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Foreign talents for NBA draft dry up

THE number of foreign players drafted in the NBA has been dropping.

A record 21 foreign players were drafted in 2003, but the total has dropped each year since. The total fell to 13 last season. If the mock drafts hold up, that number could dip again during draft.

"This year, in Europe, there really weren't as many players ready," Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird said. "There's some guys ready to come over, but they're not ready to play in the NBA."

Ricky Rubio of Spain and Hasheem Thabeet of Tanzania are expected to be among the top five picks today. But there are few other sure things from other countries this year.

Experts say there is still plenty of talent outside the United States and they don't see a trend, but past failures have caused teams to be more careful about their selections.

Of those 21 international players drafted in 2003, eight never played a minute in the NBA, and just one, Leandro Barbosa of Brazil, has a career average of more than 10 points per game. For every Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Steve Nash (Canada) or Yao Ming (China), there have been several Peter Fehses (Germany) - good foreign players who never panned out.

Too early

"There's too many examples of players that have come here too early, not ready, and ended up not having the experience that they should have had," said Maurizio Gherardini, former vice president of basketball operations for the Toronto Raptors.

"The international element needs to be there, but only when it makes sense from a technical standpoint, from a quality standpoint."

This year, only a few players appear to make sense.

"It's just about when players develop," said Ryan Blake, the NBA's assistant director of scouting. "I think in the NBA, it really doesn't matter what type of player you are, as long as you're a talented player, a needed player, a desirable player. Right now, internationally, there are not that many desirable players that teams would want."

Blake said the talent pool goes in cycles.

"I do think it's a down year, but I don't think it's a trend," he said. "It's just how it goes and how people developed."

In the 2003 draft, Serbian Darko Milicic was picked second overall by Detroit, and he has averaged just 17 minutes per game during his six years in the league. Barbosa, Mickael Pietrus (France), Sasha Pavlovic (Serbia), Boris Diaw (France), Carlos Delfino (Argentina) and Zaza Pachulia (Georgia) were successful international players drafted that year. Others were busts.


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