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Sunday, June 6, 2004
Reserve center has plenty of time on hands

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- He got his ears pierced last month, and dyed his hair blond twice this season.

Well, Darko Milicic of the Detroit Pistons has to do something with his time.

"I have to put tape on my earrings because I don't want the refs to see," said Milicic, the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft last June.

That shouldn't be a problem unless the officials are looking at Detroit's bench while the Pistons play the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

The 18-year-old center from Serbia and Montenegro spent much of his rookie season watching games, knowing many thought Detroit should have drafted Carmelo Anthony.

Milicic played in 34 regular-season games, and averaged 1.4 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.7 minutes. Some dubbed him "the human victory cigar" because if he got in the game, Detroit was likely wrapping up a rout.

Before Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night in Los Angeles, Milicic had scored one point in nine minutes over five playoff games.

"It's been hard to only watch," he said. "I thought I would play at least 10 minutes a game this season, but I didn't get a chance to show what I can do.

"I feel bad, but I'm not angry at anybody."

Joe Dumars told anybody who would listen that Milicic would not play much this year, and that Anthony would be a great player.

But Detroit's president of basketball operations answered never-ending questions about his decision to pass on Anthony, the third overall pick who led Denver to the playoffs.

"We love the fact that we have a team competing for the NBA championship right now, and have Darko for the future," Dumars said Sunday afternoon.

Unlike Cleveland's LeBron James, Anthony and Miami's Dwyane Wade -- the first, third and fifth picks overall -- Milicic played behind veterans on a team coming off two successful seasons.

"He was put in a tough situation," James said earlier this season.

Milicic has tried to make the best of it.

The 7-footer showed up at training camp weighing 245 pounds, and he said he's added 20 pounds of muscle. He goes to practices early, and stays late to work on his game.

Pistons assistant coach Mike Woodson, who is renowned for leading players through individual drills, said Milicic has improved dramatically.

"When he first got here, he didn't have a clue," Woodson said. "He didn't know the meaning of toughness, or playing hard and a lot of that was because he's a kid. About midway through the season, he started to get it.

"This summer is going to be pivotal for him because he didn't play much. Playing in the Olympics would be huge for him."

Milicic (pronounced MILL-a-chich) told the Pistons he wouldn't play for their summer league team because he wanted to focus on his hopes of playing in Athens.

"I'm going to try to make the Serbian national team," he said. "I hope I make it because I need some playing time."

The Pistons are optimistic about Milicic's future. He turns 19 on June 20, the day the finals will conclude if there's a Game 7.

"People forget that he's like one of these guys straight out of high school, but he's also straight out of another country," teammate Darvin Ham said. "We're all reminded that he's just 18 when we see him with those new earrings, going through the bling-bling stage that we all have in this league.

"People might not believe it, but we all think he's going to be a heck of a player in this league."