FOR a young sportsman living a multi-million dollar dream, Andrew Bogut sounds surprisingly tired and frustrated, writes Ron Reed for The Herald Sun.
The 22-year-old Melbourne basketballer's downbeat mood wouldn't have improved much yesterday, either.
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Personally, he enjoyed a productive game -- 16 points, 17 rebounds -- as the Milwaukee Bucks were over-run 99-93 by the barnstorming Dallas Mavericks after leading all the way to the last minute.
But what should have been their best win for the season turned into the Bucks' 18th defeat from the past 21 outings -- and Bogut is feeling the pain.
His numbers suggest he's going even better than in his widely-acclaimed first season, when he was squarely in the spotlight as the National Basketball Association's No. 1 draft pick -- a gig for which he is paid in the millions.
But asked if he was happy with that, not much joy shone through during an exclusive interview with the Herald Sun on the eve of the game.
"Not bad, but there's room to improve," he said.
"We're obviously struggling, losing games, and it's become a bit of a grind.
"It's not as enjoyable as it should be."
And perhaps because the team -- minus superstar Michael Redd, who has missed the past 19 games with a knee injury -- is listing badly at 19-33 overall, even the gun recruit is not exempt from fan flak.
Some of the critiques floating around cyberspace are enough to make you wonder if his name has been changed to Andrew Bogus.
This one, for example:
"Is it safe to say that Bogut is a bust? The kid can't block shots and his rebounds and scoring aren't consistent enough to help the Bucks win."
"I have a severe distaste for Andrew Bogut."
"Welcome back Bad Andy. What happened to the Good Andy we met in December? Is he gone for good?
"Who knows, but Bogut's uneven play is starting to really piss me off. I mean, what's the deal with this guy?
"Is he a journeyman or a rising star? Is he a graceful pivotman or a slow-footed, stumbling clod? Will the real Andrew Bogut please stand up?"
One even said: "Andrew Bogut can't grow a beard."
So, Andrew, does this sort of stuff make life harder?
"Not really. It's just guys eating hamburgers sitting in front of computers, so it doesn't really worry me. It's their opinion," Bogut said.
"There are fans who like you and fans who hate you. Some think they should have taken someone else, some think you're the right choice and should be playing more minutes.
"But we practice and work hard and the organisation knows what to expect of us and what we're capable of."
In Australia, where Bogut is the Boomers' biggest asset, he is, naturally, being watched closely from afar. "The general opinion is that he's going quite well," says a Basketball Australia spokesman.
The injury list has created more game time -- he has started all 52 games and spent 42.17 minutes on the floor yesterday, more than any teammate -- and more responsibility, but added to the physical challenge.
Even when you stand 7ft tall in the old, or 213cm, such a workload can take a toll.
"Sometimes your body starts to feel tired," he said, adding that there had been a few little niggles.
Even a representative game on a big stage this weekend is generating limited enthusiasm.
Bogut will captain the Sophomores -- second-year players -- against the first-year rookies, an annual prelude to the showpiece all-star game and a chance to show what he's got to a bigger audience.
The captaincy is an accolade but Bogut appears to be treating it as just another professional assignment.
"It's pretty important to push yourself every day, no matter if you're sore or hurting," he said.
"You're a professional athlete, paid a million dollars, there's no reason why you shouldn't be there."
Asked if he had noticed an increase in expectations, Bogut said: "A little bit, it does (grow).
"That's part of any job, especially in the sporting profession. It doesn't really get to me.
"I work on my game every off-season to be the best player I can be."
Head coach Terry Stotts seems happy with Bogut's progress.
"In the last 21 years there have been only four No. 1 picks to make the playoffs in their rookie season: David Robinson, Chris Webber, Tim Duncan and Andrew Bogut. That's pretty good company," Stotts said recently.
"The expectations of a No. 1 pick, especially since they've become younger and younger, it's a little bit unfair.
"Andrew had a very solid rookie season and helped us make the playoffs. He's gotten better this year.
"He has more responsibility and statistically he's improved.
"His interior play is one of the reasons we had a really good December. He's a very competitive player."
From December 12 to 30 the Bucks won eight of 11 with Bogut hitting between 12 and 20 points nine times.
He continued to post good numbers last month, including a monster game -- a career-high 27 points and 11 rebounds -- against Charlotte.
His points are up by 2.5 per game to 11.9, his field goal percentage has risen by 0.15 to 0.548 (seventh in the competition) and he shot his first NBA three-pointer against Phoenix.
Rebounds are up 1.7, assists 0.6 and steals 0.2, while, negatively, his free throw percentage is down 0.52 and blocks by 0.2, while turnovers are up by 0.73 -- probably because he's handling the ball more.
In short, he is stringing plenty of good games together but still has his quiet nights.
From a development perspective, he says: "I'll get there eventually, I'm slowly going up.
"It'll take time, like everything does. I'm about halfway, and need to keep working off-season."
As a No. 1 draft pick in the NBA, he's obviously got a high profile but Bogut doesn't regard himself as a public or media star.
"I try to stay away from that, personally," he says.
"You're top of the town if you're winning but if you're losing . . .
"I try to stay out of the spotlight."
Maybe that's the real Andrew Bogut, standing up.
By Ron Reed for The Herald Sun