It's been one crazy, wild ride for 7-foot-5, 300-pound Russian Pavel Podkolzine. On Thursday, Podkolzine cut the trip short by withdrawing his name from the 2003 NBA Draft.
Podkolzine told ESPN.com that he felt he just wasn't ready.
"I don't want to be a project," the 18-year-old Podkolzine said. "I want to prove to NBA teams I am ready now. I will go back to Italy, work very, very hard and come back next year stronger, and more ready to contribute to the team that drafts me."
Podkolzine's decision will come as a shock to most NBA general managers. He was largely projected as a top-10 selection in next week's draft.
"There's no way he would've slipped out of the lottery," one NBA GM told ESPN.com.
Podkolzine has overcome just about every obstacle imaginable for a young NBA draft prospect over the last six months. Over the course of less than half a year, Podkolzine had risen from obscurity playing in Varese, Italy, to a potential high lottery pick. As late as this past December, only one NBA team had even seen him play.
It wasn't until Podkolzine's surprising workout on June 6 in front of more than 100 NBA scouts and GMs in Chicago that Podkolzine finally started to believe that his dream of playing in the NBA was going to come true. However a diagnosis of acromegaly (a growth hormone secreting pituitary adenoma) late last week -- pushed him to the edge of withdrawing.
Podkolzine spent the last week talking to doctors and flying from city to city for workouts. When doctors told him that his problem could be fixed with minor surgery everything seemed to be back on track for him to play in the NBA next season.
But according to Podkolzine, the fact that a team wouldn't commit to him early bothered him.
"I didn't just want a team to settle for me," he said. "I wanted someone to believe."
Podkolzine's agent Justin Zanik worked the phones the last 48 hours looking for a team in the lottery that would commit to picking his client. Several teams expressed strong interest, but no one would give Zanika firm commitment.
But it was Pavel who decided to pull the plug.
"This is my decision," he said. "I think I will try this again next year."
If the surgery on Podkolzine goes well, and he develops as expected in Italy next year, two separate NBA sources told ESPN.com that they expected Podkolzine to be a top three pick in the 2004 draft.
"He's got enormous upside," said one GM. "Next year, if he keeps working and his health is OK, he has a shot at going No. 1."
Chad Ford is an NBA Insider for ESPN.com.