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Top Nach - Boki Nachbar is making his presence felt in NJ

by Fred Kerber
All Access Quarterly (Not Online)

When Bostjan Nachbar first came to the US from his native Slovenia as the No. 15 overall pick of the Houston Rockets in the 2002 Draft, he arrived with all the typical aspirations of a first round selection. He figured he’s play. And he figured he’s play a lot.

"I was a little cocky. Or maybe naïve," recalled Nachbar. "I thought just because I got drafted in the first round I’d be able to play right away, but physically and mentally I was not ready."

And he wasn’t ready for the NBA in another way: clothing. His wardrobe was a dashing mix between early nightmare and advanced hobo. Steve Francis, then with the Rockets, the with the Rockets, took Nachbar out and bought him a batch of new clothes.

"Getting use to the different culture, the different lifestyle was difficult," explained Nachbar, 26, who has emerged as a Nets’ primary weapon off the bench. "The way people are here in the States, everybody is real open, everybody is real friendly. In Europe, people are little more reserved. The friendliness and kindness sort of surprised me. I wasn’t used to that mentality, especially down south in Houston."

Yeah, over in Slovenia, teammates don’t take you out and drop a few tolars on threads for you.

And the 6-9 Nachbar also learned about being ready for the NBA in those mental and physical ways. He was traded by the Rockets to the Hornets in 2004 and then by the Hornets to the nets last season. That 2005-06 stint with the Nets was tough. Nachbar rarely played. So with the arrival of summer—a time when he played for Slovenia in the World Championships—friends asked him if he wanted to return to the Nets. He said yes. Friends then asked him if he was drinking..

"My answer was ‘yes’ which surprised everybody and they were all saying, ‘why?" Nachbar recalled. "I said because I have a chance to play with the best players in the world. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with players like Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. So I know we can go deep in the playoffs and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to play with a team like that.

"I’d rather be here and play 10-15 minutes than play 20-25 minutes on a team that’s going to have 25 minutes. I’ve been there with the Hornets," said Nachbar. :I want to be on a different level now. I want to win something. I don’t want to be an NBA player that played for six, seven, 10 years and achieved nothing."

"Nachbar, on a personal level, achieved much this season. He established career highs in points and rebounds. He collected his first ever double-double. He showed a versatility in his game that gave Lawrence Frank the option of playing him at either forward spot.

He began branching out among his teammates. He had a friendship with fellow European Nenad Krstic that came naturally. But then Krstic was injured in December, lost for the season. He became close with Richard Jefferson. But Jefferson underwent ankle surgery in January.

"Now I’m trying to find somebody else," Nachbar shrugged.

Nachbar showed he belongs. And he showed that he is more than the slasher-cutter player that caught the eye of scouts in Europe. He also became one of the Nets’ most effective long-range shooter. Nachbar—Boki to just about everybody—received the ultimate compliment from future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd who rated him as the Nets’ most consistent player wire-to-wire this season.

"People always said Boki was a good athlete. The first that I saw it, was last year, the last two games. He had a couple of explosive moves that, not really knowing his game, gave us a chance to see it," said Frank. He brings versatility. He’s got size and he’s able to play and shift over to two different positions. He’s playing with a great deal of confidence which is a big part of any player’s success in this league. You must maintain belief in yourself."

And that wasn’t there in those times in Houston and New Orleans, despite a stint as a starter in 2005-06 that ended with a right knee sprain. Maybe it just took Nachbar longer than anticipated.

"The adjustment on the court, it took a while," said Nachbar, whose father Vlado (his first coach when he was eight) and brother Grega catch most of his games via satellite TV back in Europe—regardless of the channel as both are pretty much techno wizards. "If I had the choice, I’d probably say in Europe a year or two longer.

"But when I got drafted in the first round, it looked good that I might play my first year, so I decided to go," Nachbar recalled. "There was a mental thing where I lacked confidence and physical thing where I wasn’t quick enough, wasn’t strong enough. So there were a lot of things I had to improve to be successful here."

The improvement has continued. And so the consistency. Nachbar appears to have found a home in New Jersey after finding his role with the Nets. He is under no illusion. Everything starts and continues through Kidd and Carter. And he has learned to make a living on the court through them.

"We need each other, believe it or not," Carter stressed. "Him hitting the shots, him playing well helps me. It just gives me more one-on-one chances. Teams are still going to play the help-side, but now you can make a guy pay because of his ability to drive and shoot the ball.

"We need him and he’s proven that he’s supposed to be here…he didn’t get much time last year," Carter continued. "I played against him when he was in New Orleans as a Hornet but now he is playing at a higher level and with a lot of confidence. So when a guy’s playing with the confidence, you’d got to utilize his ability."

Regardless of his wardrobe.