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Saturday, March 5, 2011
'Jersey milk it with WAGs and wonga'

By Ian Whittell

Six observations from the Nets’ historic road trip to London ... read on for a translation of the headline:

1. Been there, done that. Sasha Vujacic has seen it before, in his time as a Laker, and while NBA fans around the world may be cynical about the Nets’ chances of becoming a global phenomenon, let alone an NBA champion, the Slovenian believes we should not be too quick to write off Mikhail Prokhorov’s plans.

“Besides becoming a global franchise, the thing is, he wants to win a championship, which is important,” said Vujacic. “We’re heading in the right direction. We know it’s not going to be done overnight.

“I was part of a team seven years ago (the Lakers) that rebuilt and rebuilt and, after four or five years, we were able to win our first championship. We know it takes time, our owner knows it takes time.

“The most important thing is, he has a passion and a love for the game and he is an owner who wants to win. Besides the owner, who is incredible, we have a general manager, Billy King, and a coach (Avery Johnson) who know how to build a team. They have been around a long time and know you have to build a team to win, not just for the sake of it.

“With Deron Williams coming on board, the first steps of that team can be seen.”

Vujacic was in London in October, as part of the Lakers team that played a pre-season exhibition at the O2 Arena against the Minnesota Timberwolves. There he met and befriended Serbian soccer star Branislav Ivanovic, from the London-based Chelsea club. Tuesday, Vujacic was able to take in an important Premier League game, which saw Chelsea beat leaders Manchester United -- who feature another Vujacic friend, Serbian Nemanja Vidic -- 2-1.

“I loved it,” said Vujacic, whose father is Serbian. “Those guys are big NBA fans so it was great for me to be able to watch them play.”

2. No buy-out, says Gadzuric. Dutch center Dan Gadzuric insists that his future lies with the Nets, for the time being at least. Gadzuric arrived in Jersey last month from the Golden State Warriors but has seen limited minutes and was reportedly in discussion over a buyout.

“I don’t think that’s going to be happening right now,” said Gadzuric. “I’m with the Nets, that’s who I’m planning being with and I’m happy about that.”

3. Where am I? Nets guard Anthony Morrow had more reason than most to awake, dazed and disorientated in the team’s London hotel Saturday -- and not just because of the five-hour time difference and foreign surroundings.

An accidental collision during the Nets' 116-103 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday left him with a slight concussion that, says the player, will keep him out of Saturday’s second game.

“It was a shot-fake and the guy came down on my temple, I’m a little bit hazy,” said Morrow, who had scored six points in his 12 minutes of action. “I’ll have to rest tomorrow and I’m not sure how long before I can play. I’ve never had a concussion before. According to the doctor, it’s something I have to rest, wait and recover from fully.”

To add insult to injury, Morrow also suffered minor injury to his hand after being trod on, accidentally, while on the floor.

4. An opponent’s-eye view. Jose Calderon, the Raptors' starting point guard, has no doubt that the Nets are suddenly a far tougher proposition than they were a month ago. The reason? Deron Williams.

“He’s one of the top three (point guards) in this league, if not the world,” said the Spaniard. “He’s great. He can score but he’s a pass-first point guard who gets everybody involved. He can do a little bit of everything and he has really nice size.”

Williams himself was asked outright if he considers himself currently the league’s No. 1 at his position. “I feel there are a lot of great point guards in the NBA,” he said. “I’m not going to get into the debate about it. Derrick Rose is playing the best basketball of anybody. He’s an MVP candidate right now.”

Calderon and Williams could well be making a habit of facing off against each other at the O2 Arena, even beyond Saturday’s Game 2 in the European regular-season series.

The O2 will host the later stages of next summer’s Olympic basketball tournament, where Williams is expected to be representing the U.S. and Calderon will be playing for Spain, the country seemingly most capable of challenging for first place.

“If everything is normal, if I’m not injured or have other problems, I want to be back here in 2012,” said Calderon. “It’s a great arena. Some friends were here recently with Rafa Nadal for a tennis tournament and they told me what it was like. It is a long way off but next year could be my third Olympics, so I would love to play the USA in the final here.”

5. The clean streets of London. Of all the new cultural experiences that the Nets players have been through in London, one thing above all stood out for Nets forward Travis Outlaw.

“It’s very clean over here,” said Outlaw. “That’s the thing that I’ve noticed most. I saw people sweeping the bridge near our hotel and I was wondering, ‘What’s going on?’”

“Clean” isn’t a word most Brits would normally associate with their capital city, but we’ll take the compliment just the same.

Outlaw is hoping the London trip will also prove to demonstrate that his team is on course to end this trying season on a winning note.

“As a team, we just have to continue to get better for next year,” said Outlaw when asked about motivating himself over the remainder of the season. “If you keep striving to get better, you never know what is going to happen. Any type of winning streak is good in the NBA.”

6. WAGs and wonga? NBA basketball still has a long way to go before it is treated in the UK with the same seriousness as staple local sports such as soccer and cricket. The glitz, the glamor, the money and A-list celebs attached to the League are usually of more interest to the country’s voracious tabloid media market than in-depth analysis of triangle offenses and whether D-Will will opt for free agency in 2012.

The Sun newspaper, Britain’s biggest-selling daily with sales of around three million every day, commissioned this reporter to write a half-page article focusing on celebrities such as Jay-Z, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Maria Sharapova, who are connected with the Nets.

Prokhorov's billions were also of interest as The Sun ran the headline “Jersey milk it with WAGs and wonga.”

By way of translation, WAGs is an acronym for “Wives And Girlfriends,” while “wonga” is an 18th-century English slang term, still in use today, meaning “money.”

History and culture lesson over for today.