Milicic still hopes to be part of 2003 class reunion

DETROIT (Reuters) - The NBA All-Star weekend has taken on the look of a class reunion in recent years with the top picks of the 2003 draft hogging centre stage.

Memphis Grizzlies center Darko Milicic (L) grabs a rebound in front of guard Mike Miller in the first half of their NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, Texas February 8, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Stone

Number one selection LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, his Olympic and world championship team mates, number three Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets, number four Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors and number five Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat were all in New Orleans for the latest spectacular.

They compared sparkling statistics and dazzling dunks and perhaps reminisced about what is generally rated as one of the greatest draft classes of all time.

But there was no sign of the number two pick that year -- Darko Milicic, considered the biggest ever bust in NBA drafts.

Chosen by Detroit, the seven-foot Serb was tabbed as the player of the future by the Pistons.

But while the others have been piling up valuable experience, MVP and All-Star honors, Milicic has spent much of his NBA career collecting dust.

He has yet to make an All-Star appearance and has already had stints with three different teams.

During two-and-a-half seasons in Detroit, Milicic spent most his time anchored to the bench.


He did, however, earn a championship ring in 2004 and a footnote in the record books by becoming the youngest player to appear in an NBA Finals game at the age of 18 years and 356 days.

The Pistons finally gave up on Milicic midway through the 2005-06 season, shipping him to Orlando.

The Magic were also unable to tap into the big Serb’s potential and at the end of last season allowed him to leave and sign as free agent with the Memphis Grizzlies.

“I have to get better, play better, do better,” Milicic told Reuters. “I’m trying and I’m going to keep trying.

“If I’m not playing the way that I’m supposed to play people have the right to say what they want. I just have to build my confidence. It’s all on me right now.

“They (Memphis) gave me a chance, they gave me everything, they gave me time to play, they tell me to just shoot the ball and play your game.

“Now it is all on me. Now I’m losing my confidence, I don’t know why. There is a lot of stuff going on in my head. All the stuff that happened to me before has left some scars.”


Some of the deepest wounds come from his time in Detroit and he is lustily booed by Pistons supporters with each appearance there a reminder of his failure to live up to expectations.

In his fifth NBA season Milicic is averaging just 5.3 points and 3.7 rebound heading into the All-Star break.

The 22-year-old, however, holds an impressive figure in another category, signing a three-year $21 million deal when he made the jump to Memphis.

The Grizzlies are betting that Milicic, given a chance and playing minutes, will develop into the front line player many had predicted.

With Memphis trading Spaniard Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers, Milicic has been given another opportunity to show what he can do but so far has failed to display the type of consistent effort to warrant bigger responsibility.

“It’s tough,” admitted Milicic. “I’m trying to have fun.

“I have a great coach, great team mates. The guys have really accepted me and let do my thing, play my game.

“I’m trying to have fun but when you’re not playing the way you’re supposed to play and you have big expectations and you’re not playing how you expect to play it’s not fun.”

Even with the Milicic’s failure to so far live up to his pre-draft expectations there are those convinced that the 2003 class remains a cut above the great 1984 or 1995 drafts.

The year of 1984 produced Hakeem Olajuwon (1st), Michael Jordan (3rd) and Charles Barkley (5th). The 1995 draft featured Jerry Stackhouse (3rd), Rasheed Wallace (4th) and Kevin Garnett (5th).

James, who helped sealed victory for the East on Sunday, said: “We definitely have enough guys in the 2003 draft that would be better than the 1984 group, or the 1995 group. We want to live up to it.”

Editing by Dave Thompson