Q&A with Wolves Center Darko Milicic


When the Timberwolves acquired Darko Milicic from the Knicks last February, it elicited snickers and eye rolls on the Minnesota sports scene. After all, few players in any sport had been the punch line of more jokes and endured more abuse over the past decade than Milicic.

Most of Darko’s angst of course, traces back to the 2003 NBA Draft when the Detroit Pistons selected the 18-year-old center with the 2nd overall pick - right behind Lebron James and just ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

Milicic’s tenure in Detroit was spent almost entirely on the bench. He joined a veteran team - who would win the NBA title his rookie season - and played for an old school coach - Larry Brown - who did not suffer rookie mistakes. He never had a chance.

By the time the Wolves traded for him, Milicic had become a journeyman,  making undistinguished stops in Orlando, Memphis and New York. In Minnesota however, he’s finally found a home.  Darko’s solid play during the final weeks of last season showed the talent-starved Wolves enough to reward  the 25-year-old with a 4-year, $20 million contract.

Nursing an ankle sprain, the 7-foot Serbian had a candid discussion with me following Friday’s practice at Target Center.

DZ: First off, how is your ankle feeling right now?

DARKO: It’s pretty sore and I am getting some treatment after practice. Tomorrow – before practice – we’ll try and tape it up. (Hopefully I’ll) have a good practice tomorrow and the next day and then get ready for Houston (on Monday).

DZ: You guys came back from LA yesterday, when you got off the plane, how cold did it feel?

DARKO: Man (pauses), man, after 80 degrees coming here (and it’s) below zero – shocked. I saw some guys in short sleeve shirts yesterday and I was like “You’ve got to be kidding me! You can’t tell me you are not cold.” People are used to it here, it’s different.

DZ: What is it like in Serbia; does it get real cold over there?

DARKO: It gets maybe around like 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This is extreme stuff.

DZ: I’ve noticed watching the games that you’ve shown a little more ball handling (ability) – behind the back and that kind of stuff. Is that something you work on?

DARKO: When I started playing basketball I started as a point guard because coaches saw me being a big guy with good handling (and) good passing skills. I used to play around a lot at point guard and that’s what got me good at handling (the ball). I don’t get a chance to do that a lot here, in the NBA – a guy my height.

DZ: I’ve noticed watching you in practice a little bit, it seems like they’ve been trying to get you to dunk the ball more inside. Is that something you’ve been working on?

DARKO: Yeah, just finishing inside stronger….I usually just lay the ball in instead of dunking the ball because it’s a different style of basketball (in Europe). (I am) just trying to finish those inside plays by dunking and not laying it up.

DZ: Is that an attitude change, just being more aggressive?

DARKO: No, I just have to get a feel for it, when I am really close to the basket, that I can dunk it instead of just laying it in. Just trying to get a feel on the court, where I am at.

DZ: A little less than a year ago – maybe 11 months ago – you got traded over here. What has it been like? It seems like it’s really helped your career.

DARKO: These people here have helped me a lot. When I thought nobody would come out and give me a chance to play, they came out and gave me a chance to play and I really appreciated it. That kind of surprised me at the time. I thought – after all I went through in the NBA – I didn’t think somebody would come out, especially let me play in the starting line-up….I appreciate it.

DZ: If you hadn’t been traded (to Minnesota), do you think you’d even be in the NBA? Would you have gone back to Europe?

DARKO: I would go back to Europe, play few more years, shut it down and go fishing.

DZ: You’ve found a home – I guess – is what you are saying.

DARKO: Yeah, this a great place for me, great people. (We) are just a young team trying to prove something. For us, every game is a crucial game. We are trying as a team – because we are the youngest team in the league and have a lot of new pieces – we are trying to play better. We know it is not going to happen overnight, but we are trying to improve every day.

DZ: Way back in your rookie year (2003-04), you didn’t play much but you did get a championship ring with the Pistons. What does that mean to you?

DARKO: For me it doesn’t mean that much. I don’t feel like I was a champion. I was really happy for those guys in Detroit because I played with them and they are great players and great people – all those guys: Chauncey (Billups), Ben Wallace, Rasheed (Wallace), Tayshaun (Prince) and all those guys on the bench. Not for the coach (Larry Brown), I don’t want to talk about the coach, I am just saying for those guys - I was happy for them. But for me personally, I am not the kind of guy who sits on the bench and feels like a champion…but I got that ring.

DZ: Where is it right now?

DARKO: I have no idea where it is. Right now, I am looking to sell it because I am helping some people back home, some kids who are really ill – charity stuff. I am looking to maybe put that ring in a charity auction and try to help those kids get their treatment and stay alive. I feel like if that ring if is going to help somebody (it’s) better than just sitting somewhere in my house.

DZ: One last thing, for your time in Detroit and because you were drafted so high, you had to deal with a lot of criticism in your career. Did any of that hurt you at all, did you let it get to you?

DARKO: Not really, because I am not from here.  I am not American, I am from Europe, so the first time I got here I didn’t know about draft picks and expectations and stuff. I just played basketball, that’s what I did. I came here and they told me I am going to be the second pick – I said alright, I’ll play basketball (if) I am the second pick, OK. I am chosen (with the) second pick and you know, I just found myself in a bad situation…(they) wouldn’t play me and I just went through a tougher and tougher and tougher (time) and just didn’t get a chance to play at all.

In the beginning, I said basketball is a game. For me – at home – there is a lot more serious stuff. So, I took it tough, but not that tough. I was just asking myself, “Why am I here? Why am in the US? I came here to play basketball and I find myself not playing basketball.” So, I was kind of lost at that time and when I got a chance to play, I got back on track and started feeling good about basketball, I liked basketball again.

See more of David Zingler’s interviews with Timberwolves players:

January 11: Luke Ridnour
December 24: Wesley Johnson
December 14: Sebastian Telfair
November 30: Anthony Tolliver

One Response to “Q&A with Wolves Center Darko Milicic”

  1. MinnesotaSCORE » Q&A with Wolves Rookie Lazar Hayward Says:

    […] 21: Darko Milicic January 11: Luke Ridnour December 24: Wesley Johnson December 14: Sebastian Telfair November 30: […]

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