Fewer players with international ties picked in NBA draft
MIAMI (AP) Lauri Markkanen had a special accessory sewn into the lining of his suit jacket at the NBA draft.
The Finnish flag.
''It's been a little while,'' Markkanen said.
For the sharpshooting Finn, it was worth the wait.
Markkanen - officially drafted by Minnesota, but traded to Chicago in the deal that sent Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves - will become the second Finland-born player in the NBA, after Hanno Mottola. And while international players didn't hear their name called as often in this year's draft as was the case last year, when a record 27 were selected, there was still a distinct foreign flavor.
''I'm really honored to be part of this organization, and can't wait to go there and do what I can,'' said Markkanen, who spent his lone college season at Arizona. ''It's just a blessing to be here. And of course Michael Jordan, greatest player ever to play, so it's huge to be a part of it.''
There were a half-dozen players with true international ties taken in the first round. Right after Markkanen went off the board, the New York Knicks took point guard Frank Ntilikina with the No. 8 pick.
Still just 18, Ntilikina has been a pro for three years already.
''I think it definitely helped me to play against grown men, adults, and to play against some of the guys that went into the NBA actually,'' Ntilikina said. ''Like, I had teammates that played in the NBA, former Mavs Rodrigue Beaubois, former Knick Mardy Collins, so actually every teammate can help you to make the transition.''
UCLA's T.J. Leaf, picked No. 18 by Indiana, was born in Israel. Terrance Ferguson, the No. 21 pick by Oklahoma City, was born in Oklahoma but played this last season in Australia. OG Anunoby, the No. 23 pick by Toronto, was born in London.
And Anzejs Pasecniks was taken at No. 25 by Orlando before getting traded to Philadelphia; he's a Latvian who has been playing in Spain. But he's well-versed in the NBA world.
''I was like all kids, I was watching LeBron, Kobe, Durant, Allen Iverson,'' Pasecniks said. ''I was hoping one day I'm going to be there, too, and now I'm hoping that one day other kids are going to watch my top moments and think that he wants to be like me one day.''
The second round, as usual, featured plenty of players from foreign teams - former UCLA player and Australia-born Jonah Bolden was most recently playing in Serbia; Vlatko Cancar, Ognjen Jaramaz and Alpha Kaba were all teammates in Serbia; Isaiah Hartenstein was born in Oregon, raised in Germany and played in Lithuania; Mathias Lessort has been in France and Aleksandar Vezenkov last played in Spain.
They've all been pros already.
Now, when or if any actually get to the NBA, their biggest challenge awaits.
''Being in different situations in my life, coming from Eugene to Germany then to Lithuania really helped me mature as a player and as a person and I think I was really ready for this step,'' said Hartenstein, who went No. 43 to Houston. ''I think now just getting picked where I got picked, I think now I'm just coming in with another chip on my shoulder, and I think I'm just going to work as hard as I can.''
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