Serbian center Darko Milicic, widely considered the best NBA prospect in Europe, is officially in the mix with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Like fellow teens James and Anthony before him, Milicic, who is expected to hold off Anthony for the privilege of being drafted No. 2 behind James, has formally declared his intention to enter the 2003 NBA Draft.
The difference: Milicic took the low-key route, sending word through his New York-based agent Marc Cornstein late Monday night that he submitted his declaration letter to the NBA on April 15. The versatile 7-footer is focusing on the FIBA Champions Cup Final Four in Greece this weekend.
Milicic, who by all accounts won't slip lower than No. 3 in the June 26 draft, is expected to attract scouts from several NBA teams to Greece, where he figures to face some of the most hostile conditions of his young career. His Yugoslavian club, KK Hemofarm Vrsac, has to play tournament hosts Aris BSA Thessaloniki in the semifinals -- and rowdy Greek crowds are famed for giving their teams a home-court advantage unlike anything seen in the States.
Darko's eligibility for the draft was in question until All-Star Weekend in February, when NBA commissioner David Stern announced that international players were now permitted to declare for the draft in the same calendar year in which they turn 18. The rule was later amended to require players to be 18 by draft day -- ruling out South Korea's 7-foot-3 Ha Seung-jin, who turns 18 in August -- but the league previously required international players to turn 18 before the deadline for draft applications. That deadline falls on May 12 this season, 45 days before the draft.
Milicic doesn't turn 18 until June 20, just six days before the draft, but Stern and Players Association counterpart Billy Hunter reached an agreement to change the rule as the union was weighing the prospect of filing a grievance on Milicic's behalf.
Milicic is one of four Cornstein clients to submit declaration letters to the league for the draft. Also submitting their names: 7-7 center Slavko Vranes and 6-7 swingman Aleksandar Pavlovic, both of Montenegro, and 6-6 point guard Zoran Planinic of Croatia. All three are candidates to be drafted in the first round.