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Who is Mile Ilic?

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Mile Ilic is expected to arrive at the Nets training facility soon, following Serbia's exit from the World Championship in Tokyo. Since 7'2" Bosnian Serb was drafted a year ago, fans have seen little if anything of him...a couple online highlight packages from games at the end of 2005 followed by a long drought and then a precious few minutes of garbage time at the end of three games in the Worlds, only five of which were televised in the US. In comparison, the Nets' three other rookies, Marcus Williams, Josh Boone and Hassan Adams could have been found on national television almost any weekend either live or in taped highlights.

Fans have been forced to rely on boxscores, stat reports and game summaries, some of them in Serbo-Croatian, to get a sense of how good he is...and more importantly can be. The stats showed a few things: when given the ball, he can score; he can block shots; he is not as great a rebounder as a seven-footer should be.

Others have seen him play and given their assessments. NetsDaily has compiled a summary of what has been written on the web about his potential--in English--going back the past two years, starting with an NBADraft.net profile, written before the 2004 draft up to what FIBA wrote about him for the Worlds. Much of what has been written is complimentary and not in dispute: good hands, good shot, but in need of weight training and muscle. Still there are disagreements found in the long list of assessments. He is either "soft" or has an "attitude". He is either more or less athletic than Nenad Krstic, the inevitable point of comparison considering their age, height, ethnic origin and employer. His frame can either hold more weight or not. The Nets were surprised or not surprised to find him at #43 on Draft Night, etc., etc.

What does through, however, is this: Ilic is doubtlessly a good prospect, particularly for a player taken so late in the NBA Draft...as they say, only time will tell.

Here's the NetsDaily summary:

"Mile Ilic…Another intruiging prospect of the always fertile ground of Yugoslavia ... Still learning the game and if he has the intelligence and patience to wait to start his NBA career, he can be great ... He has come on strong in the past year and established himself as a legit NBA prospect. Right now he usually only gets garbage minutes, but he's had some nice games this season for Reflex ...

"At 20 years of age he is coming into his own as a basketball player ... He has received more than twenty minutes three times and played very well going for 15p 6r versus Bologna in Uleb cup then 13p 3r at Buducnost in the Adriatic league ... Numbers which display the potential of a good prospect ... He is over seven feet in height, and a long frame, and good coordination ... He does not shy away from contact and saccrifices his body ... His understanding of posting up and moving without the ball is excellent. Always keeping his hands in a ready position and is good at receiving passes ... Has some nice skills in the post and shows aggressiveness going to the basket ... He has good confidence and really wants the ball in important situations. He makes very good decisions and intelligence ... He can play back to the basket, but also can play some face up and has a jump hook which is effective ... His vision and passing under the basket is very good ... His feet are quick which gives him solid potential defensively ... Overall he's a very intriguing prospect, whose best bet is to be patient!"

-Cristian Biagini NBA Draft.net – May 31, 2004

"At the start of the season Ilic wasn't getting much playing time, but he finished this campaign in great form by scoring in double digits in 8 of the last 9 games. Unlike his teammate Aleksandrov, Ilic is aggressive and works very hard on the court. He is athletic and showed great coordination for a 7-footer. Lately he hit some jumpers from close to the international 3 point line and showed good court vision and above average passing abilities for a big man. If Ilic improves next season like he did over the second half of this one, he will most likely be a first round pick. He has a great frame, although he's still skinny, but just adding some pounds would dramatically improve his game. It's obvious that Ilic's potential isn't off the charts, but he could be a very solid center in the NBA. I expect Ilic to help himself even more at the Final Eight."

--Kristian Hohnjec, Draft Express, April 11, 2005

"Ilic has been playing really well in the second part of the season and the Final 8 was no exception. Ilic knows how to use his size and long arms to grab rebounds, showing good positioning around the basket as well. He is a good finisher around the hoop and showed good range on his jumper while taking and hitting some shots close to the 3 point line. His man-to-man defense needs work still since he isn't quite there physically at this point and opponents definitely take advantage of that.

"Ilic can't get off the floor very quickly so his shotblocking skills suffer. He showed some good post moves, but needs to continue to become more polished in this department. He showed very good court vision and was able to put the ball on the floor. He is probably somewhere between the early 2nd round and late 1st as of right now, but as long as he continues to develop next season the way he did in the 2nd part of this year he will have all chances to establish himself as a legit 1st rounder.

"His agent Marc Cornstein says that there is still a small possibility that Ilic's name will be entered into the draft, but it is very doubtful."

--Kristian Hohnjec, Draft Express, May 3, 2005

"Even if Mile Ilic has improved during the season, he still isn't a lock for the first round at this point. This rather athletic big man, with some offensive skills and attitude, could very well develop into a serviceable center, and therefore into a valuable pick for someone next year. He's probably fishing for a guarantee in the late first."

--Luis Fernández & Jonathan Givony, Draft Express, May 20, 2005

"Draft Projection: No. 22 to 30 overall

"Positives: He has great size and is very skilled for the position. According to scouts, he's more athletic than Kosta Perovic and a bit more polished in the post. Good hands. Can play with his back to the basket.

"Negatives: Needs to get stronger. At 7-foot-1, 240 he could use another 20 pounds of muscle before playing in the post. Despite his size, he isn't a great rebounder.

"Summary: Surprised everyone by leaving his name in the draft. Nuggets and Heat both walked away impressed after a recent dominating performance in the Serbia playoffs. He's very skilled, but a little on the soft side."

--Chad Ford, ESPN, June 2005

"He's as good of a shooter as there is at the five (center) spot. He's highly skilled and makes pretty good decisions. He doesn't have the lift you'd like for a guy in the paint, but his skill set compensates for that."

--David Griffin, Suns director of player personnel, Arizona Republic, June 23, 2005

"Ilic has outstanding size at at least 7 feet tall, sitting on a pretty nice frame, with an excellent wingspan to boot. Like most European players his age, he is a skinny player, but his overall build leads you to believe that he will fill out once he comes over and starts hitting an NBA weight room. In terms of size, he might remind you of Nenad Krstic a little bit, but that’s where the comparisons between the two end, as Ilic is a little more gifted physically but not nearly as far along skill wise compared with Krstic at the same age. The biggest thing he brings to table has to be his athletic ability for a player his size. Ilic runs the floor fluidly and is usually one of the first players down the court in transition as he has good speed in the open floor. Even more impressive is the quickness in which he gets off the ground, showing a nice vertical leap, which gives him a lot of potential in the shot-blocking department when you take his size and length into consideration, not to mention the fact that he appears to have pretty decent timing.

"Ilic is a fairly aggressive player that plays the game with purpose and understands his role on both sides of the floor. He moves well off the ball and will ask for the ball in positions he feels comfortable creating offense from. He appears to have an effective, although very ugly, jump shot which he can use effectively to score from 15-18 feet out, although not consistently quite yet. Inside the post, his go-to move appears to be a baby hook shot that he can get off as long as he isn’t being challenged physically too much. That appears to be the extent of his game right now, as he’s still a pretty raw player that is also considered a late bloomer compared with other players in this draft."

--Jonathan Givony, Draft Express, June 24, 2005

"Declared for the 2004 draft, but withdrew when he wasn't guaranteed to be a top 10 pick. Considered one of the better big-men prospects in the draft. Is well coordinated and has above-average speed and athleticism for his size. Has good hands and a versatile post-game, but is not a strong rebounder for a 7-footer. Can score while facing the hoop and with his back to the basket, but needs to add muscle to compete more in the blocks. Not afraid to play physical basketball and has quick feet, giving him the potential to be a very effective defensive player. Moves well without the ball and is aggressive when he gets the ball down low. Owns a nice jump hook and a decent mid-range jump shot. Appears to be a confident player who wants the ball in crunch time. Lacks experience after seeing limited minutes with Reflex. Likely to be selected late in the first round or early in the second."

--Associated Press, June 25, 2005

"Mile Ilic has been on the NBA radar for many years, despite being only 20 years old. Ilic is still raw and skinny, but the Nets have had success drafting raw, skinny players before (see Nenad Krstic). Ilic will most likely be left in Europe for a season or two, allowing him to put on a few more pounds and develop his game. Should Ilic reach his full potential, he could become a very big part of the Nets’ future."

--Fraser MacKinlay, Draft Express, June 29, 2005

"After scoring a big hit with Nenad Krstic a few years ago, the Nets go international again. Ilic is a true center who has really come on of late in Serbia. He's very skilled, but he will need to bulk up to play center in the pros. It may be another year or two before he joins the Nets full-time."

--Chad Ford, ESPN, June 30, 2005

"In the 2nd round, the Nets were shocked to see Mile Ilic there and did not hesitate even one bit to snatch up a player that they feel compares favorably to another European on their roster, Nenad Krstic. Ilic has two more years left on his contact and will play at least one more season in Europe before coming over next year as his buyout should be easy enough to handle."

--Jonathan Givony, Draft Express, June 30, 2005

"Stefanski and team President Rod Thorn went for size with the Nets’ second-round pick by drafting center Mile Ilic from Serbia & Montenegro. Ilic is currently playing for FMP Zeleznik in the ULEB Cup, a division below the Euro Cup. Ilic is averaging nearly nine points and six boards a game in over 21 minutes of action.

"If the 230-pound Ilic hopes to one day play in the NBA he is going to have to add muscle to his 7-foot-2 frame.

"'There’s no question Ilic is skilled,' said Stefanski of the 43rd overall pick. 'He’s got a good wingspan so he can block a few shots. The key to Ilic becoming an NBA player is if can get a body. If he gets a body there’s no question he’ll be an NBA player.'"

--Chris Creed, New Jersey Nets, January 24, 2006

"The emerging consensus is that he’s a better athlete than Krstic, but his upside can’t be gauged until they bring him over and work him out. I asked Krstic about him yesterday, and he gave one of those what’s-the-use gestures: 'It’s the same as me,' he said. 'They won’t play him, and they won’t give him the ball.' But if a buyout can be done, Ilic will be spending his summer in East Rutherford.

--Dave D'Alessandro, Star-Ledger, March 30, 2006

"Few basketball fans in the United States had ever heard the name Nenad Krstic when the New Jersey Nets plucked him with the 24th pick in the 2002 NBA draft. As it turned out, Nets president Rod Thorn and general manager Ed Stefanski had found a bona fide NBA big man who came into the league in 2004-05 and averaged 10 points and five rebounds right away. In his second season, Krstic became a full-time starter and averaged 13.5 points and 6.4 rebounds.

"Now the Nets hope to cash in again with another big man from the same part of the world. Ilic, a Bosnian selected with the 43rd pick in the 2005 draft, is young (21) and not nearly as physically developed as Krstic, but he's an athletic big man with a knack for blocking shots.

"'He is a legitimate seven-footer with terrific hands,' said Stefanski. 'He runs the court well and is athletic. If you have a seven-footer with great hands, that is step one to becoming a good player. He has to get an NBA body, and he is working on his body and has made progress. He has good tools. We are encouraged by his overall progress and we'll be talking to his agent (Marc Cornstein) in the next couple of months to talk again about when it makes sense to bring him over here.'"

--Chris Ekstrand, Sports Illustrated, May 19, 2006

"Mile Ilic, who plays in Serbia for FMP Zeleznik, is a player who has gotten bigger, he’s gotten stronger this year. He plays about 20 minutes, 18 to 20 minutes a game. His stats are good. He can shoot the ball. Rebounding-wise, not where you’d want him to be…a better athlete than (Nenad) Krstic. Taller, more athletic…needs to keep getting stronger to become more of a force on the defensive end, shot-blocking, rebounding, but a player who’s intriguing.

"Ed Stefanski, our general manager, has been over to monitor his progress two times this year and in fact was over there two weeks ago during our Indiana series. He was at the Slavic Championships in Dubrovnik. He is an intriguing player. as to whether he will come over the year or the following year it’s hard to say right now. but with some experience and if he contines to get stronger and he seems to be a willing worker, he could be a factor in the NBA at some point in time . Without getting stronger, I don’t think he will be a factor right now."

--Rod Thorn, New Jersey Nets, May 20, 2006

"Seven footers" do not grow on trees, indeed. But when you look at the fact that there are as many as many as half a dozen in the potential roster of Serbia-Montenegro, you begin to think that there must be something about the water in that country. Mile Ilic is tall, agile, quick big man with good hands who could easily play small forward - if he weren't that tall. The starting center for Adriatic League champions FMP Zeleznik should be included in this year's NBA Draft and is surely a legitimate candidate for a spot among the top 12 of his country.

"Ilic is a player everyone would like to have on his team: And there's much more about his game than his 215 cm frame. The best center in the Serbian league thinks it's time he gets some global attention. A first round pick and a trip to Japan for the Worlds, that sounds good enough."

--FIBA World Championship profile, August 2006

"The 7-foot-2 Ilic averaged 8.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in helping FMP Zeleznik Beograd win its second Adriatic League championship in three years. A member of the Serbian national team, he also played on the gold medal winning team at the 2003 World University Games. For now, consider him only a super-duper sleeper."

--CBS Sportsline, September 17, 2006