Sonic rookie works past frightening free fall from rim

  • Rich Myhre / Herald Writer
  • Friday, December 28, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By Rich Myhre

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – With haunting clarity, Nate McMillan still remembers the way Vladimir Radmanovic crashed to the KeyArena floor, landing flush on the back of his neck and head.

Even now, one week later, McMillan has no need to see a replay.

“I haven’t seen it again and I don’t want to see it again,” he said Friday. “Once was enough.”

It was, perhaps, the most frightening moment in Seattle SuperSonics history. Late in last Saturday’s game against the Detroit Pistons, Radmanovic made a steal near midcourt and raced toward the basket with two Pistons in pursuit. Leaping from just inside the free throw line, Radmanovic dunked the ball and then held the rim as his momentum caused his legs to swing forward until his body was parallel to the court.

Then he lost his grip, with nothing between himself and the hardwood except nine feet of air.

Had he landed head first, Radmanovic might be looking at life in a wheelchair if he survived at all. Instead, he suffered only a mild concussion and some gashes on his lower neck, caused by bones slamming against the floor and splitting the skin.

And tonight, by the grace of God, Radmanovic is expected to be in uniform when the Sonics host the Toronto Raptors at KeyArena.

A final decision is due this morning, but “most likely he’ll play unless something changes,” said McMillan, Seattle’s coach. “Right now he seems OK. If he’s ready, then we’ll use him and see how he goes.”

After the accident, and because of the Christmas holiday, Radmanovic was away from basketball for several days. He practiced Wednesday in anticipation of playing Thursday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, but an accidental blow to the head during a drill caused a new bout of dizziness. As a precaution, team doctors had Radmanovic sit out against the Clippers.

On Friday, the 6-foot-10 Yugoslavian practiced – bizarrely, he was hit in the head again, but without ill effect – and pronounced himself ready for duty.

“I’ll play (tonight) for sure,” Radmanovic said. “I feel all right. It’s just because of the doctors and everybody wanting to be sure that I’m OK that I didn’t play in the last game. But I want to come back because I feel all right and there’s no reason to be off the court any more.”

Radmanovic says he has recollections of the fall and the ensuing moments as he was surrounded by teammates and trainer Mike Shimensky. “But I don’t remember the part where I was walking from the court to the bench,” he said. “And then on the bench, everything was so fast. I remember just a couple of things when I was on the bench.”

In the locker room later, Radmanovic was smiling at the good-natured jibes of his teammates. Now, though, he says he cannot remember being in the locker room after the game.

Moved by curiosity – after all, he was the only one in KeyArena who didn’t see the fall – Radmanovic went home to watch a replay on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “It was scary,” he said. “I saw it a couple of times. Then I couldn’t watch it any more.”

Assuming he plays tonight, the 21-year-old Radmanovic will be continuing a rookie season that is showing increasing promise. Though his defensive skills need significant improvement – typical for a European player in the NBA – he is an agile power forward with 3-point range and an ability to slash to the basket.

Because of his age and background, no one is quite sure how good he may become. This much seems sure, though. Of all the young foreign players the Sonics have signed in recent years – the list includes Vladimir Stepania, Lazaro Borrell, Olumide Oyedeji and Ruben Wolkowyski – Radmanovic should turn out to be the best.

“His skill level was much higher than most guys in the draft, as far as his footwork, his understanding of the game and his ability to shoot the ball,” McMillan said. “Defensively, there are some things he needs to work on, but his skill level is still ahead of most of the guys we brought in (to Seattle before the draft) to work out. It’s just a matter of him getting time on the floor and adjusting to our style of play.

“Now, do I know if he has the hunger to be one of the (NBA’s) best players? I don’t know that yet. But if he does have the hunger, he certainly has that potential.”

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