- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2006

Just more than two years ago, a question in English directed at Oleksiy Pecherov would have drawn little more than a confused stare from the Washington Wizards’ first-round draft pick.

“It was strange language to me, but I heard it all the time over the last few years,” he said, in English hardly poor at all. “In basketball you come in contact with people who speak English. You always are told that you have to pick up the language. Getting better.”

Many of those English speakers were from America; basketball people who recognized the skills the 6-foot-11, 225-pound Ukrainian possessed would translate into a job in the NBA, the preferred line of business for many young European basketball players.

One was Washington Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld, the man primarily responsible for choosing the 20-year-old forward with the 18th overall pick in Wednesday’s NBA Draft.

It was the first time the franchise had chosen a foreign player in the first round.

Grunfeld, a Romanian immigrant who arrived in Queens unable to speak English himself in 1964, is excited over Pecherov’s ability to quickly pick up the language. But the Wizards’ boss is not sure how long it will take Pecherov to become a contributor here.

“Obviously, Oleksiy is going to have to learn the NBA game and learn our system and how things work,” Grunfeld said yesterday shortly after Pecherov’s introduction during a press conference at Verizon Center. “We don’t have a time frame for when he will reach his peak. That’s really going to be up to him and his development and how quickly everything comes together for him.

“But he does have that competitiveness and he does have a desire. And we know already that he has NBA skills in terms of his shooting ability, his rebounding ability and his ability to run the floor. He already has that, and he’s not afraid to mix it up. He’s very competitive.”

Pecherov’s ability to learn English as quickly as he has is a plus in Grunfeld’s mind as well.

“For a 20-year-old young man who was brought up in another country, to speak English the way he does, I think it’s remarkable,” Grunfeld added. “Being born in a different country myself, and coming here at a young age and speaking another language, I know it’s not always as easy as it seems. I think he does a great job of expressing himself. That says a lot about him.”

Pecherov was the fourth of six foreign players selected in the first round. The Wizards chose 6-foot-10 Belarusian forward Vladimir Veremeenko in the second round, 48th overall.

Pecherov averaged 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds a game last season for Paris Basket Racing, which plays in the top French league.

He already is believed to have a better jump shot than any big man on the Wizards’ roster, with the possible exception of Andray Blatche, last year’s 49th pick. Asked which European player his game most closely resembles, Pecherov said Dirk Nowitzki.

“I try to learn from everybody, but I like Dirk Nowitzki,” Pecherov said. “He’s a great player. He’s from Europe. He has same skills like me so I think he’s a good example for me to be like in the future. I will keep working hard and we’ll see in the future.”

Pecherov may have a buyout attached to his contract with Paris Basket Racing, which could delay his arrival here. But the Wizards will get a chance to look at him extensively this summer, beginning Monday at the Wizards’ camp for veterans and free agents.

He’s also scheduled to participate next month in the Vegas Summer League, hoping to distinguish himself from Blatche and center Peter John Ramos, the 32nd pick in 2004.

Grunfeld yesterday sounded as if he’s still willing to be patient with their development, especially because the team has 12 players under contract for next season.

“It all depends if they earn it or not,” Grunfeld said of the prospects’ contributing next season. “It’s up to the players to get out there and earn their minutes. The other guys have been here a little bit longer than Oleksiy and we’ll have to see where his development is. But I think it’s premature to say that any one of them is going to come in and play a major role.”

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