Olowokandi Is the Center of Attention

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Michael Olowokandi, a 7-foot-1 Nigerian who grew up in England and has been playing competitive basketball for only three years, was selected first in the NBA draft Wednesday night by the Clippers.

With trade rumors swirling around GM Place, the Clippers decided on Olowokandi instead of Arizona point guard Mike Bibby, the player they had been expected to take until having a change of heart over the last couple days.

Olowokandi, who averaged 22.2 points and 11.2 rebounds last season at Pacific, said he wouldn’t be surprised if he was headed elsewhere in a trade.

“I have my cap on right now, but it’s a little bit loose,” Olowokandi said. “Anything could happen. We’re going to have to wait and see.”


One trade was made during the first hour of the draft, and a few more were pending. One involved the Phoenix Suns, who were supposed to be represented at the draft by the parents of guard Steve Nash. But about an hour before the first pick was made, Nash’s parents said their son had been traded.

The selection of Olowokandi marked the second year a senior had been selected first overall. Underclassmen had been chosen first overall in the five previous drafts.

“Seeing my name in the No. 1 spot is unbelievable, especially when you consider where I came from three years ago -- not having played basketball -- and then to this, not the No. 3 pick but the No. 1 pick,” Olowokandi said. “That’s something that’ll take me a week or so, or a little bit longer, to get over.”

The Vancouver Grizzlies, the hosts of the draft, selected Bibby second to roars of approval from a crowd of about 8,000. Bibby, who left Arizona after his sophomore season, has drawn comparisons to Jason Kidd for his playmaking skills.


He had expected to be drafted first overall, and refused to hold a workout for any team other than the Clippers.

“It wasn’t my decision. I went off what David (agent David Falk) told me, so it wasn’t up to me,” said Bibby, whose father, Henry, played several years in the NBA and now coaches Southern Cal. “Me being No. 1 was just a lot of talk and rumor, so I didn’t expect anything.”

The addition of Bibby gave the Grizzlies four point guards on their roster.

“I am happy to be a No. 2 pick,” Bibby said. “It’s been a dream my whole life. I’m just glad it is all over.”


The Denver Nuggets, coming off a season in which they won only 11 games, picked Kansas forward Raef LaFrentz with the third pick.

It was the first surprise of the night, since Paul Pierce, considered by many to be the best all-around player in the draft, had been expected to be among the top three picks. He ended up dropping to the Boston Celtics at No. 10.

LaFrentz, a 6-foot-11 forward, was a first-team All-American after averaging 19.8 points and 11.1 rebounds for the Jayhawks. He was expected to be picked between sixth and eighth.

The Toronto Raptors, the subject of another trade rumor involving Marcus Camby, also passed on Pierce and selected college player of the year Antawn Jamison with the fourth pick.


The 6-foot-9 forward, who left North Carolina after his junior season, averaged 22.2 points and 10.5 rebounds and finished his career as the No. 7 scorer in Tar Heels history.

He was the third North Carolina player to win the John Wooden Award, joining Michael Jordan (1984) and Phil Ford (1978).

Jamison’s college teammate, Vince Carter, was picked fifth by the Golden State Warriors.

Carter, a 6-foot-7 swingman projected to play shooting guard in the pros, also left North Carolina after his junior season. An outstanding shooter who made 59 percent of his field goal attempts last season, Carter also shot 41 percent from 3-point range.


Carter was immediately traded from Golden State, along with cash, for Jamison.

Selecting sixth, the Dallas Mavericks chose Michigan forward Robert “Tractor” Traylor, who dropped 40 pounds after the season ended. He tipped the scales at about 320 pounds while averaging 16.2 points and 10.0 rebounds for the Wolverines.

The Sacramento Kings came up with the next big surprise of the night by choosing Florida guard Jason Williams with the seventh pick. Williams, once a high school teammate of much-maligned college football player Randy Moss, had troubles of his own in college and was kicked off the team by Florida coach Billy Donovan, reportedly after testing positive for marijuana.

At the time he was kicked off the team, Williams was leading the Southeastern Conference in steals, assists and free throw percentage. He transferred to the Gators after spending one season at Marshall.


The Philadelphia 76ers took 19-year-old Larry Hughes of Saint Louis with the eighth pick. The youngest player to be picked up to that point, Hughes averaged 20.9 points for the Billikens and was considered by many to be the player in the draft with the greatest potential.

The Milwaukee Bucks, who had traded their first-round pick the three previous seasons, took 20-year-old German forward Dirk Nowitzki with the ninth pick.

The agent for the 6-foot-11 Nowitzki, who is currently in the German army, told teams that his client may choose to play professionally in Europe for the next season or two. There were reports he would be traded, along with the 19th pick, to the Mavericks for Traylor.

Pierce was finally picked 10th by the Boston Celtics, who had to be ecstatic that such a talented player had dropped so far.


“It’s a little disappointing,” said Pierce, who left Kansas after a junior season in which he averaged 20.4 points. “That’s the way things go. I have to move on and use it for motivation. Boston is a great situation for me. They have great fans and players like Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer and Kenny Anderson. I feel like we can be a playoff team.”

Bonzi Wells of Ball State went to the Pistons with the 11th pick, giving Detroit a scorer and shooter to replace Jerry Stackhouse, who is expected to leave as a free agent. Wells averaged 25.4, 22.0 and 22.8 points over his final three seasons and broke Ron Harper’s Mid-American conference scoring record.

The Orlando Magic, who had been trying to move one of their three first-round picks, took Michael Doleac of Utah with the 12th pick to fill a gaping hole at center caused by last season’s trade of Rony Seikaly to New Jersey.

With the 13th pick, the Magic selected another center, Keon Clark of UNLV.


The Houston Rockets, who also had three first-round picks, took small forward Michael Dickerson of Arizona at No. 14 before Orlando made its third selection, forward Matt Harpring of Georgia Tech.

The Rockets also took shooting guard Bryce Drew of Valparaiso with the 16th pick.