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Turning point
by Nikola Olic / November 22, 2005

Two years after the Pistons drafted Darko Milicic, his career can finally begin. His numbers might not yet be impressive but they are meaningful and do not belong to the tail end of a 30-point blowout.

His slow demeanor, characteristic of a seven-foot human being, remains only while he is behind the scenes and still in his NBA-approved European garbs. On the court and wearing a 31 on his back, his body language is that of a young player eager to prove worthy of the support his teammates and a new coach have given him.

"The minutes I get on the floor are helping my confidence", Milicic said after their 119-82 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night, the first one of the season. "I am focusing on my defense and trying to get whatever comes from that. I try open shots as much as possible. If in my five minutes on the floor I don't get a good shot, I know I am off the court. There aren't many plays that are set for me, so I go for loose balls and any other sudden opportunities I can get from rebounding on both ends on the floor. I also try to go for open jumpers as much as possible."

Significant bench time during his first two years distanced Milicic from the team's success even though he won a championship ring in his rookie season. He was happy to be there with the team, but victories did not mean much without playing. A year ago, he jokingly admitted that he was not even sure where his championship ring was. This time, he thinks it will be different.

"I feel better with every passing game. With the coaching change we had, I feel much better. It is great working with the new staff and with all the players. They give me hope and give me confidence. I am still not completely comfortable on the floor after two years of not playing, but my teammates remind me not to dwell on the mistakes I make and just continue to play."

The arrival of new coach Flip Saunders proved favorable to Milicic already in the early preseason play. He was playing two full quarters per game and seemed to have established himself in the rotation. When asked to compare the two coaches now, he would speak the world of Saunders but would go no further than just stating the facts on the departing coach Larry Brown.

"It is much more relaxed, we have set plays like any other team but we are free to improvise if a better opportunity comes along. If you are free and think you can score, execute and do what you think is best. Play ball and enjoy yourself. If coach has any remarks, he will let you know after the game. I am now much more comfortable with my open jumper. With coach Saunders I have the freedom I never had with Brown."

He quickly added that there are limitations to what he is supposed to do on the floor.

"I don't like it that lately I have not been play in the post. I work on it in practice, but I just don't get the chance when out on the floor. My favorite position is to play at the 4. That is where I can get open and shoot."

THE EUROBASKET

This summer, the European Championship took place in Milicic's home country of Serbia-Montenegro. He was on the National Team that had a disappointing run and was eliminated by France in the quarterfinals. Following the loss, the National Team went through a crisis caused by poor results and by a seeming rift between the NBA and non-NBA players on the squad.

"We were all friendly with each other, we were hanging out together a lot, the chemistry was excellent. Media took the conflict between NBA and non-NBA players a little too far. As far as I am concerned, we are all the same. We came there to play for our country and our people. We should have given it our best and should have sacrificed all we got and I don't feel we did that. I am sad for the results we got this summer considering what kind of a team we had. I remember the sinking feeling after we lost to France as if it were today. We all know the situation in our country, fans saved up for months for tickets to see us play."

Unlike the brown suede sweats Milicic wore in Dallas during Detroit's preseason visit, last Saturday he was in full compliance with the NBA dress code. Like most European players, he is not bothered with the new appearance guidelines but has stated that he will not wear Dockers clothing even if it were free, referring to the offer made by the clothing company to provide free suits to all NBA players.

"It is not a big deal for me, I just have to lug all my suits around all the time. We have to respect the new rules, there is no way out. Home games are not a problem but playing on the road might be because you have to bring so much stuff. But I am not complaining."

Nikola Olic works for Serbian TV station B92 and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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