Nikola Vucevic embraces the moment

June, 23, 2011
6/23/11
9:23
PM PT
NEWARK, N.J. -- Nikola Vucevic wasn’t going to be denied his moment.

He had been denied the respect he thought he had deserved during his college career and the trust he thought he had earned when he announced he would turn pro after his junior year to the dismay of many.

So when the NBA didn’t invite Vucevic and his family to enjoy the NBA draft from the green room along with his fellow top prospects, he didn’t let that stop him from coming anyway.

Sitting five rows above the makeshift room of tables where players lounged with their families while being tended to by waitresses, Vucevic watched and waited among the fans.

He wouldn’t be sitting there along.

Vucevic was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 16th overall pick and was brought to tears as he hugged his parents, who both played professional basketball, and his sister.

“I was going to come to the draft,” Vucevic said, standing in the hallway of the Prudential Center and still tugging on his 76ers hat an hour after he was drafted. “I knew I was going to go in the first round and I wanted to be a part of this event and get a chance to go up there and shake David Stern’s hand and get the hat. That is a real moment when you get drafted.”

Vucevic, who was born in Switzerland, raised in Belgium and played high school ball at Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, had watched the draft growing up and said it wouldn’t have been the same to get drafted and not to walk across the stage. It would have been like a graduating without going to the graduation.

“I watched so many drafts as a kid and so many players get their name called and I wished I could get that moment and it finally happened,” he said. “All that goes through your mind at that moment you get drafted.”

When Vucevic, who averaged 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds last season, announced he was entering the draft, many questioned the decision and he was projected to be a late first-round pick at best and possibly a second-round selection. He was so confident that assessment was wrong so he hired an agent when he announced his intention meaning there would be no turning back.

“I knew that I was better than people gave me credit for,” he said. “I knew that I could help myself out a lot in the workout and this whole process. I was confident and I knew I would do well. I went into every workout, played really hard and did what I could do and it paid off.

“During the season people were always questioning different things about me. It gave me some motivation and made me work harder and show people that I’m better than what they think. Now I think people are now going to start giving me credit for my game.”

The turning point for Vucevic came when he actually got on the court against his fellow draft prospects and proved time and again he was one of the best big men available.

“After the combine in Chicago and going up against the other big guys, I saw that I was better than some of the guys in front of me. So if I had a chance to go up against them in workouts I could show that I was better than what some people gave me credit for. I think the Chicago combine gave me a great idea of where I was.”

As the 7-foot, 260-pound Vucevic adjusted his blue tie, awaiting his next television interview, he smiled when he was asked about all the radio, television and online interviews he had done in the hour since being selected by Philadelphia.

“I’m in the NBA now,” he said. “I’m only 20 years old and people want to talk to me and take pictures with me and get my autograph.”

Vucevic had a feeling he would get selected by Philadelphia before the draft. Not only did they let him know they wanted to draft him if he was available, but Vucevic said he connected with 76ers coach Doug Collins and liked the fact he could grow up along with a young roster.

“The 76ers are a great organization and they were my favorite team going in the draft,” Vucevic said. “I wanted to get picked by them. I really liked them. I liked Coach Collins and I liked the whole staff. They have a great young team and I wanted to help them. I’m looking forward to be a part of the organization.”

Before leaving the Prudential Center to make his way to Philadelphia, Vucevic said he was excited to finally do something he wasn’t able to do during his one and only visit to the city for his workout with the 76ers.

“I was going to get a Philly cheesesteak while I was there for my workout, but they told me it probably wasn’t a good idea before the draft,” he said. “Now I’m looking forward to finally getting one when I get there.”

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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