For decades teams chose not to draft European point guards, believing that they didn't have a feel for the NBA game. The Spurs considered choosing one in the second round of the 1999 draft, says general manager R.C. Buford, but "we came to the conclusion that Pop [coach Gregg Popovich] would never play a foreign point guard."
Consider that era long over. San Antonio is the title favorite in part because of a point guard combo comprising No. 28 picks: fourth-year Frenchman Tony Parker and a rookie from Slovenia, Beno Udrih (BAY-no OO-drick).
While Parker, the starter, is prone to freelancing--and drawing Popovich's ire--Udrih is a traditional tempo-controlling, pass-first point guard. "Our players love to play with him," says Spurs assistant P.J. Carlesimo. "He'll throw it ahead to Manu [Ginobili] or Brent [Barry], he gets it to the big guys underneath, he runs the pick-and-roll very well." Udrih is also a capable scorer, averaging 5.6 points and ranking 14th in three-point shooting (41.7%). "He has no fear of shooting at any time," says Tim Duncan. "That's something I didn't expect so early."
Udrih grew up in Sempeter, a town of 3,000 in a basketball-mad country of two million that has produced a half-dozen NBA players. By the time he was 21, he had played for Slovenia's major club, Olimpija Ljubljana, as well as in Israel and Russia. Udrih fit in comfortably at the All-Star Rookie Challenge with five points and four assists in his team's 133-106 loss to the sophomores. The bigger test will be his work down the stretch for San Antonio. "In Euroleague you have 16 games to get into the quarterfinals, so every game counts," Udrih says. "Here there are more games, sometimes you're very tired, you don't have your legs like they should be, and it's hard to play. But I'm excited about doing it."‚ñ†