Anyone expecting his role to increase from towel boy to real player has more waiting to do, apparently:
Darko's bright side
Lost summer leaves Piston fresh for camp
October 4, 2004
BY PERRY A. FARRELL
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
The final moments of the Pistons' last game of the season -- Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers -- set the tone for Darko Milicic's summer.
Kareem Rush whacked Milicic on the right hand, breaking his thumb and shelving him for the summer.
There would be no Summer Olympics in Athens, no working out with his potential Serbian teammates. No participation on the Pistons' summer league team. No chance of getting on the floor and competing.
"It was very hard this summer," Milicic said Sunday. "I couldn't work out because of the thumb. If I sweated, there was a chance that I would get an infection in the thumb. I couldn't play on the Olympic team, and I could only watch my teammates work out, and that was tough."
"I think it was a frustrating summer for him in a way," said Milicic's agent, Marc Cornstein. "I think he missed playing on the Serbian national team with his teammates. I think he would've had an excellent chance of making the team because a lot of the veteran guys didn't show up.
"I think playing in the Olympic Games would've been an incredible learning experience for him. There was no question that he felt a little snakebitten, getting injured in the last minute of the last game of the season."
That was the downside, but Cornstein sees better days ahead for the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft as training camp opens Tuesday.
"His body will be fresh," Cornstein said. "He's definitely motivated. He's been back in Detroit since mid-August, and I know he has been working out. I think he's anxious to get started and work for his minutes."
The 7-foot Milicic has grown about a half-inch and gained muscle and weight since the Pistons drafted him. He played in just 34 regular-season games as a rookie, averaging 1.4 points and 1.3 rebounds in the 4.7 minutes a game he averaged when he played.
Joe Dumars, the Pistons' president of basketball operations, and owner Bill Davidson did not put pressure on coach Larry Brown to play Milicic, so Brown used him only when a game's outcome had been decided.
"He tells me all the time that he's the youngest player ever to be on an NBA championship team, so I think he took pride in that, although he wasn't a central cog in the team winning the title," Cornstein said of Milicic, who turned 19 in June, five days after the Pistons won the title.
"He came in with no baggage and he worked hard, and I think Ben Wallace and his teammates appreciated that. I read some of the comments they made during the season, and Darko realizes that although he wasn't a big part of the team last year, his teammates respect the fact that he came to practice early every day and worked hard."
Over the summer, Dumars added Antonio McDyess, a power forward who has suffered an assortment of knee injuries the past three seasons, and veteran Derrick Coleman, another interior player who'll try to earn minutes at camp.
"I have to be ready for training camp," Milicic said, "and be ready to do everything they want me to do, or else it will be just like last year. I think it's up to me as far as how much I play. If I'm ready at the start of training camp, then I have a good chance to play.
"I feel good right now. I feel ready to go. My thumb might be sore for the first month because guys will be hitting and bumping me, but I have to be ready to play. I want to show Coach that I'm ready to go.
"I started running in mid-August and I've been here a month and a half, so I think I'm ready."
Asked whether Milicic had any reaction to the Pistons' acquisitions, Cornstein said: "I don't think he's fixated with the people they bring in. He knows if he does what he's supposed to do, with his talent, he'll eventually get his minutes. Ben Wallace and some of his other teammates have said he's the future of the team, and I don't think that's something that's lost on him."
Losing the summer to injury was a setback to Milicic's development, but the Pistons still look at him as insurance for the future as he continues to develop physically and mentally.
Contact PERRY A. FARRELL at 313-222-2555 or email@example.com.