How bullies paved the way for Spurs draft pick to play basketball
SAN ANTONIO— Eighteen years to the day after selecting Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs chose another former swimmer in the first round of the NBA draft by taking Serbia’s Nikola Milutinov with selection 26 on Thursday.
Milutinov was a promising swimmer with Olympic aspirations when he said he was literally run out of the pool. Two bullies pushed a 12-year-old Milutinov off the side of pool, nearly breaking his jaw. He began playing basketball two days later and has since become one of the top European centers.
The 20-year-old averaged 10.1 points and 7.7 rebounds last season while playing for Partizan in the EuroCup and Adriatic and Serbian leagues.
The Spurs used the No. 1 selection in 1997 to select Duncan, who also held Olympic aspirations as a swimmer before turning to basketball.
As a youth in the Virgin Islands, Duncan was a standout in the 50-, 100- and 400-meter freestyle with hopes of qualifying for the 1992 Olympics.
Those dreams were dashed in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo destroyed the Virgin Island’s lone Olympic-sized swimming pool. Duncan trained briefly in the ocean, but has said a fear of sharks drove him from the water and ended his swimming career.
The rest is history. Duncan is perhaps the greatest power forward in NBA history after leading the Spurs to five championships and 18 straight postseason appearances.
While Duncan had an immediate impact with the Spurs, Milutinov is expected to spend at least a few seasons overseas before joining San Antonio.
The Spurs have found great success with international players, winning five titles since 1999 while selecting Tony Parker from France and Argentina’s Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter out of the EuroLeague. San Antonio has also signed France’s Boris Diaw, Australia’s Patty Mills and Italy’s Marco Belinelli to shore up the roster and play in the Spurs’ vaunted system under coach Gregg Popovich.
Spurs general manager R.C. Buford has only tinkered with the roster instead of overhauling it over the past two decades but that will likely change this season as the team only has five players currently under contract.
Duncan and Ginobili have not announced whether they will retire or return. NBA Defensive Player of the Year and 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is a restricted free agent. Stalwart role players Danny Green and Belinelli are unrestricted free agents.
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