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My NBA Draft Experience (Part 3): Beno Udrih

My NBA Draft Experience (Part 3): Beno Udrih
May 27, 2006, 12:30 am
Our first edition of “My NBA Draft Experience" featured a former early-entry underclassmen prospect who went on to win the Wooden Award and flourish in the NBA in Jameer Nelson. Our second focused on a 4-year college player who was drafted in the 2nd round and was asked to hone his game in Europe before making and finding success in the NBA in Matt Bonner. For the third edition we look towards the International scene to talk with a well established European prospect that was clearly on the verge of going undrafted before an outstanding performance at the Chicago pre-draft camp; Beno Udrih of the San Antonio Spurs.

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Charlie Bury: Tell me about your European career, particularly the last couple of years. You played three or four teams over a two year span, right?

Beno Udrih: Yes. When I was twenty, I was still playing in Slovenia. Then I signed a one year contract with Maccabi, I was there for one year. Then they signed another point guard at my position (Sarunas Jasikevicius) and I knew I wasn’t going to play because he was much more experienced, and at that point he was a better player. So I decided to go somewhere else because I was already 21 and I knew that the next year I would go to the draft. So I needed to play, I needed to be on a team where I can have some minutes and get ready for the draft. I went to Russia because I had some problems with my Italian agent back in Europe. And then I hired another agent, Danko Drakulic who actually connected me with Marc [Cornstein]. Then I went to Russia, I was there for two months and I twisted my ankle and went back home, then I broke the contract with them and I tried to go to Greece, but they didn’t change the rule, and that’s when I decided to go to Milano. That’s why I had that big year where I was on three teams.

Charlie Bury: You mentioned twisting your ankle. Do you think your injury problems caused you to slip off of NBA team’s draft radar?

Beno Udrih: Well that wasn’t really the truth, that was just the media talking. You know, I was playing a lot of minutes and I wasn’t as strong as I am now, so every time I got bumped I needed more muscle, I twisted my ankle. Because you never know what’s going to happen when you’re in the game. You try to jump after the ball you land on somebody’s ankle and twist it. But I was playing in all of the games; I was never out for more than four days, five days. There were just small injuries, but the media was saying that I had big problems with my ankles or whatever. That wasn’t really the truth. I was just young and I got bumped a lot.

Charlie Bury: So if not for the injuries, why do you think you were under the radar?

Beno Udrih: Well the agent that I was with before, the one from Italy, he actually didn’t have any connection with the NBA. I think he probably didn’t even want to put me in the draft. I think maybe he should have put me in the draft three years before he did. So yeah the last year I was in Russia, and then Greece, and finally I signed with Milan for the last five months of the year and I did pretty well. I think that’s why I was under the radar. You know I said to myself “I gotta do my job”. When I came to the States I sat down with Marc and he just told me straight up where I am and what I have to do and that he’s going to his best, and everything worked out pretty good for us.

Charlie Bury: Once you came to the States and you went to the Chicago pre-draft camp, that’s where you really blew up. What was that experience like for you?

Beno Udrih: It was a great experience. I just went there and did what I do the best. I didn’t try to do things that I can’t do or I’m not good at. I just tried to be a point guard and lead my team. Pass the ball to the right player, make the open shot and that’s what I did. I knew there was going to be a lot of scouts there; that’s what the pre-draft camp is about. I didn’t try to force the deal. Some players come there and just try to do more than they are capable of, and they shoot crazy shots. I don’t think teams look for that you know? So that’s what I went to Chicago to do, do my job and do what I do best.

Charlie Bury: You’re not considered a freak athlete, yet you were going up against some of the best and most athletic defenders in the NCAA. How did you manage to get by them so frequently and take the ball to the basket?

Beno Udrih: Well I played professionally back home in the Euroleague. I think the Euroleague is much harder to play than college basketball. Maybe not so aggressive, but still it’s more competitive because you have every game count. So I think I knew how to handle the pressure. Some European teams had some guys that were very athletic guarding me. That’s how it is, some guys are athletic and some guys are not as athletic.

Charlie Bury: What advice would you give to an NBA hopeful getting ready to play at the pre-draft camp?

Beno Udrih: Just go there and do what you do the best. Don’t try to force anything, that’s just going to make you look bad. Just be a team player and when you’re open, shoot. Be aggressive.

Charlie Bury: Suddenly after Chicago you started getting a lot of calls from teams wanting you to work out for them right?

Beno Udrih: Yeah I had nine workouts in a row

Charlie Bury: Wow. How hectic was that for you just two weeks before the draft? Were you exhausted?

Beno Udrih: Well, before I came to the States I was really working hard to get ready for the draft. I had to work because I didn’t know what would happen. After the workouts I was really exhausted. It’s hard to fly everyday to a different city. Sometimes you get to the city at 2 in the morning, and you have to wake up at 8 in the morning and go to the gym. It was hard. But you know, that’s what it’s all about. That’s your future you know? I decided to come over here to try to get drafted and do my thing, so I didn’t complain.

Charlie Bury: For international players entering , you have to deal with a little more than college guys because you have to worry about buyouts, as well as the season ending much latter than the NCAA season. Did you struggle with any of those issues?

Beno Udrih: Well with the buyouts, I signed with a team where the buyouts were minimal. It was like 350 K and that was it. It wasn’t very big a problem. Some players have problems coming over because their team really wants a lot of money. Like [Luis] Scola, who was drafted three years ago, he still hasn’t come over here because his buyout is a really big amount. But I didn’t have any problems with that.

Charlie Bury: Scola’s hoping to come over next season right?

Beno Udrih: Yeah they’re thinking about bringing him over, but we’ll see how it’s going to be with his buy-out.

Charlie Bury: Do you think European players have been hurt at by guys like Darko Milicic and Tskitishvili, who got so much hype and were drafted early but haven’t really worked out as some thought they would in the NBA?

Beno Udrih: Well I don’t know. The NBA is a business. You know, I don’t know why they didn’t get an opportunity but I think teams are really watching for the prospects. They are looking a lot towards the future, what they can get from you in a couple years. Some teams are really looking for players who are immediately ready to play. So I don’t know what is going through the teams’ minds when they are picking the players. That’s why I’m a player; I’m not a general manager. I think the scouting is so good now that they know who there picking and what kind of player he is. I think a couple years ago it was harder, that’s why they didn’t draft a lot of international players. Now I think the scouting is much better, they send scouts everywhere in the world.

Charlie Bury: What do you think teams can learn about players from watching them work out that the team didn't already know from watching during the season?

Beno Udrih: It’s different when you see a player on tape or on a game, or when he’s really practicing. Because he knows if somebody is really watching him. When he’s in the game, he doesn’t know that scouts are there or that some team is scouting them. But when he gets to (a workout) he knows that somebody is watching him and they are going to decide who to pick. I think they just want to see what kind of player you are under pressure.

Charlie Bury: When draft night finally rolled around, did you have any idea where you might be going? Were you nervous about slipping?

Beno Udrih: I had a clue that I would go between the 25th and 29th picks. I was kind of thinking about it, bit I didn’t know. None of the teams ever gave me the 100% yes. They would call and say “We like you” that’s it. When San Antonio picked me I was just trying to go shake David Stern’s hand and not to trip on the steps. It was very emotional.

Charlie Bury: Yeah you don’t want to be the guy that falls down on the stage.

Beno Udrih: Right (laughs)

Charlie Bury: Once you were drafted, was the transition any easier for you because of all the international players on the Spurs’ roster?

Beno Udrih: Well, actually it was a little bit easier. I have Rasho here and he’s Slovenian, and we play together on the National team. He gave me advice on all kinds of stuff. He gave me advice on were to go to find an apartment. But I didn’t really give a lot of thinking about that, I was just focusing on basketball when I came here. It did help me, though. I knew Manu from before when I played against him. It was very nice.

Charlie Bury: Doesn’t Coach Popovich speak Slovenian?

Beno Udrih: No he doesn’t. He’s got a last name that makes you think maybe he speaks it, but just a couple of words. (Laughs)

Charlie Bury: Getting back to your transition in the NBA, What did the Spurs as an organization do to help you adjust to the NBA and living in America?

Beno Udrih: The Spurs organization is really great. They helped me with everything; trying to find a place to live, get a rental car, whatever. They really helped me, and my teammates told me where to go. If I tried to do all that stuff by myself, it would take me much more time to get settled down. The organization is really first rate.

Charlie Bury: What was this year like for you? I know it must have been tough when they brought in Nick Van Excel.

Beno Udrih: Well, yeah it was tough. Nick is a great guy, it was just….they signed him and I said to myself when I went back home during the summer ‘That’s how it is; I can’t do nothing about it. I am just going to keep practicing hard and try to get better and wait for my opportunity to come’

Charlie Bury: Do you ever think to yourself sometimes what it would be like still playing in the Euroleague, where you would be a superstar and be getting paid more?

Beno Udrih: Well, not really because I like it here. To come to the NBA, that was my dream come true and now I want to play. I’m going to wait for my opportunity, that’s how it is. Sometimes you got to wait for your opportunity.

Charlie Bury: What surprised you the most about the NBA that you didn’t already know?

Beno Udrih: When I came over the first year I was just surprised how much faster the game is compared to Euroleague. Its much faster, its more like run and gun type compared to Europe.

Charlie Bury: Your English is perfect now, did you speak fluently before you came to the NBA or is that something you struggled with at first?

Beno Udrih: I picked it up a little bit more now that I am here. Before I was speaking ok, I could communicate. When I was back in Europe I had American teammates so I had to speak English with them. And I was learning English in school, but the school teacher taught just the basics.

Charlie Bury: How does a country as small as Slovenia (2 million people) produce so many good basketball players?

Beno Udrih: Well its part of old Yugoslavia. Everybody knows in Yugoslavia players practice much more than anywhere else. When I was younger I practiced twice a day. When I was 15, I practiced three practices in a row with the younger team, the middle team and the old team. From 4:30 to 10 o’clock in the evening. So it’s a lot of work to get where we are right now.

Charlie Bury: How do you think the Future of the Slovenian National team is looking at this summer’s World Championships?

Beno Udrih: I think were going to have a pretty good team. Hopefully a couple players that couldn’t play last time at the European Championships can join the team, so we’re going to be even stronger. So we’ll see. I think we can succeed, but we’ve got to play as a team and just play hard.

Charlie Bury: With all your international Spurs teammates that you’re going to be playing against during the summer, was there a lot of trash talking going on in the locker room?

Beno Udrih: No Not really. We’re not the kind of team that talks trash a lot. We just joke around sometimes when you make a shot you say “ Oh that’s how its going to be in the World Championship” but that’s all the stuff we’re saying right now.

Charlie Bury: Who are some of the best Slovenian players not in the NBA?

Beno Udrih: Jaka Lakovic is there, Smodis who is playing in CSKA and won the Euroleague. Marko Milic, who was drafted I think by Philadelphia and then was traded to Phoenix. Lorbek, you know he was drafted last year. Slokar, who was drafted last year.

Charlie Bury: What do you know about this young guy, Goran Dragic?

Beno Udrih: He’s a pretty good player too. He’s very skilled. He’s a good prospect. I haven’t seen him play, though.

Charlie Bury: Do you ever get a chance to grab a Slovenian meal anywhere?

Beno Udrih: Here in the states? No (laughs). No, we just go to Serbian restaurants. I met like two (Slovenian) families here in San Antonio, but I don’t know where all the Slovenians live here in the States.

Charlie Bury: Really appreciate your time Beno.

Beno Udrih: Alright, thank you, Bye.

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