Przybilla finds happiness, challenges with Bucks

by Anthony Maggio

On Feb. 9, 2000, Joel Przybilla scored 33 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in Minnesota’s upset of Indiana to earn Big Ten player of the week honors.

Six days later, he was suspended by coach Dan Monson for a lack of academic commitment, a disciplinary measure which provoked Przybilla to leave the team.

Four months later, on June 28, Przybilla was selected 9th overall in the NBA draft by the Houston Rockets, then traded to the Milwaukee Bucks shortly thereafter.

Over a year has passed since Przybilla joined the professional ranks, and the 7-foot-1-inch center couldn’t be happier with his life as a whole.

“It’s been great, probably one of the best years of my life playing basketball,” the Monticello native said. “I’ve learned more this past year than I probably have in my whole life. It’s been a great experience, not only learning things on the court, but off the court as well.”

On a team full of veteran players at his position, Przybilla played sparingly as a rookie. He appeared in 33 games – starting 13 – and averaged just over eight minutes per night.

“It was a perfect situation for him in that he was able to learn the NBA game and develop his body, without having the pressure to perform or have the team rely on him,” Bucks assistant coach Terry Stotts said. “Many times high draft picks get picked by poor teams that really rely on their draft picks.”

Przybilla learned something new everyday this season. His teammates have aided in his development, especially Earvin Johnson. Przybilla has also learned a lot of little things he says can’t be seen when watching a game on television.

Przybilla has also reflected on a college career which came to an abrupt end, and the decision he made to leave his team during the season. Although he admits to making mistakes, he says he has no regrets.

“I used to think about (leaving the team), but I don’t anymore,” Przybilla said, adding he’ll likely finish his degree in the future. “Anything that I’ve decided or done I wouldn’t change because I’m in the best situation that I think I possibly could be. I’m getting paid to do what I love to do and that’s play basketball,” he said.

When Przybilla left the team, many Gopher fans felt betrayed, calling his decision selfish. Those fans made their presence felt on draft night at Target Center, booing Przybilla feverishly.

But teammate Dusty Rychart understood what was going on, and does not think less of Przybilla for leaving.

“That situation was very difficult for all of us, going from one coaching staff to another,” Rychart said. “I felt betrayed a little bit, but I also understood where he was coming from. There’s nothing that was damaged in our relationship at all. I know that the rest of our teammates don’t look at him any differently either. It’s a decision he had to make and he made it.”

Przybilla said things were moving “100 miles per hour” at the time, and feels it’s unfortunate some Gopher fans have negative opinions about him.

However, Przybilla realizes there is nothing he can do about the way others think. He understands living in the limelight puts every decision made under scrutiny.

“It’s made me a better person inside,” Przybilla said. “It’s made me closer to my family members and friends, and it’s made me realize who the people are that really love me. It’s opened my eyes up to that.”

Przybilla is getting used to the time commitment required of him. He admits to having a hard time getting motivated on a daily basis, but knows he must “give 110 percent” constantly.

Although Przybilla’s first-year statistics are meager, the Bucks have great expectations for their young pivotman.

“His progress is going to be important for the future of our team,” Stotts said. “I think you’ll see Joel’s role get progressively bigger as time goes on. Where he goes from that is up to him,” he said.

And how people choose to look at where he came from is up to them.


Anthony Maggio welcomes comments at [email protected]