NBA scouts scour Europe

It's no mystery to Joe Dumars why more and more NBA teams are shopping in Europe for players.

"We had worked out 20 or 25 guys, all Americans, this summer," said Dumars, the president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons.

"Then my international scout came and said, 'Joe, there are two European guys who are better than all those guys.' They came at 10 a.m. the day of the draft and we worked them out and I really liked them.

"Eight or nine hours later, I drafted one of them and made a contract agreement with the second the following day."

Besides the two -- draft pick Mehmet Okur of Turkey and Ratko Varda of Yugoslavia -- the Pistons signed Zeljko Rebraca, another Yugoslav who Dumars said was a leading candidate to start at centre this year.

Dumars was in Ankara this week to watch Okur, a 21-year-old seven-footer, play for Turkey in the European Championships.

Okur, who plays for Istanbul's Efes Pilsen, will join the Pistons in the 2002-03 season.

Rebraca, 28, and Varda, 22, did not come to Turkey, choosing to prepare for their first NBA season, Dumars said.

"There is no shortage of talent and athleticism in the NBA, but European players are fundamentally sound and there is always two or three guys on every team who can really, really shoot the ball," said Dumars, a star guard on the Pistons teams that won NBA titles in 1989 and 1990.

"There is also tremendous size in Europe and there seems to be a shortage right now in the NBA and the United States of big guys who can play on the professional level."

European players have joined the NBA in increasing numbers the past decade.

And a number of NBA players are in Turkey, enlivening the 16-nation tournament that ends Sunday.

They include Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, who is playing for his native Germany; Peja Stojakovic of the Sacramento Kings, with six-time champion Yugoslavia; and Radoslav Nesterovic of the Minnesota Timberwolves with Slovenia.

Another Kings player, Hidayet Turkoglu, is home playing for his native Turkey.

There also is Spain's Pau Gasol, a 21-year-old centre of the Memphis Grizzlies, and Russia's Andrei Kirilenko, a Utah Jazz prospect.

Dumars said European centres seem to face little difficulty in adjusting to the NBA, but not so the guards.

"The small guys in the NBA are much more athletic and more creative, but we have a shortage of them," he said.

The Pistons were 32-50 last season, and Dumars plans to rebuild around Jerry Stackhouse, the league's second-leading scorer, and Ben Wallace, the league's second-leading rebounder.

And he's also looking toward the two Yugoslavs.

"The players welcomed Rebraca and Varda with open arms," Dumars said. "Eight or nine years ago, they would have been skeptical."

By Hamza Hendawi