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Andris the Giant
by AJ Hayes / November 26, 2004

There’s a reason 18-year-old Golden State rookie Andris Biedrins was taken with the 11th overall pick of last summer’s NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-11 Latvian, with two years of pro ball experience in Europe under his belt, has a feathery touch in the paint, ballhandling skills that belie his lanky frame and NBA-ready size that’s only a few protein shakes and weightlifting sessions away from bumping him to the top of this year’s rookie class.

In short, Biedrins' future in the league has the potential to soar way higher than the ceilings he’s been scraping his head on since he was a kid. Biedrins has worked hard, made friends on the veteran-laden Warriors roster and not complained about only sniffing the court a few times so far this season.

But there’s one area that Biedrins lags sorely behind other top picks: Living Large. While other players of Biedrins' pedigree and age splurge once they hit the NBA, he has kept things decidedly dialed down. He wears no earrings or jewelry, lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland and goes about his business sans entourage – that is unless you count his mom, who was in town recently to whip up some stuffed cabbage dishes before returning home to Latvia to do the same for Andris’ pops.

“What means posse?” Biedrins recently asked a reporter.

When informed that “posse” means his buddies, his crew, old friends to hang with, play video games with and help spend his sizable signing bonus, Biedrins could only smile.

“My friends back home are still in high school in Latvia. I would love it if they were able to join me for a while, but I think that’s a little bit easier for the players who live in the USA. My friends live about a 15-hour flight from California,” said Biedrins in accented English sounding not unlike the Golden State’s own Govinator Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“They are studying and I am here learning the NBA, so it’s not so easy – especially with the travel. I will have to wait until they have a break in school and I have a period when the team will be home for a couple of weeks here. Because they could come for a visit. But if I’m traveling with the team, what would be the point?”

When the Warriors selected Biedrins with their first-round pick this summer, their point was crystal clear. Though Biedrins played a lot of power forward in Europe, the Warriors eventually hope he fills out to the point where he can become their first impact homegrown No. 5 since the days of Joe Barry Carroll. This season the team re-signed former Adonal Foyle to be the starting center, but he’s already lost considerable playing time to 37-year-old Clifford Robinson.

The way Biedrins has progressed so far, both on and off the court, he’s given Golden State’s long suffering fans something to be cautiously optimistic about. Since arriving in the States last spring to prep for the draft, Biedrins has already added about 15 pounds of muscle to his upper body.

Though he still has a lot of work to do on his body and improving to do on his free throws and outside game, the Warriors don’t believe it’s outside the realm of possibility for Biedrins to post numbers similar to the 18.6 points and 8.2 rebounds he averaged in the FIBA Cup last season.

“He’s a very intelligent basketball player, that’s what’s impressed me so far about Andris. Soon he’s going to be a very good player,” said Warriors teammate and locker neighbor Eduardo Najera. “He’s got great instincts around the hoop and a nice touch. But moreover, the thing that really impresses me is that every single day he comes to work and work hard. That’s one thing that kids really don’t do today.”

Because Biedrins has made it on the court for a few minutes so far this season – he’s currently on the injured list with a strained left hamstring – the Latvian phenom has been extra active in practice. He arrives early for weight training and stays late for one-on-one drills with the coaching staff.

“I like to get here at least an hour early and make it like a real practice. It’s great having Adonal, Cliff and Dale Davis on my team because these guys are All-Stars. They know how to play the NBA game and I learn new things every day,” Biedrins said. “These are the best players in the world I’m competing against. When I came here I saw what I needed to do to get ahead. I need to get stronger and bigger if I want to be able to push these big guys around.”

And if Biedrins progresses as the team hopes, he’ll be able to push not only other NBA big men around – but their posses as well.

AJ Hayes is a San Francisco-based sports writer and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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