Three years ago, Michael Olowokandi was playing soccer and running track in London with little clue of how to throw a basketball through a net.
On Wednesday night, he completed a remarkable transformation into a serious hoops commodity.
Olowokandi, a 7-foot-1 Nigerian who grew up in England and has been playing competitive basketball for only three years, was selected first in the NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers decided on Olowokandi instead of Arizona point guard Mike Bibby, the player they had been expected to take until having a change of heart over the last couple days.
"Seeing my name in the No. 1 spot is unbelievable, especially when you consider where I came from three years ago -- not having played basketball -- and then to this, not the No. 3 pick but the No. 1 pick," said Olowokandi, who averaged 22.2 points and 11.2 rebounds last season at Pacific University. "That's something that'll take me a week or so, or a little bit longer, to get over."
Five trades were made during the draft:
- The Los Angeles Lakers sent guard Nick Van Exel to Denver in exchange for Tyronn Lue, the second of the Nuggets' two first-round picks, and Tony Battie.
- The Toronto Raptors, after picking Antawn Jamison of North Carolina fourth overall, sent him to Golden State for his college teammateVince Carter, who was selected fifth.
- The Phoenix Suns sent guard Steve Nash to the Dallas Mavericks in a three-way trade also involving Milwaukee. The Bucks got the sixth pick, Robert "Tractor" Traylor, from the Mavericks in exchange for the ninth pick, Dirk Nowitzki of Germany, and the 19th pick, Pat Garrity of Notre Dame. Garrity was then sent to the Suns along with Bubba Wells, Martin Muursepp and Dallas' 1999 first-round pick for Nash, whose parents came to the draft to represent the Suns.
- The Vancouver Grizzlies, after selecting Bibby, dealt guard Antonio Daniels to San Antonio for Carl Herrera and the rights to the 24th pick, Felipe Lopez.
- The Utah Jazz sent the 29th pick, Nazr Mohammed of Kentucky, to Philadelphia for future considerations.
The Raptors also were talking with the New York Knicks about a Marcus Camby-Charles Oakley trade, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The selection of Olowokandi marked the second year a senior had been selected first overall. Underclassmen had been chosen first overall in the five previous drafts.
The Grizzlies, the hosts of the draft, selected Bibby second to roars of approval from a crowd of about 8,000. Bibby, who left Arizona after his sophomore season, has drawn comparisons to Jason Kidd for his playmaking skills. Many expected him to be drafted first overall, and he refused to hold a workout for any team other than the Clippers.
"It wasn't my decision. I went off what David (agent David Falk) told me, so it wasn't up to me," said Bibby, whose father, Henry, played several years in the NBA and now coaches Southern Cal. "Me being No. 1 was just a lot of talk and rumor, so I didn't expect anything."
The Denver Nuggets, coming off a season in which they won only 11 games, picked Kansas forward Raef LaFrentz with the third pick.
It was the first surprise of the night, since Paul Pierce, considered by many to be the best all-around player in the draft, had been expected to be among the top three picks. He ended up dropping all the way to the Boston Celtics at No. 10.
LaFrentz, a 6-foot-11 forward, was a first-team All-American after averaging 19.8 points and 11.1 rebounds for the Jayhawks.
Traylor, who dropped 40 pounds after the season ended, tipped the scales at about 320 pounds while veraging 16.2 points and 10.0 rebounds for the Wolverines. By acquiring him, the Bucks extended their streak of trading their first-round pick to four straight years.
The agent for the 6-foot-11 Nowitzki, who is currently in the German army, told teams that his client may choose to play professionally in Europe for the next season or two. Nelson said he and his son, Donnie, who once coached the 20-year-old, will be leaving soon for Germany to convince Nowitzki to play for the Mavericks.
The Sacramento Kings came up with another surprise by choosing Florida guard Jason Williams with the seventh pick. Williams, once a high school teammate of much-maligned college football player Randy Moss, had troubles of his own in college and was kicked off the team by Florida coach Billy Donovan, reportedly after testing positive for marijuana.
At the time, Williams was leading the Southeastern Conference in steals, assists and free throw percentage. He transferred to the Gators after spending one season at Marshall.
The 76ers took 19-year-old Larry Hughes of Saint Louis with the eighth pick. The youngest player to be picked up to that point, Hughes averaged 20.9 points for the Billikens and was considered by many to be the player in the draft with the greatest potential.
Pierce was finally picked 10th by Boston, which was ecstatic that such a talented player had dropped so far.
"It's a little disappointing," said Pierce, who left Kansas after a junior season in which he averaged 20.4 points. "That's the way things go. I have to move on and use it for motivation. Boston is a great situation for me. They have great fans and players like Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer and Kenny Anderson. I feel like we can be a playoff team."
Bonzi Wells of Ball State went to the Pistons with the 11th pick. Wells averaged 25.4, 22.0 and 22.8 points over his final three seasons and broke Ron Harper's Mid-American conference scoring record.
The Orlando Magic, who had been trying to move one of their three first-round picks, took Michael Doleac of Utah with the 12th pick to fill a gaping hole at center caused by last season's trade of Rony Seikaly to New Jersey.
With the 13th pick, the Magic selected another center, Keon Clark of UNLV.
The Houston Rockets, who also had three first-round picks, took small forward Michael Dickerson of Arizona at No. 14 before Orlando made its third selection, forward Matt Harpring of Georgia Tech.
The Rockets also took shooting guard Bryce Drew of Valparaiso with the 16th pick and Turkish center Mirsad Turkcan with the 18th pick.
Al Harrington of St. Patrick's in Elizabeth, N.J., was the only high-schooler picked in the first round, going 25th to Indiana, and the three-time defending champion Chicago Bulls chose Oregon State guard Corey Benjamin
Two Slovenian players were taken in the first round. Radoslav Nesterovic, a 7-footer who helped lead Kinder Bologna to the EuroLeague championship in April, went to Minnesota at No. 17, and Vladimir Stepania, a 6-11½ center, went to Seattle at No. 27.
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