Andrew Bogut a down-to-earth NBA star

Andrew Bogut a down-to-earth NBA star

ANDREW Bogut is big and he's rich. You don't have to talk to him to know that. At 214cm tall – 7ft on his official National Basketball Association profile – he stands out in a crowd, writes Michael Coleman for The Brisbane Courier Mail.

As for the money, details of the $76 million five-year contract he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks last week were plastered on websites and newspapers around the world before the ink was dry.

But a brief off-court one-on-one session with the 23-year-old multi-millionaire reveals there is a lot more to him than dollars and centimetres.

For a young man competing in the flashiest, loudest, over-hyped sport outside professional wrestling, he's remarkably down-to-earth.

There's no bling or bull, none of the almond-sized diamond studs considered standard issue for NBA up-and-comers. Just an easy smile and firm handshake.

Facing the media 24 hours after arriving on the Gold Coast for Australia's pre-Olympic training camp, Bogut was open to all questions and all requests to shoot a few hoops.

Before starting the interview he even came out with the rarely heard words, "Sorry. Where did you say you were from?"

Put it down to his upbringing. He does. Bogut was 15 when his father Michael, a labourer who had migrated to Melbourne from Croatia before Andrew was born, took a major gamble on his son's future.

Bogut was a good junior basketballer yet to mature physically. Where his coaches and representative selectors saw a skinny kid, his father saw a giant in a boy's body.

Family legend had it that one of Michael's ancestors stood well over 220cm tall. The coaches didn't listen, so Michael found his own coach.

Fellow immigrant Sinisa Markovic took Andrew on as a project. Six afternoons a week the physical trainer and the schoolboy spent hours in the sort of torturous regime that only a professional athlete could maintain.

When the predicted growth spurt arrived and the boy became a giant, his body was ready. So was his work ethic.

In 2003, he spearheaded Australia to the under-19 World Championship in Greece. Every college in the US came calling. Professional clubs in Europe said "forget college, come and play for dough".

He knocked back millions of dollars and went to the University of Utah because it had the toughest coach in the country.

No non-US player had ever won the Wooden or Naismith awards for college player of the year. In 2005, his final year at Utah, Bogut won both. He was picked up by Milwaukee in the first round of the NBA draft, earning $5 million in his first season.

Part of the money went to building a new locker room for his old college. More went to kick-start his own charitable foundation and more again to repaying his parents.

"Money is great," he said. "My parents invested a lot of money so I could play basketball and it's good to be able to pay them back, but playing in the Olympics is not about money. It's great to represent your country and have the whole country watching.

"When I was a kid I'd watch the Olympic basketball on TV. I used to get angry when they cut back to other events. I really looked up to all those players, Shane Heal, Andrew Gaze, Mark Bradtke, Luc Longley. I liked the Boomers because as well as being good players individually, they came together and they were a team.

"They surprised a lot of other teams and that's one of the things I love about playing for Australia.

"There's something about Australian teams – whether it's football, cricket or whatever. The players really get along, and that's not always the case with other countries.

"It's different to the NBA where sometimes you have to play for yourself because it's a business and you have to put yourself first.

"That's not what it can be about in Beijing. No one can be thinking 'gee, if I do well here I might get a good European contract or I could get to the NBA'. We have to be on the same page. It has to be all about the team, all about Australia."

Bogut played for Australia in Athens four years ago and knows, quite frankly, that he blew it.

"I was 19, playing at the Olympics, and I was too immature to know what was going on," he said.

"I took it for granted. I'm not saying I was playing around, I was still a pro, but until you go to the Olympics and see just how enormous it is, you can't know what to expect.

"This time it will be different. I've been playing in the NBA since I was 20 and I've put on 10kg. I'm physically more mature but more importantly I'm mentally older as well."

Which leads neatly into the stock question: So I guess you be wanting to take a leadership role now?

You wait for the stock answer, but it doesn't come.

"I've always said the leader shouldn't just be the guy who plays in the NBA or makes the most money," he says.

"The leader is the one who gets to practise early and stays late. He's the one who helps the team. Sure, I want to be that person, but I want to earn it."

He means it too, so out comes another question: That's a good attitude you've got there kid. Where did it come from?

There's a pause.

"From a lot of people," he says. "From my parents, from my trainer Sinisa Markovic, who has been with me since I was 15, and from every coach who ever cut me."


The ABC's Mark Hides has put together this excellent video featuring Andrew Bogut:


---Bogut says more Aussies will play NBABy Wayne Heming for The Australian Associated Press16 July 2008NBA star Andrew Bogut, who is preparing for his second Olympic Games campaign, believes more Australians playing alongside him in the US could be a key to boosting basketball back home.

The 213cm centre, who has just signed a mind-boggling $76 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, expects around 10-15 Australians to feature in the American league over the next decade.

And he feels that can only boost the profile of the NBL, which has lost power clubs Sydney and Brisbane in the off-season.

"It's great to get more and more Australian players going over and right now, you've got (Andrew) Ogilvy in college as the next prospect and Pat Mills and so on," he said from the Boomers camp on the Gold Coast.

"The more the merrier I say.

"In five or 10 years we are going to have 10 or 15 players in the NBA which would be a big step for Australian basketball.

"It will help basketball here."

Once Bogut's contract was resolved with the Bucks, he was fully insured and free to join up with his Australian teammates to prepare for Beijing.

Coach Brian Goorjian's ability to effectively use Bogut's talents will be vital to the team's cause and the Victorian-born big man knows his profile will make him a target in Beijing.

"I could be targeted but I've got pretty good guys to back me up," he said.

"I've got Chris Anstey, the MVP of the (Australian) league backing me up and that's a great thing to have in your back pocket."

While Bogut is a crucial piece of the Boomers' puzzle, Chinese superstar Yao Ming is even more important to his national team.

The face of the Beijing Games, Yao has been racing against time to overcome a broken foot, but Bogut expects him to compete.

"I think they'll do everything in their power to get big Yao on the floor," said Bogut.

"He's obviously the hopes and dreams of their basketball program and without him their chances drop dramatically.

"I think they'll probably have million-dollar-an-hour doctors with him day in and day out just to try and get him back on the floor."

Bogut, who averaged career highs of 14.3 points, 9.8 boards and 1.7 blocks in his third NBA season, feels better equipped than when he appeared in his first Olympics in Athens four years ago.

"I couldn't take in the Olympics for what they were worth in Athens, I was very immature and I wasn't up to it at that level where I am now," he said candidly.

The Boomers will spend the next eight days in an intensive camp on the Gold Coast before contesting the pre-Olympic FIBA Diamond Ball tournament, followed by a one-off clash with the USA Dream Team in Shanghai on August 5.