have in the past when he criticized coaches for not playing him more. He asks that people not rush to judgment. The vigor he uses to express his opinions, he said, is just his competitive spirit.
``People were saying this and that about me. Everyone was real upset at me,'' he said. ``That's just who I am. I am very passionate when I play. That won't change. I'm not going to change who I am. If people hate me, if people love me, that's fine. I don't worry about it.''
But Milicic doesn't dare make predictions for this season, not when he fell short of expectations twice already.
His three-year deal with the Grizzlies for a reported $21 million pairs him with another 7-foot European in All-Star forward Pau Gasol. The duo hope to become a force in the deep Western Conference.
Gasol expects Milicic to be another low-post bruiser for the Grizzlies, and said Milicic can be the player scouts predicted.
``He has to use all those past expectations as motivation,'' Gasol said. ``He has to want to be better. Personally, I think he can do a good job. We expect a lot of good things from him.''
New Memphis coach Marc Iavaroni thinks it's important for Milicic to get off to a positive start. He said when Milicic started off struggling in the past, things continued to go sour.
Iavaroni said Milicic has the tools to be successful in the NBA, and his attitude in Memphis thus far has been stellar. Iavaroni is trying to boost that, asking Milicic to be selfless and secure in himself.
``I talked to him not just about physical toughness, but mental toughness so you can deal with mistakes,'' Iavaroni said. ``I'm very happy with his effort. He wants to be a great player.''
The Grizzlies, who had the NBA's worst record at 22-60 last season, are under pressure to turn things around, but Milicic said he won't be affected by the expectations.
``I'm excited about being with a new team and having a new start,'' he said. ``I know what I can do, and I don't listen to what people say. I'm happy right now.''