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Insider Special: Global Perspective
By Chad Ford
# Chad Ford's mock draft: Standard version | Slideshow version
TREVISO, Italy -- In ancient times, mariners claimed that all important trades routes ran through Venice, Italy. For hundreds of years the ancient city, literally built on the ocean, with wooden pillars and a series of canals serving as streets, was the center of maritime commerce in Europe. Now, it's sinking back into the ocean.
Nowadays, scouts claim that all roads in international scouting run through Treviso, a smaller city about 30 kilometers north of Venice and home to international clothing giant the United Colours of Benetton. Here, Benetton GM Maurizio Gherardini -- possibly the most powerful GM in the world outside the United States -- has built the most modern and innovative basketball franchise not in the NBA.
Gherardini, a former banker, caught a vision, as an exchange student in St. Louis, of how a good basketball team should be run. A few years later, he returned to Italy with a passion for the game and began transforming European basketball as we know it.
Maurizio Gherardini is one of the most respected talent evaluators in Europe.
Gherardini translated important books on basketball and coaching into Italian and passed them out to coaches around the country. He began organizing basketball camps and clinics, including the first-ever coaches clinic in Europe -- an affair that brought the likes of Hubie Brown, Bill Walton, Detlef Schrempf and Bob McAdoo to Italy.
In 1992, he took over the most coveted basketball job in Europe -- GM of Benetton. The Benetton family already had sunk enormous resources into creating the most impressive basketball infrastructure on the continent. La Ghirada, their sport complex, is the most beautiful and modern practice facility in the country. Their arena is stunning.
Armed with unprecedented resources from the Benetton family, Gherardini set out to do more than just build a championship basketball team in Treviso -- he set out to change the way European teams ran their operations.
"The big plus of this place is you can dream," Gherardini told Insider. "You can have ideas and you have the resources to turn those ideas into realities. I wanted to do more than win. I wanted to give back to the community."
Over the past decade, Benetton has become the standard-bearer for European basketball. NBA scouts are here almost on a weekly basis. Every summer, Benetton holds an enormous array of extra curricular activities that draw people from around the NBA and the world. They include the Reebok Big Man camp and the Reebok Eurocamp, where top European young players learn and compete; a summer league where international free agents compete for jobs in front of just about every GM and coach in Europe; Basketball without Borders, a program that brings young basketball players from war torn areas together and teaches them life lessons as well as basketball skills; and an international coaches clinic that sometimes draws upwards of a 1,000 participants.
In the process, Gherardini has built a powerful alliance with the NBA and many of the teams in the league. In addition to his expertise running the franchise, he has developed the most sophisticated scouting system in the Euroleague. He gives many teams advice concerning NBA prospects and is one of the few GMs in Europe who doesn't soak a team or player when he gets drafted in the NBA.
"You do things that make sense," Gherardini said. "Players have dreams, and we should help them achieve it. This is not a one-way business. We are involved in a common project."
Gherardini has become so well respected that he was interviewed and seriously considered for the vacant GM job in Charlotte last year. It was the first time a non-U.S. executive ever had been interviewed for a top job in the NBA. Gherardini didn't get the job, but many people in the league think that within the next five years he'll be running an NBA team.
"Maurizio is one of the best GMs in the world," Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe told Insider. "He really runs a first class organization here. I don't think there's anything in Europe that rivals it. I think there's no question he'll be a great GM in the league. No question."
"You have to have that dream," Gherardini said when asked about his interest in leaving Benetton for the NBA. "It would have to be the right time and the right system, but yes I would want that. I think I could bring a global vision to the NBA and provide a very deep evaluation of players both in America and around the world."
Given Gherardini's reputation and his intimate knowledge of international players (he attended every camp session this week), Insider asked him to provide his take on the top international players in this year's draft. Here's the way he sees it:
Pavel Podkolzine, C, Russia
"I've known him since he arrived in Italy two years ago. He has obviously improved quite a bit. He has many qualities that are unusual for a 7-foot-5 player. He has great hands for a big guy. He's a very good ball handler for someone that size. His body is very good, and he's not afraid to be aggressive in the post. I think he will be a success in the NBA. The question with him is just how good he'll get. He could be good, or he could be great."
Gherardini calls Andris Biedrins a "very intriguing big man."
Andris Biedrins, PF, Latvia
"He's a very intriguing big man. We almost signed him earlier in the year, so I know him well. He has no fear. A nice stone face. He's unusually aggressive and very mature mentally. I think he will have a shorter adjustment in the NBA than most players. He has good experience for his age. Latvaa is a second-level league, but people forget he also plays about 20 games a year in international competition against first-level talent. He has a lot of minutes under his belt for a kid his age."
Martynas Andriuskevicius, F/C, Lithuania
"I believe he is a small forward. At 7-foot-3 he could be really special. He has a great 3-point shot. He has good feel for the game and smart instincts. I have no doubt he will be a huge prospect in the NBA. If he stays in the draft, teams very high will have to seriously consider him. He just needs to get stronger."
Kosta Perovic, C, Serbia
"He's played an important role on his team this year. He has the size to be an NBA player and has very good skills and a steady shot. His game is probably closer to a four right now, but I don't know if he has the athleticism or footwork to play that position in the pros just yet. Another year or two in Europe may be helpful."
Sergei Monya, SG/SF, Russia
"He will require the smallest adjustment to play in the NBA. He already has an NBA 3-point shot and an NBA body. And let's not forget he is just 20 years old. He has very good athleticism for a European player. He plays more like an American. He's ready for the NBA."
Tiago Splitter, PF, Brazil
"He's finally getting some minutes under his belt this year. He's a four I think. Splitter's a smart player. He really understands the game. He's very long and a pretty good athlete. He may just need one or two more seasons of tough Euroleague fighting to complete his game."
“ I think he will be a success in the NBA. The question with him is just how good he'll get. He could be good or he could be great. ”
— Maurizio Gherardini on Russian big man Pavel Podkolzine
Johan Petro, PF/C, France
"He's very intriguing. I'm surprised at how much he's improved. He's played just one year with the top team and didn't really get a chance to play. He has everything to be an NBA player. A great body and a good athlete. Teams will have to think twice before passing on him."
Anderson Varejao, PF, Brazil
"He is one of the most gifted athletes in Europe right now. He plays very hard and aggressive. I'm still not sure what position he plays. He is improving every year but still needs to add a few things to his game."
Viktor Khryapa, SF, Russia
"He has a lot of tools. He's had a good experience playing in Russia. He has long arms and is a good defender. Again, I'm just not sure what position he will play in the NBA."
Sasha Vujacic, PG/SG, Slovenia
"He is playing in Italy at Udine this year, so I know him very well. He has no fear. He has very nice size for his position. He is playing an important role on his team, which is very good. He can play two positions, but in Italy he spends most of his time at the two. I think to be successful in the NBA he has to be a point guard."
Gherardini declined to discuss several of the younger players in the draft, because he hadn't seen them enough. That raised another interesting question. If Gherardini, one of the most active scouts in Europe, didn't have a handle on them, were NBA teams reaching too far into Europe?
Remember, Gherardini was Nikoloz Tskitishivili's GM when he was drafted.
"You could feel it coming even before Skita," Gherardini said. "You could see how the demographics of the NBA were changing, and you knew it would eventually come to Europe. I am not as bothered by it as some. I think European players are closing the gap physically with international ones. They play basketball 12 months a year and play games against much older players under very intense pressure. I think most of them come pretty well prepared to play in the NBA."
Still, mistakes are made, and Gherardini admits that sometimes he raises his eyebrows when he sees certain players on NBA draft lists.
"Everyone in this business makes mistakes," Gherardini said. "I can understand. It's not easy to make correct evaluations when players are so young. Five years ago, the NBA was picking the cream of the crop after we had discovered and developed them. Now they are in the same boat we are. We are all searching for young players with potential. That will lead to errors."
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. Send him an e-mail here.
Insider Special: NBA Execs? rank the draftees...
By Chad Ford
# Chad Ford's mock draft: Standard version | Slideshow version
TREVISO, Italy -- At 8 a.m. on Wednesday, a slow trickle of bleary-eyed NBA executives, coaches and scouts began crowding into a conference room at the Hotel Maggior Consiglio.
The Reebok Big Man camp was over, and another 60 or so international prospects would be arriving Thursday for the second part of Reebok's Eurocamp.
With the stellar play of Pavel Podkolzine and Martynas Andriuskevicius at the Big Man Camp, many of the previously held assumptions about this year's draft have been turned on their head. At dinner Tuesday night, a sizable group of NBA personnel was locked into deep discussions about the lottery that stretched until 3 a.m.
Hours later, a number of them gathered to rank the top 59 prospects in the draft, a number chosen because that's how many players will be drafted later this month. Insider was granted a seat at the back of the room in exchange for agreeing not to name the 16 participants. Most were NBA front-office personnel, who didn't want to tip their employer's hand by being identified, and a handful were international scouts for NBA teams. Suffice it to say many of the names would be recognizable to NBA fans.
In some respects the exercise could be considered a mock draft, as the best players were "selected" first. But the choices were made without concern for specifics like position or team need.
Everyone was given a list of the top available players, broken down by position, and everyone was required to vote on each "pick." The player with the most votes was "drafted" and taken off the board. In the event of a tie, a re-vote was taken. For the purpose of this exercise, the group assumed everyone on the list would remain in the draft.
The mood in the room was jovial, but there was little commentary. Instead of a debate, it was more like a high-stakes poker game. Here's what they came up with:
1. Emeka Okafor, C, UConn
Insider comment: There was no debate. Okafor received a unanimous vote as the No. 1 pick. That's a bit interesting considering some of the same people have expressed reservations over the past week about Okafor's back, his offensive skills and his height. Still, it's a pretty good indicator that whether the Magic keep this pick or not, Okafor is going to go No. 1.
2. Dwight Howard, PF, Southwest Christian Academy
Insider comment: Again, there was virtually no debate here. This has been referred to as a two-person draft for months. Apparently there was some truth to it.
3. Pavel Podkolzine, C, Siberia
Insider comment: Pavel won this slot by one vote over high school point guard Shaun Livingston. Remember that the group was not drafting for the Bulls (who currently own the No. 3 pick). Instead they were voting on the best prospect left on the board. It would be pretty surprising to see Pavel go this high, but the vote confirms what we wrote Wednesday -- Pavel helped himself immensely in Treviso.
4. Shaun Livingston, PG, Peoria (Ill.)
Insider comment: Livingston cleaned up here. There are several people in the group who believe Livingston may be, overall, the best prospect in the draft. Everyone I talked to believes the Bobcats should take him with the fourth pick. Are you listening Bernie?
5. Luol Deng, SF, Duke
Insider comment: Deng and international big man Andris Biedrins duked it out for this spot. The consensus on Deng is that he's a safe choice -- a player with a great chance to be good, but only a small chance to be great.
6. Ben Gordon, PG/SG, UConn
Insider comment: The vote was starting to splinter now, but Gordon just edged out Biedrins. There's a definite split in the room on this pick, with the international guys strongly supporting Biedrins. Gordon received the vote of most of the U.S. guys. Later, there was a pretty lengthy debate about this particular pick -- I think a bit of buyer's remorse. It's awfully tough to take a 6-foot-1 inch combo guard over a young, athletic 7-footer. Size usually rises to the top on draft night, and I think there's a general feeling that Biedrins eventually will catch Gordon.
7. Devin Harris, PG, Wisconsin
Insider comment: Biedrins lost yet another close vote. The consensus among the group was that Harris is the most NBA-ready point guard in the draft.
8. Andris Biedrins, PF, Latvia
Insider comment: The split on Biedrins clearly rests between international guys (who would've put him fifth) and the U.S. scouts, who clearly preferred several college players. This time Biedrins picked up a couple of votes and narrowly defeated Stanford's Josh Childress and Arizona's Andre Iguodala, who split the U.S. vote.
9. Josh Childress, SF, Stanford
Insider comment: There's a split between Childress and Iguodala. Having agreed not to name names, I can't be more specific, but I thought it was interesting who was choosing whom. Childress won by a nose.
10. Andre Iguodala, SG, Arizona
Insider comment: With Childress off the board, Iguodala was a unanimous pick. From what I hear around the league, however, the folks who have seen him in workouts the past few weeks are raising his stock. No one here has seen him work out yet, so take this placement with a grain of salt.
11. Martynas Andriuskevicius, F, Lithuania
Insider comment: There are a couple of people in the room who believe he should be much, much higher. I think the belief that he likely will drop out of the draft hurt him more than anything. Later in the process, other players who also are expected to pull out also take a big hit. If this projection is anywhere near accurate, Andriuskevicius definitely will pull out.
12. Josh Smith, SF, Oak Hill Academy
Insider comment: The most athletic player in the draft appears to be slipping in everyone's mind. He really wasn't seriously considered before here. May be time to downgrade the stock a bit.
13. Sergei Monya, SG/SF, Russia
Insider comment: Almost every international scout loves Monya. The U.S. guys aren't as sold. Monya squeaked out a win over J.R. Smith, whom most of the U.S. contingent backed at this spot.
14. Kosta Perovic, C, Serbia
Insider comment: Another guy who's stock probably slipped because he's expected to pull out of the draft. Interestingly, it's the U.S. guys, not the international ones, who voted him into this spot. I'm not sure that's a good thing.
15. J.R. Smith, SG, New Jersey
Insider comment: Apparently, the reports that he's been terrible in workouts don't really faze anyone. With his shot and his athleticism, scouts are willing to overlook a lot of things.
16. Johan Petro, PF/C, France
Insider comment: This was the biggest surprise of the event for me. Obviously Petro is impressing some of the NBA people here. He already has worked out privately for several teams here. Everyone has walked away raving about the kid. It may be time to buy some Petro stock.
17. Kirk Snyder, SG, Nevada
Insider comment: Obviously this group wouldn't have given him a guarantee in the lottery, which word has it some team has. Snyder narrowly beat out Jameer Nelson and Peja Samardziski.
18. Jameer Nelson, PG, Saint Joseph's
Insider comment: A great senior year helped his stock, but not as much as everyone had thought.
19. Rafael Araujo, C, BYU
Insider comment: When you are drafting by talent, not position, things like this happen. However, with so many teams in need of a center, it's pretty unlikely he'll slip this low.
20. Al Jefferson, PF, Prentiss (Miss.)
Insider comment: Jefferson just edged Samardzisiki and Kris Humphries.
21. Kris Humphries, PF, Minnesota
Insider comment: Humphries snuck past Samardziski. For the first time in this process, more than four picks have gone by without an international prospect coming off the board.
22. Peja Samardziski, C, Serbia
Insider comment: The U.S. streak is broken. If Samardziski slips this low, you can bet his agent will yank him from the draft.
23. Luke Jackson, SG/SF, Oregon
Insider comment: At one point earlier, Jackson's name was mentioned, and a number of people shouted back that he wasn't athletic enough to go that high. One guy calls him Luka Jackson three times, inadvertently hinting where some scouts' heads are at. If his name really was Luka Jackson from Slovenia, he would've been drafted in the lottery.
24. Robert Swift, C, Bakersfield (Calif.)
Insider comment: I was surprised at how many people in the room really like Swift. Almost all of them cite his performance in the McDonald's All-American game. Interesting ...
25. Peter John Ramos, C, Puerto Rico
Insider comment: Ramos barely beat out Anderson Varejao for this spot. It's the first time anyone mentioned his name all morning. I think Podkolzine's performance has pushed Ramos into the background.
26. Anderson Varejao, PF, Brazil
Insider comment: Varejao is an eye-of-the-beholder guy. Some love him. Some hate him. The group in this room knows him better and believes he may be a nice pro.
27. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Seagonville (Texas)
Insider comment: Aldridge slipped because the rumor in the room is that he's already pulled out of the draft. Apparently he canceled several workouts on Tuesday. Not sure how much higher he'd go if folks believed he'd stay in the draft. I can't see him rising too much.
28. Sasha Vujacic, PG/SG, Slovenia
Insider comment: Apparently everyone in the room has heard the same Lakers rumors.
29. Viktor Khryapa, SF, Russia
Insider comment: He's developing a buzz of late. Many scouts believe he just plays in the wrong system.
30. Tiago Splitter, PF, Brazil
Insider comment: If he actually fell this low, his agent would pull him out. Splitter is looking for a lottery commitment. From the looks of things, he isn't going to get one.
31. Sebastian Telfair, PG, Brooklyn
32. Dorrell Wright, SG, South Kent Prep (Conn.)
33. Luka Bogdanovic, SF, Serbia
34. David Harrison, C, Colorado
35. Delonte West, SG, Saint Joseph's
36. Lawrence Roberts, PF, Mississippi State
37. Arthur Johnson, PF/C, Missouri
38. Romain Sato, SG, Xavier
39. Ha Seung Jin, C, South Korea
40. Roko Leni Ukic, PG, Croatia
41. Tony Allen, SG, Oklahoma
42. Rickey Paulding, SG, Missouri
43. Donta Smith, SF, Southeastern Illinois CC
44. Damir Omerhodzic, SF, Croatia
45. Antonio Burks, PG, Memphis
46. Miguel Marriaga, PF, Venezuela
47. Uros Slokar, PF, Slovenia
48. Ryan Gomes, SF/PF, Providence
49. Chris Duhon, PG, Duke
50. Christjan Drejer, SF, F.C. Barcelona
51. Andre Emmett, SG, Texas Tech
52. Marko Tomas, SG, Croatia
53. Tim Pickett, SG, Florida State
54. Trevor Ariza, SF, UCLA
55. Sergei Lishouck, PF, Ukraine
56. Ricky Minard, SG, Morehead State
57. James Thomas, PF, Texas
58. Jackie Butler, C, Coastal Christian Academy (Va.)
59. Michel Morandis, SG, Colorado