The New Darko Milicic? Skonto’s Andris Biedrins

31 October 2003
Jon Ingram

Although the FIBA Europe League is just 3 weeks old, there is no doubt that the player who has so far made the biggest impact on the competition is Skonto’s Andris Biedrins.

Biedrins' game bears more than a passing resemblance to Darko Milicic
The 17-year-old, 213 cm center draws comparisons to last year’s uber-talent from Serbia and Montenegro Darko Milicic, who was chosen at no.2 in the summer’s NBA draft and is now playing for the Detroit Pistons. Milicic helped to lead his former club Hemofarm Vrsac all the way to the Champions Cup Final Four last year, and no doubt Biedrins will also be dreaming of similar success with his club, Skonto Riga.

It may be unfair to make such comparisons at this stage, although it is easy to do so. Both players are left handed, both are comfortable playing with their backs to the basket and both are physically gifted beyond their years, able to bang bodies with more physically developed opponents.

For Biedrins, this season has proved so far to be his coming-out-party.

“Last year I was a backup center playing minimal minutes (Editor’s note: he backed up Latvian national team player Troy Ostlers),” he says. “This year I have to get the job done and I’m not scared of any opponent.”

To say that Biedrins has been just “getting the job done” so far in the FIBA Europe League, would be a serious understatement. In his first game he had 19 points and 9 rebounds against Russian side Ural Great. He followed that up with 34 points (a high among all players so far in the competition), 8 rebounds and 4 blocks against Finnish Champions Honka Playboys.

Biedrins currently ranks 5th among all scorers in the FIBA Europe League at 21.6ppg. He is also 20th in rebounding (6.7rpg) and 4th in blocks (2.3bpg).

Not bad for a player who still has 2 years of high school to complete and has probably not yet finished growing (he wants to be 217 cm).

Since I was 12 I wanted to block everything that came to the basket, even if I have 4 fouls I want to block a shot
Andris Biedrins on his attitude to defense

This is Biedrins’ 2nd season with Skonto’s senior team and last year he played in the FIBA Europe Champions Cup, averaging 2.6 ppg in 11 minutes per game of action. This season he attributes part of his success to a summer trip to the USA with former Skonto General Manager and Soviet Union legendary point guard, Valdis Valters.

“The best thing that our ex-general manager did was take me to the USA this summer,” he says. “In the USA I got a lot of confidence in my skills and mentality and I’m not afraid of anybody any more.”

Biedrins’ lack of fear manifests itself particularly in his attitude to rebounding and shotblocking, two of the less glamorous facets of basketball but nonetheless among the most valuable. The center is a natural shotblocker, a talent that he combines with a ferocious attitude to defense.

“Since I was 12 I wanted to block everything that came to the basket, even if I have 4 fouls I want to block a shot,” he says.

During one game against GHP Bamberg, Biedrins faced the indignity of being dunked on by Dutch center Mike Nahar. It was a situation that frustrated him even further, because he felt he could have blocked the shot but having already committed 4 fouls, did not want to risk a 5th.

“It tore me apart when the Bamberg center dunked on me,” he says, “But I had 4 fouls and even though I knew I could block the shot, I didn’t want to risk fouling out.”

Biedrins in action against GHP Bamberg
Biedrins began playing basketball at the age of 6 and progressed through Skonto’s youth teams. In fact, current assistant coach Raivo Otersons was his first ever teacher and has remained with him all through his journey to the senior side. If anything, Otersons deserves credit for his forethought and although Biedrins was always tall for his age, the coach had him play point guard so that he could hone his ball handling skills.

International experience has come while playing for the cadet and junior Latvian national teams. In 2001 he played for the cadets at the European Championships where he averaged 16.6ppg, 10rpg and 1bpg. He also found himself head to head with Greek star center Sofoklis Schortianitis, who was an NBA draft pick in 2003 (LA Clippers). Biedrins did not disappoint, as he torched Greece for 32 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks in a 76-70 victory. Perhaps even more impressively, Biedrins was competing with players all at least 1 year older.

When playing for the junior team the following summer, he put up 6.6 ppg and 7.3pg, not as impressive statistic-wise, but this time against players on average 3 years older.

Biedrins himself does not like to call himself a center, rather a combination forward. Right now most of his points come from back to the basket moves, as he is able to use his impressive quickness to get to the basket.

“I don’t like to be an inside player and I prefer to play facing the basket,” he says. “I want to hit the open jump shot and even go outside and hit the 3-pointer.”

He also realises that at 17 years old, he is far from a finished article and there is plenty left to work on.

“I need to work on my moves to the right because the left is my strong side. I need to improve my outside shot and be able to hit open shots because right now my shooting touch is not so good.”

With a hardworking attitude and the talent that he has already displayed this season, Biedrins seems certain to be a superstar in the near future. The future is, however, not guaranteed and although he dreams of the NBA, he is aware that nothing comes without hard work and determination.

“Of course, like every player I dream of playing in the NBA but that is a very long way away. First I have to finish high school, play in Latvia and in the FIBA Europe League but I would love to see my name on an NBA roster after that.”

Skonto are fully aware that much of their success this season will ride on the shoulders of the slim 17-year old. Biedrins himself predicts that his team can make the playoffs, but as he comments, “We are a typical young team that plays much better at home than away.”

Whatever happens, there will be a lot of attention on the team and particularly on Biedrins who may well prove to be this season’s young star.

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