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Top NBA Draft Pick May Play Abroad


With no end in sight to the NBA lockout, overall No. 1 draft pick Michael Olowokandi might go to Europe to play professionally.

"If they cancel the season, or if the season doesn't start until the latter part of December, then I'll go," Olowokandi said Monday. "It's not like I already have my bags packed, but it's a good possibility."

The lockout went through its 139th day Monday. Commissioner David Stern and union director Billy Hunter have not spoken to each other during the 10 days since the last negotiating session, and no collective bargaining talks are scheduled.

The latest casualty of the lockout was the NBA Jam Session, an interactive fan event scheduled during All-Star game festivities. The league said vendors and sponsors could not set up in time. The game is still scheduled for Feb. 14 in Philadelphia.

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  • Olowandi's agent, Bill Duffy, said he has had preliminary talks with Efes Pilsen, a club team in Turkey, and would advise his client to play overseas if he receives an offer worth $5 million.

    "If we're in the same position with the lockout two weeks from now, then we have to look at it very seriously. I know interest is there in Turkey, and I've also talked to teams in Italy and Greece," Duffy said.

    Olowokandi, a Nigerian citizen, is trying to get a British passport so he can be excluded from a European league rule limiting teams to two foreigners.

    Still, he would not need a British passport to play for Efes Pilsen since that club does not have any non-Europeans on its roster.

    If Olowokandi signs overseas, he would risk the $10 million he stands to earn from the Los Angeles Clippers in the first three years of his rookie contract. Also, it would mean the 7-footer from Pacific would have to wait an additional year for free agency or to be eligible for a lucrative extension to his NBA contract.

    In an interview with The Associated Press, Olowokandi said he is itching to play basketball again.

    "If there's no resolution, I have to do something. If it meas going to Europe to take care of myself on financial terms and to prove myself, then I don't have a problem doing that for one season," he said. "Hopefully this lockout is going to end soon, but you never know. It could extend into next season."

    Three other first-round picks from last June's draft are currently playing in Europe.

    Dirk Nowitzki, chosen ninth overall by Milwaukee before being traded to Dallas, is playing for DJK Wurzburg in Germany. Radoslav Nestrovic, picked 17th by Minnesota, is playing out the final season of his contract for Kinder Bologna in Italy, and Vladimir Stepania, chosen 27th by Seattle, is playing for Olympia Ljubljana of Slovenia.

    Six second-round picks also are playing professionally in Europe: Ruben Patterson of Cincinnati (Lakers, 31st overall) with AEK Athens, DeMarco Johnson of UNC-Charlotte (Knicks, 38th) with Sony Milan in Italy, Andrew Betts of Long Beach State (Hornets, 50th) with Team System Bologna in Italy, Derrick Dial of Eastern Michigan (Spurs, 52nd) with Peristeri of the Greek League, Ryan Bowen of Iowa (Nuggets 55th) with Oyak Renault in Turkey and Torraye Braggs of Xavier (Jazz, 57th) with Caja Cantabria of the Spanish League.

    Vlade Divac, who became a free agent after playing for the Charlotte Hornets last season, has talked of joining Kinder Bologna until the lockout ends.

    Four other second-round picks are playing in the CBA: Corey Brewer (Oklahoma, chosen 51st by Miami), Greg Buckner (Clemson, 53rd by Dallas), J.R. Henderson (UCLA, 56th by Vancouver) and Maceo Baston (Michigan, 58th by Chicago).

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