Wizards Go International With Choices

Oleksiy Pecherov
Shown here guarding Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, Oleksiy Pecherov goes 18th overall to the Washington Wizards. (Dusan Vranic - AP)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 29, 2006

In a draft that was widely thought to be devoid of instant-impact prospects, the Washington Wizards didn't expect to land a player who would elevate them from playoff team to championship contender.

However, the Wizards hope they came away with a potential star of the future when they used the 18th pick to select forward Oleksiy Pecherov, a 20-year-old native of Ukraine who recently completed a season playing for Paris Basket Racing of the French Pro A League.

The selection of the 7-foot, 210-pound Pecherov concluded a scouting process that led Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld to Europe to see Pecherov play this spring.

It is the first time the Wizards have used a first-round pick on an international player, and the team continued the international trend in the second round with the selection of Vladimir Veremeenko, a 6-10, 230-pound forward who is a native of Belarus and plays professionally in Russia.

The Wizards hosted both players in pre-draft workouts at Verizon Center earlier this month but it is Pecherov who has drawn the most interest from NBA teams. Though still developing physically, Pecherov has been on the radar of NBA scouts since his performance for the Ukrainian national team in the 2005 European Championships.

"It will depend on him when he will be ready," Grunfeld said of Pecherov. "We'll work with him over the course of the summer and see where he is. When you are drafting at that position, it's hard for that type of player to come in and make an immediate impact on a playoff team with 12 players under contract."

In 23 games, Pecherov averaged 11.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 21 minutes per game for Paris Basket Racing, which plays in the top French league. He also played professionally in Ukraine.

Pecherov attended the draft at Madison Square Garden last night and will be in Washington today. He will join second-year Wizards Andray Blatche and Donell Taylor and other prospects when summer league play opens July 6 in Las Vegas. The Wizards do not know whether Veremeenko will be available for summer league.

According to Grunfeld, Pecherov has a buyout on his contract with Paris Basket Racing but the Wizards liked him enough to pass on several first-round candidates, including guard Quincy Douby, who went 19th to Sacramento, guard Rajon Rondo, who went 21st to Phoenix, and forward Josh Boone, who went 23rd to New Jersey.

"He has an NBA talent -- shooting the basketball, rebounding the basketball and he runs the floor well," Grunfeld said. "And he's extremely competitive. He's not afraid to mix it up."

One scouting service described Pecherov as "a very skilled big man who can play both inside and out. Decent athlete. Excellent shooter. Has the ability to put the ball on the floor though that seems to be somewhat diminished as he's filling out. Has developed into an excellent rebounder."

Pecherov has a solid command of English -- a skill he picked up while playing professionally in Ukraine and in Paris -- and said he has patterned his game after the most successful international player in the NBA, Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki.

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