From early on, those in attendance at Target Center for Wednesday night’s NBA Draft made one thing certain — players who left the state of Minnesota on bad terms remain unforgiven.
It started with the announcement of the New Jersey Nets having the top pick in the draft. Some booing followed, along with a cry of “Marbury sucks”.
The heckler’s shot was aimed at former Timberwolves and current Nets guard Stephon Marbury, who left Minnesota during the 1998-99 season to be closer to family in New York.
Most fans think Marbury left because he didn’t like Minnesota and playing in the shadow of Kevin Garnett.
The boos then reached their predicted fever-pitch when NBA Commissioner David Stern notified the world the Houston Rockets selected former Gophers center Joel Przybilla with the 9th pick.
Though later traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, at that moment the 7-foot-1 man-child from Monticello officially went from a college program’s monolith to a lightning rod for home-spun criticism.
Though he didn’t like getting caught in the rain, Przybilla knew the ominous clouds were ready to burst.
“Of course I hoped (the crowd) wouldn’t have booed,” Przybilla said. “But when I made the decision to come out I knew that would happen.”
Upon being drafted, Przybilla became the fifth Gophers player in the last four years to be selected in the first round. Przybilla became the highest Minnesota player selected since Willie Burton in 1990 (No. 9, Miami).
Przybilla’s choice to come out came in the wake of his decision to leave The Gophers with one month remaining in his sophomore season.
Przybilla has said his reasons for his premature departure included conflicts with first-year coach Dan Monson.
Monson, who took over the coaching reins after Clem Haskins’ contract buyout in June 1999, suspended Przybilla for skipping classes following what became Przybilla’s last game as a Gopher.
Przybilla’s performance gave home fans a tantalizing glimpse of his potential as a dominant center. On Feb. 9 against No. 10 Indiana, Przybilla scored a career-high 33 points to go with 14 rebounds in the 77-75 upset win. His last field goal proved to be the game winner.
The cheers for Przybilla that night in Williams Arena were loud and telling, much like the boos Wednesday at Target Center.
Przybilla did not reflect a great deal on what was, but kept his mind on a promising future as a professional.
“I’ve got a new chapter in my life started now,” Przybilla said. “I’m going to learn from my past experiences and move on from that.”
Turning his thoughts toward the future of his relationship with Minnesota basketball fans, Przybilla hopes that a day will come when the hard feelings about his college exit subside.
A day when he receives the cheers former Gophers stars Quincy Lewis and Kevin McHale got upon appearing on the scoreboard monitor during the evening.
“In the future,” Przybilla said, “hopefully people will say, ‘Hey, he’s a Minnesota kid,’ and they’ll cheer me on.”
David La Vaque welcomes comments at [email protected]