Mike Wise, Sports Columnist

Bogut: Australian For Big Man

By Mike Wise
Friday, June 3, 2005

For the past six weeks, most of Andrew Bogut has slept on a six-foot twin bed in one of those nondescript, two-story, free-continental-breakfast hotels along scenic Rockville Pike.

The other portion of Bogut? It has slept on a companion twin, smooshed together with the first bed to accommodate the length of a seven-foot center from Australia.

"It's not that bad," said Bogut earlier this week, beneath a ceiling a few inches taller than himself. "Really."

He's right. A foreign-born, skilled post player, tucked into the nook and cranny of a small American hotel room, is fitting.

See, we no longer make great big men in the United States. Young American ballers are enraptured by images -- sneaker commercials, videos, highlights. If an 18-year-old Lew Alcindor walked into a gym today, he would learn a crossover dribble before the sky hook. Everybody wants to play small.

We outsource the big-man job to China, Eastern Europe and now Down Under, where Bogut was born to Croatian immigrants and grew up to help teach us how to play our own game again.

He won every major player-of-the-year award in college basketball last season, his sophomore year at Utah. He has been called the best-passing big man since Bill Walton, a more athletic and committed version of Vlade Divac. Throw in his economy of movement -- the way he works the angles, understands the concept of using the glass and his shooting range -- and Bogut has a little Tim Duncan in his game, too.

"He's really a different breed when it comes to American players because of his attitude and demeanor," Bogut said of his favorite NBA player. "Tim has got a cockiness in a way that he's not cocky. He'll dunk on somebody, but he won't say nothing. They run back the other way, dunk on him and yell in his face. He'll come back, hit a jump shot. Won't say nothing. It's an awesome way to play, I think."

Bogut has been in town preparing for the NBA draft on June 28 in New York. His agent -- David Bauman of the District-based SFX firm -- expects him to go either No. 1 to Milwaukee or No. 2 to Atlanta. John Duren, Patrick Ewing's friend and a former Georgetown guard, works him out daily. He lives down the hall and hangs out with two European SFX clients, Drago Pasalic, a 6-11 power forward and 6-10 Nemanja Aleksandrov, another forward. They speak Serbo-Croatian, reminding Bogut of the language he last spoke fluently at age 10, and sometimes accompany him around town, where he and his large friends are usually gawked at.

Bogut has spent the last six weeks getting prepared for the NBA. He spoke in his hotel room on Tuesday night, soon after an exclusive tailor had driven up from Greensboro, N.C., to measure and help him choose his NBA prom night attire.

"There's tons of things you can do with that blue that could take it to whole another level," said the tailor, who also suggested matching the shirt with the colors of the team who will take him No. 1.

The idea was nixed, as was a suggestion by Bauman, his occasionally loud-dressing agent.

"Mixing stripes with stripes and even a tie with stripes is fine," Bauman said. "European style, there's no rules in that stuff. Whatever you feel like."

Bogut looked quizzically at Bauman: "I don't want to look like a chessboard," he said as the room busted up laughing. Bauman wants to know if all the fabrics considered are ketchup-resistant. The two go back and forth in front of SFX marketing and media representatives overseeing the fitting. A navy blue suit and a baby blue tie are eventually selected. No French cuff links. Just a couple of buttons on the sleeves. Simple and effective, like the development of the shaggy-haired, Aussie's game.

Bogut was only 19 last August, but he held his own against Duncan, a two-time MVP, in a taut Olympic qualifying game against the United States in Athens. Later, commenting on the state of American basketball after the Aussies lost a third-quarter lead and the game, he said, candidly, "They are some of the best players in the world, obviously. However, they're not the best team. They don't have the chemistry of a lot of European teams. The Dream Team played more European than what American basketball is now."

He expounded on that comment this week, buying fully into the anti-American hoop rant, the one where too many And 1 Skip-to-My-Lou videos and not enough dedication to the craft make for flawed games and bronze medals. How growing humility and talent from abroad has humbled us at home.

"The problem these days is money, and the guys just all want to be all-stars," Bogut said. "That [Dream Team] was all all-stars, the best of the best. But they were professional in their manner, on and off the court. They weren't immature kids coming out of high school. Not to knock the high schoolers, but those players had had been through the college process. They learned to gain respect from coaches, Dean Smith and so on. Then they got to the NBA and they got beat up by other teams before they succeeded, Jordan getting beat up by the Pistons and so on.

"They learned to respect the game and they were unselfish when they played. One game, Magic scored 20. One game, Jordan scored 20. It didn't matter. 'Who cares? We're beating up on the world.'"

Bogut went on: "These days, guys play 82 games a year where the ball is going through them every game. All of a sudden, they train with the best of the best and there's not enough basketballs on the court. It's a cliche, but it's so true, I think. They really need to get more role players on the USA team, in my opinion, that aren't Dream Team caliber but just understand their role. You know, 'If you're open, shoot the three, defend your rear off and rebound. That's all we want from you.' There are guys in the league that do that, and every other country has that now except the USA. I think that's why the past four years everybody has caught up and started to beat up on the U.S."

Bogut was asked for specifics of the American attitude toward the game, what he does not like. Guess who's name came up?

"There's no one I really hate, but Kobe [Bryant] had a demeanor of being very cocky," he said. "What happened with Shaq. . . . If I had a chance to play with Shaq or Tim, if they told me to buy them groceries, I don't care, I buy them groceries. It's a gift to play with somebody like that. Kobe is probably one of the guys that, everybody knows it, he's got that cocky arrogance to him, everything has to surround around him the whole time. Otherwise, he doesn't function. That's the biggest example.

"If you're playing with Shaquille [O'Neal], a Hall of Famer, you keep your mouth shut and play if you want more rings," Bogut continued.

Candid? Definitely. Harsh? No more than what many current and former players have said about Bryant. The most striking aspect of Bogut's comments, though? An Australian, a foreigner, honestly telling Americans how basketball used to be in their country.

Here's hoping Bogut thrives in the NBA, if for no other reason than his voice will grow louder and possibly be heard amid the static.

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