China's Yao Drafted No. 1 by Houston

Thursday, June 27th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The biggest player, Yao Ming, went to the Houston Rockets. The biggest trade, involving Antonio McDyess, Marcus Camby and others, sent a former All-Star to the New York Knicks.

There was a distinct foreign flavor to Wednesday night's NBA draft, with a record 17 international players chosen among the 57 picks.

Several trades were made, too, although many of them were minor ones. The biggest deal sent McDyess and the rights to the 25th pick, Frank Williams of Illinois, to New York for Camby, Mark Jackson and the rights to the seventh overall pick, ``Nene'' Hilario of Brazil.

The 7-foot-5 Yao, cleared by the Chinese national federation to play in the NBA only hours earlier, was selected first overall. It marked the first time a foreign player who did not play college ball in the United States went No. 1 in the draft.

``Now there are many challenges ahead. I'm looking forward to taking on all the NBA centers, though I know it won't be an easy task,'' the 22-year-old Yao said.

Jay Williams, a junior guard from Duke who was the national player of the year, went second to the Chicago Bulls. Mike Dunleavy of Duke went third to the Golden State Warriors, and newly hired Grizzlies president Jerry West made his first personnel move for the Grizzlies by choosing Drew Gooden of Kansas, a 6-10 junior power forward and first-team All-America selection.

Denver, choosing fifth, selected center Nikoloz Tskitishvili of Benetton Treviso in Italy. Dajuan Wagner of Memphis went sixth to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a clear signal the trade talk surrounding Andre Miller _ the NBA assists leader last season _ was legitimate.

This year's draft had no shortage of trade talk, with several teams trying to acquire one the veterans _ including McDyess, Miller and Baron Davis _ whose names had been prominently mentioned in trade rumors throughout the day.

Cleveland has told Miller it does not want to offer him a contract extension for another year, and several teams have been contacting the Cavs to make offers _ notably the Los Angeles Clippers.

Davis has made it known to the Hornets he does not plan to stay with the team past the 2002-03 season. A trade sending Davis to the Clippers reportedly fell through.

The Knicks, with their highest pick in 15 years, selected the 6-11 Hilario _ a rebounding and shot-blocking specialist who remains under contract to a professional team in Rio de Janeiro _ and were showered with boos and a chant of ``Fire Layden'' _ a reference to Knicks president Scott Layden.

Less than an hour later, though, the word was out that the Knicks were getting McDyess. The fans never relented, though, unleashing an obscene chant when Layden appeared on the giant TV screen to announce the deal.

``McDyess was a big component in the trade for us. You can tell by the size of the deal what we thought of him,'' Layden said. ``We knew the No. 7 pick was attractive, and we knew we could use it to make the team better.''

Chris Wilcox of Maryland went eighth to the Clippers, and the Phoenix Suns selected Amare Stoudemire, of Cypress Creek High School in Orlando, Fla., with the ninth pick.

That allowed the Miami Heat, a team desperate for a scorer, to select Connecticut sophomore Butler with the 10th pick.

Indiana forward Jared Jeffries went 11th to the Washington Wizards, giving Michael Jordan another young building block on his front line to go along with his overall No. 1 pick from a year ago, Kwame Brown.

With their second pick of the first round, the Clippers took Fresno State's Melvin Ely. At No. 12, he was the first senior selected.

Forward Marcus Haislip of Tennessee went 13th to Milwaukee, guard Fred Jones of Oregon was picked by Indiana, the Rockets went the foreign route again by taking Slovenian forward Bostjan Nachbar and the Wizards used their second first-round pick on first-team All-America guard Juan Dixon of Maryland.

The three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers acquired the rights to Missouri guard Kareem Rush, the 20th pick by Toronto, along with Tracy Murray from the Raptors for Lindsey Hunter and the rights to the 27th pick, Chris Jefferies.

Philadelphia traded the 16th pick, Czech guard Jiri Welsch, to Golden State for a future first-round pick and a future first- or second-round pick. Orlando traded the 18th pick, Curtis Borchardt, to Utah for the 19th pick, Ryan Humphrey, and a second-round pick, and Sacramento dealt the 29th pick, Gonzaga's Dan Dickau, to Atlanta for a future No. 1 pick.

Also, Cleveland sent Wesley Person to Memphis for Nick Anderson and the rights to the 46th pick, Matt Barnes of UCLA, and Philadelphia sent a pair of future second-round picks to Denver for the rights to Efthimios Rentzias of FC Barcelona.

Yao did not attend the draft at Madison Square Garden, staying in Beijing for training with his national team. Yao shared high-fives and handshakes with his family as commissioner David Stern announced the pick.

``This is a new start in my basketball and life career,'' Yao said through an interpreter. ``There will be a new challenge for me. I am confident I will learn from the NBA and improve myself.''

The choice of Yao at No. 1 was expected, although the Rockets went through a few nervous days leading to the draft while they waited to learn whether he would receive clearance from his national team. Yao had earlier reached a severance agreement with his professional team, the Shanghai Sharks.

The Chinese federation was concerned about Yao's availability for national team commitments, but an agreement was reached earlier Wednesday.

``The whole franchise wanted this so badly. I just felt that it would all be worked out,'' Houston general manager Carroll Dawson said.