Przybilla proves you can’t come home again

Mark Heller

Joel Przybilla smiled while being introduced as the Milwaukee Bucks’ starting center Monday night at the Target Center. A cascade of boos and taunts showered Milwaukee’s big man.
The taunting continued through the first eight minutes of the Timberwolves-Bucks game. When he grabbed each of his two first-quarter rebounds, the crowd let him know they were there. When he took a seat with 4:26 left in the quarter, fans were there to help him find the bench.
“Why don’t you retire?” one fan screamed.
And when he was called for his third foul setting an illegal screen on the Wolves’ Terrell Brandon, the place was as loud as it had been all night …
Until he got to the other end of the floor and Kevin Garnett delivered a “welcome home” dunk over the seven-footer.
Was anyone surprised by this? Last June Przybilla was flooded with boos on the very same floor when he was picked ninth by the Houston Rockets in the 2000 NBA Draft. Moments later, he was traded to the Bucks for Jason Collier and a future first-round draft choice.
“Whatever people want to do to me, that’s fine,” said the soft-spoken Monticello-native. “I’ve moved on from the University of Minnesota and started a new chapter in my life. I’m looking straight forward to my career and doing anything I can to help the Bucks win.”
Przybilla sports a tattoo that says, “Not in my house” on his right arm, and wears number six in honor of Bill Russell. But there would be no win on his homecoming. The Wolves won a 99-96 thriller.
He played 14 minutes on this night, taking no shots with four rebounds, a steal and three fouls.
When Clem Haskins got the boot because of academic fraud and Dan Monson came in as the new Gopher basketball coach, Przybilla temporarily left the team early in the 1999-2000 season, citing “personal reasons.” He returned to the team two weeks later.
But after Minnesota beat Indiana at Williams Arena, Przybilla was suspended from the team for academic reasons — essentially not going to class. He never returned, instead making himself eligible for the draft.
“Like I’ve said all along, me and Coach (Monson) didn’t get along and I’ve got to move on from that because people still want to talk about it,” Przybilla said.
In his rookie season, he has started nine games for the talented Bucks, but has appeared in only 20 of 43 games. He’s averaging eight minutes, 0.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.
“Joel’s probably going to be a starter in the NBA two or three years from now,” Bucks coach George Karl said.
“We’re in the process of trying to become a divisional championship team and playing young kids and giving them time to grow is not part of that process. Next year hopefully we’ll figure out a situation where he gets 15-20 minutes on a high level most games.
“I’ll like him. He’s got some big-time NBA stuff. He’s worked hard and done a first-class job with his professionalism and keeping his attitude on a positive note and he’s helped us win some games.”
To an observer, it would seem the Joel Przybilla era in Minnesota baseketball is over. At least it is to the quiet giant from Monticello, because most of the 17,171 fans at Target Center vociferously disagreed.
“No, if I was going to do it all over again I’d do it and stay with my commitment to be an NBA player,” Przybilla said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Mark Heller is the assistant sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]