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Nets Not Interested, but Drejer Playing Well

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It's ironic that the same week Christian Drejer had his best game since being drafted by the Nets, there is a report that New Jersey simply not interested in their 2004 second-round pick, even if they still retain his draft rights.

Dave D'Alessando, in his weekly response to emailing Nets' fans, wrote this about the 6'-9" Danish shooting guard's chances: "the organization has come to conclude that he is just too soft (in more ways than one) to play in the NBA. That’s from the top." The top presumably being Ed Stefanski who drafted Drejer or Rod Thorn.

While the Star-Ledger beat writer's parenthetical remark was somewhat cryptic, the overall message was not: Drejer had his chance last summer in Las Vegas and didn't make it. In the Reebok Summer League, Drejer was spectacularly unimpressive, even for a player taken at No. 51 in the draft. He averaged a mere 2.6 ppg and shot only 18.2% from the floor. If he had succeeded, Stefanski said he would have been invited to the Nets' training camp.

One excuse was that he had just finished what was a miserable season with F.C. Barcelona in the Spanish League where in spite of being one of the league's highest paid players [at $800,000 per], he was regularly benched, criticized by his coach for lack of effort and referred to as "El Enigma" by Spain's top newspaper. If indeed he was suffering the psychological after-effects of being dumped, it only added to the perception that he is "soft", that indefinable but all-too-certain description no NBA player wants to hear about himself.

Still, the Nets retained his draft rights in September and he made sure his contract with Virtus Bologna of the Italian league has both buyout and NBA "opt-outs" so he can pursue his dream. And he has had a rebirth of sorts in Italy. In fact, he played his best all-around game Sunday against Lottomatica Roma, when Virtus upset the team from Rome, 114-90, in a critical Italian League matchup. It was also easily his team’s biggest win of the year. Drejer scored 20 points to lead all scorers, on 5-for-7 shooting, including 2-for-2 from beyond the international arc, as well as hitting all 8 of his free throws. More significantly, he also stole the ball six times and blocked a shot by Dejan Bodiroga, the so-called "Larry Bird of Europe"—and the player Drejer backed up during his unhappy season in Barcelona.

Both Jarring.it, the Bologna fan site, and Il Restino del Carlo, the Bologna newspaper, raved about the "Great Dane"s performance, particularly his aggressiveness in going to the hole and in defending Bodiroga.

According to a machine translation of Jarring’s appraisal, Drejer warranted an "8" out of "10" for his play. "Benissimo, Drejer"—"Well Done, Drejer", said Jarring in its assessment. Jarring described his play as "sumptuous" and "magical", noting that during crunchtime, he scored 10 points in 8 minutes. As for the effect of his defense on Bodiroga? "Stoppato", a reference to the rare block against Rome’s best.

Il Restino quoted him as saying that while he was "absolutely not" taking revenge on Bodiroga, he described going up against the 6’-9" "master" as "electrifying and fun". "I learned a lot [from him] and assimilated so many secrets", he added. "I cannot wait to be compared to him…Fifteen years and he is still here and still making a difference."

Drejer also sounded like a team leader when he said his team, which lost two close games to teams thought be easy wins, needs to take it one game at a time "footstep by footstep" to get into the Italian League playoffs and restore Virtus to its former greatness. The team is now 15-8 and tied for fifth place in the 18-team league.

The 23-year-old is now averaging 13.7 ppg for Virtus, along with 3.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists, but over the last 10 games, Drejer, an Italian League All-Star, has picked up the pace. During that recent stretch, he is averaging 16.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists, shooting 50.5% from the field and 51.1% from beyond the arc. Italian press reports have said that other NBA teams have attended Virtus games, specifically to scout Drejer, among them the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers.

Still, there are doubts about his game in both Bologna and Copenhagen, where he learned the game.

Christian Vinther, editor of danskbasket.dk, writes NetsDaily about his correspondence with one of the writers at jarring.it: "I've corresponded a little bit with Daniele Labanti from jarring.it and he told me that Zare wants 15 points from Drejer per game. As he puts it, Drejer is too much in love with the ball, so he does not want to give him too many minutes. 20 points in 23 minutes is definitely acceptable."

Vinther adds, though, that Labanti and he have noted some positives about Drejer's play this year: "It seems like he has been much more consistent after Christmas and that he has learned a lot about aggressiveness and defense. He's not as foul prone as he was in the beginning of the season and he earned a lot of credit for his defense this weekend. He has had two off-games after Christmas one of them he was playing with the flu and in the other game he had some back problems."

As for the news that the Nets' brass is not enamored of his chances, Vinther was philosophical: "Drejer most likely wouldn't stand a chance in New Jersey anyway". After all, although Drejer can play three positions, they are three where the Nets don't need a lot of help: shooting guard, small forward and point guard.