Saturday, July 11, 2009 | 9:14 p.m.
Croatian point guard Roko Ukic is strong and confident, and he’s sure about one thing from his first tour of the U.S. this past season as a reserve point guard for the Toronto Raptors.
“I like the steaks here,” he said Saturday afternoon after Detroit beat Toronto. “They are better than in Europe. But I don’t think anything else is better than my country, except the steaks.
“I stand behind that.”
Ukic, 24, doesn’t like sitting. He turned pro nine years ago, playing five seasons for KK Split and trying to become a star like countrymen Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja.
Toronto drafted him in the second round in 2005, but he played for three different teams in Europe over the ensuing three seasons before testing himself in the NBA.
“I just wanted to be ready,” he said. “I wanted the best opportunity to get on the court. I didn’t want to spend two or three years on the bench. I wanted a decent shot to play.
“I think I came at the right time. I’m still pretty young and I have lots of good years of basketball ahead of me. And I have lots of experience. That’s it.”
About a year ago, Ukic – his name is pronounced RO-ko OO-keech – signed a three-year contract for about $4 million. He averaged 12.4 minutes in 72 games. He scored in double digits eight times.
Ukic’s standout performance was his 22 points against San Antonio in January.
With a minute to go in Toronto, he hit a 3-point shot. With 20 seconds left, he hit an off-balance, game-winning runner after banging into Tim Duncan.
“The best game of my career so far,” said Ukic. “I’ll try to repeat it more and more.”
The 6-foot-5, 185-pound guard has been honing his game in Las Vegas, where he scored 16 points on Friday and tallied 9 points, with an assist and two turnovers, in Saturday’s loss to Detroit.
Toronto plays Portland on Monday and Phoenix on Wednesday, both at 5 p.m. in the Cox Pavilion
“My first NBA season was pretty cool,” Ukic said. “My whole life, my dream was to play in the NBA, which is very tough for a white European point guard.”
He is ecstatic about Toronto signing free agent forward Hedo Turkoglu.
“Last season, I felt I was getting better and better,” Ukic said. “I just wanted to get on the court and get a chance. It’s a shame we didn’t get to the playoffs. A shame. But I think we’ll have a better team this season.”
He goes maybe 6-feet and 170 pounds. He has a 40-inch vertical and a 6-10 wingspan. He doesn’t speak English and his team lost the fourth and final Saturday game at the NBA Summer League.
But 21-year-old Rodrigue Beaubois, who scored 34 points in Dallas’ 98-95 loss to the Houston Rockets, was the most thrilling player on the court.
”In-cred-eeb-lay!” said a Spanish writer, in exaggerated French-Spanish, to his colleague when Beaubois drilled a long 3-pointer for his final points.
Former Arizona forward Chase Budinger led the Rockets with 25 points.
The spitfire Beaubois displayed a savvy drive and an aggressive, confident outside shot. He also had five rebounds and six assists, and he shot 12-for-21 from the field.
Despite not speaking the language, his rapport with his teammates looked impeccable.
A native of Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe, Beaubois (sounds like beau-BWAH) has been a fixture on the French junior national team.
His dynamic athleticism led Mavericks director of basketball operations Donnie Nelson to deal B.J. Mullens, the team’s 24th pick in last month’s draft, to Oklahoma City for Beaubois.
The Thunder had nabbed Beaubois with the 24th selection, and the Mavs also obtained a future second-round pick in the deal.
We’ll take a closer look at the talented player in the next few days, especially if we can enlist the services of a translator.
Band on the run
Ukic's father plays drums for a somewhat famous European band, whose name translates as Distant Coach or Faraway Coach. We believe you, Roko.
With Curry, no worry
Stephen Curry pleased an adoring crowd that came to watch him play again at the Summer League.
He launched a bad jumper, wide left, just before the regulation buzzer, but he answered in overtime with a driving layup through the right lane to give Golden State a 96-95 lead.
A teammate coaxed a Sacramento King into a charge, and Curry finished the game with two free throws, clinching a 98-95 victory, with 4.5 ticks left.
Curry ended with 29 points. He went 0-for-8 from the field in the first half, then hit 8 of 14 shots the rest of the way. Cartier Martin tallied 27 for the Warriors. Guard Tyreke Evans led the Kings with 25 points.
Most of the packed crowd left the arena after Curry’s game, having seen the young star and the Lakers in consecutive games.
Just passing by
Just passed by NBA super fan Jim Goldstein in the Cox Pavilion hallway. You know James, who sits courtside at many Lakers games and, uh, has a flamboyant closet. Cowboy hats of all colors, sequins, leather and, well, you name it and it's in his wardrobe.
He was understated today in a pink shirt and a pink cap.
The Wall Street Journal speculated that he made billions in real estate, and his Frank Lloyd Wright-ish hilltop home in Los Angeles has been featured in several movies.
Goldstein attends maybe 120 NBA games a year.
A minute later, former UNLV assistant coach Tim Grgurich was spotted in the hall. We would have stopped and said hello, but he was showing an 8-year-old kid how to defend his big cookie from his older sister.
Lakers pack 'em in
Adam Morrison littered the Cavaliers with 22 points in the Lakers' 88-82 victory Saturday, and a packed Cox Pavilion watched Los Angeles improve to 2-0 in the Summer League.
Ben McCauley, who had such a sterling performance Friday, cooled off with 10 points and 7 rebounds. David Monds hit all five of the shots he attempted off the bench for 12 points for the Lakers. Danny Green led Cleveland with 16 points, and Jawad Williams (6-for-10) and Leo Lyons (7-for-11) each scored 14 points off the bench for the Cavs.
Lakers second-year guard Mustafa Shakur eagerly shook the hands of two Spanish writers after the game.
Two Pistons power Detroit
Austin Daye and DaJuan Summers had 19 points apiece, leading four double-digit scorers in Detroit's 91-87 victory over Toronto in the first Summer League game Saturday afternoon.
Quincy Douby scored 21 points and DeMar DeRozan, the rookie out of USC, added 20 for Toronto, which outshot Detroit 50.8 percent to 44.6 percent. Detroit is 2-0. The Raptors fell to 0-2.
Big assist to Mark Warkentien
My seatmate this afternoon has been Mark Warkentien, the Denver Nuggets' executive and former UNLV assistant coach under Jerry Tarkanian.
I have already come through, hopefully making a few points with Warkentien, by finding his Razr cell phone. As soon as he sat down, it fell over a table and into a trash can.
Frank Burlison of the Long Beach Press-Telegram dialed the phone. It rang. And Warkentien could not find it anywhere in his brief case or person. Yet, it kept ringing. A minute later, Burlison dialed the number. It rang. Couldn't find it.
On the third or fourth try, I rose, peeked over the table and -- voila! There it was.
My first Summer League assist.
The Nuggets, I told Warkentien, sure played better defense this season.
"The conference finals," Warkentien said of the stage the Nuggets lost to the Lakers. "Nothing to be ashamed of."
Calling Ben McCauley
So who is Ben McCauley? The free agent for the Los Angeles Lakers leads everyone with 24 points and 15 rebounds after a day of the Summer League.
Adam Morrison of the Lakers and DaJuan Summers of Detroit also tallied 24 points during their first games.
A 6-foot-9, 240-pound native of West Newton, Pa., McCauley hit 12 of his 19 shots in 32 minutes of his strong debut Friday in an 85-84 victory over Toronto.
He missed a trip to Canada with his North Carolina State squad due to, and this was the official release, "conduct detrimental to the team." He also tussled a tad with Mike Copeland of North Carolina.
But 24 and 15? We remembered a game his senior season, did some research and, yep, found the gem -- 25 points and 15 boards in 41 minutes of a 91-87 defeat to Virginia Tech on Feb. 8.
The Lakers play next, against the Cavaliers at 3 p.m., and we'll keep you updated on how he fares in his second pro game.
We also will be watching Anthony Randolph in today's 5 p.m. game against the Kings. The 14th pick of the 2008 draft by Golden State, Randolph had 20 points and 10 rebounds Friday against Houston. In 63 games for the Warriors in 2008-09, Randolph averaged 7.9 points and 5.8 boards.
You are looking live at the NBA Summer League at Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus.
Well, we are, at least. Allow us to be your eyes and ears here at the hotbed of summertime hoops in Las Vegas.
Toronto and Detroit are going through the warm-up drills in preparation for their 1 p.m. clash, and we’ll be taking a closer look at Pistons prospect Trent Plaisted first thing tomorrow morning.
The former BYU center has been recovering from December back surgery, and he’s feeling “bouncier” than ever, and … well, to read more, check out our site tomorrow.
Paul Davis, formerly of Michigan State – home of this scribe’s favorite collegiate coach, Tom Izzo – is stroking jumpers for the Raptors and he will likely face off against Plaisted.
We’ll keep you apprised of all the action, on and off the court, throughout the day.