- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Peter John Ramos was convinced he would be taken by some team as its No.1 pick in last week’s NBA Draft and receive the guaranteed, three-year contract that comes with the selection.

The Washington Wizards were convinced, too. And if Ramos wasn’t pleased to be undrafted at the start of the second round, the Wizards were happy to find the 7-foot-3 center still available. They took the 19-year-old with the 32nd pick.

“We were very surprised he wasn’t gone in the first round,” Washington general manager Ernie Grunfeld said. “Someone always slips, for whatever reason. Anytime you can get someone who is 7-3 with a soft touch, is a good athlete and can run the floor, you want to have him.”

Ramos, who played the last four seasons in the Puerto Rican professional league, likely would have pulled out of the draft and played elsewhere next season were he not convinced he would be a first-round pick.

Second-round selections do not automatically receive guaranteed contracts. If he had withdrawn from the draft, Ramos could have re-entered next year.

“I was a little nervous after what happened,” said Ramos, who visited Washington and the Wizards yesterday. “I was told I would be in the first round. … That is in the past. I like the team that picked me.”

Ramos worked out briefly at MCI Center before rushing back to the airport. He will not be on the Wizards’ summer league team. Instead, he will train with the Puerto Rican national team and play in the Athens Olympics in August.

Ramos, who weighs a solid 275 pounds, averaged 20.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.3 blocks last season for Criollos de Caguas of Puerto Rico’s Superior Basketball League. Because of a quirk in the Puerto Rican system, he also played for his high school team last season before finishing classes this spring.

“I’m about 85 percent ready [for the NBA],” Ramos said. “I am just going to do my job. I know I can do it.”

Grunfeld sees the towering Ramos as a promising project.

“He just turned 19,” Grunfeld said. “You can’t teach 7-3, especially with some athleticism. It is up to him [to succeed]. He has potential.”

The Wizards have had mixed results with recent second-round picks. In 2002, they drafted Alabama forward Rod Grizzard and Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro, but neither has played a game in the NBA. Grizzard was released before the season, and Navarro never came to camp. In 2003, the Wizards chose Steve Blake, and the point guard from Maryland has shown promise in a reserve role.

Ramos’ route to the NBA was roundabout. He was born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, and moved to New York when he was 5. A former Puerto Rican league player spotted Ramos — who at 14 was about 6-9 — at a big-and-tall clothing store in Brooklyn. The ex-player called Caguas owner Felix Rivera, who flew to New York and offered Ramos a contract without seeing him play.

He played little in his first two seasons before earning the island league’s most improved player award in 2002-03 while averaging 12.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and shooting 53 percent. Ramos got his first taste of international competition after that season as a member of the Puerto Rico junior national team.

Ramos is slated to join the Wizards for preseason practice in the fall but could opt for a guaranteed contract in Europe or elsewhere. Grunfeld said yesterday’s meeting was more of a meet-and-greet and negotiations will begin soon.

“It’s going to take care of itself,” said Grunfeld, who did not offer a timetable of when or if Ramos will join the Wizards. “I like to have our players around us so we can help them develop.”

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