As anyone who watched those European postage stamp sized highlight packages on the internet last season, the Nets got themselves a bargain at #43 in the 2005 Draft. When Russ Granik intoned, "With the 43rd pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, the New Jersey Nets select Mile Ilic of Serbia-Montenegro" in June 2005, the most likely response among fans was "Who?!".
The 7'2" Ilic played well enough in Serbia, averaging nearly 9 points a game in only 19 minutes of action and being named to the Serbian National Team as a backup center to Darko Milicic...who also happens to be his best friend.
Now, in training camp, it appears there was a method to the Nets' madness. Buried at the bottom of stories and in beat reporters' blogs are increasingly positive comments about Ilic's performance, his shot-blocking and his great passing ability for a big man.
Here's a sample:
"Mile Ilic impressed during yesterday's scrimmage, blocking [Marcus] Williams twice and bouncing a no-look pass for a dunk."
--Daily News, Sunday
"Brandon Bowman had a strong showing yesterday, but Mile Ilic delighted his teammates with a behind-the-back pass (setting up a Bowman dunk) and a pair of blocked shots against Marcus Williams to help the blue team (starters) win the scrimmage. 'He's catching up to the speed of the game,' Jason Kidd said of Ilic. 'I think he's getting comfortable. He's very calm. He never panics. He can pass with the best of them.'"
--Star Ledger, Sunday
"Kidd compared Mile Ilic to Serbian great Vlade Divac after the rookie threw a wraparound behind-the-back pass that Brandon Bowman converted into a dunk. The 7-foot-1 Ilic also swatted a couple of Marcus Williams' shots at the end of the scrimmage to preserve the blue team's victory.
"'He can pass with the best of them,' Kidd said."
--The Record, Sunday
"Mile Ilic is still trying to adjust to the speed of the NBA game, but he's not embarrassing himself in scrimmages. His greatest gain, however, is 'in the weight room,' Nenad Krstic said. 'He passes the ball good. He understands the game.'"
--Star Ledger, Saturday
"His passing has impressed. There is no need to rush the big guy.
"'He looks better every day,' insists fellow Serb Nenad Krstic. 'He improves in the weight room. I think that's the most important thing for him and he's learning stuff like plays and everything. He passes the ball good. He did that in Serbia. He is a very good passer and he understands the game'."
--New York Post, Friday.
"Mile with two gorgeous bounce passes in traffic."
--Sussman Sez, Thursday