NBA broadcasters got a reprieve this season: They haven't often
had to work tongue twisters such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas,
Virginius Praskevicius or Sasha Djordjevic into their
play-by-play. Unlike the 1992 Olympics, which showcased a host
of foreign stars who would soon make names for themselves in the
NBA, the '96 Games in Atlanta yielded only three newcomers to
the league. And they, along with a handful of other rookies from
abroad, haven't seen much action.
"The good ones from overseas are already here," says Boston
center Dino Radja, a star on the Croatian national team in 1992
and '96. "I think you're going to have to wait a few years
before another group can come over here and make an impact. Over
there, the level of competition is down."
Djordjevic, a Croatian Olympian, was waived by Portland on Dec.
27 and now suits up in Barcelona. Praskevicius, a 6'8"
Lithuanian with the Timberwolves, and Ilgauskas, his 7'3"
countryman with the Cavaliers, did little before going on the
injured list. Two Australians who starred in Atlanta, Minnesota
guard Shane Heal (2.4 points a game) and Philadelphia forward
Mark Bradtke (2.0), have struggled. And the Heat has used
Estonian forward Martin Muursepp in only seven games.
Ukraine's Vitaly Potapenko, a rugged 6'10" center, has been the
best new arrival, and he was averaging only 5.1 points for
Cleveland at week's end. The most disappointing foreigner isn't
a rookie but a retread: center Stojko Vrankovic, who represented
Croatia in 1996. After playing sparingly for the Celtics from
1990 to '92, he returned to Europe. He is back with the
Timberwolves, but he has been slow on defense and foul prone.
"My wife [Lola] is worried because I used to play 35-40 minutes
over in Europe," he says. "Now I'm hardly playing. It's hard for
me." And for most of his fellow imports this season.
COLOR PHOTO: MITCHELL LAYTON/NBA PHOTOS Heal led the Aussies in Atlanta, but in the NBA he's playing just 6.7 minutes a game. [Shane Heal in game against Washington Bullets]