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HILL: Behind the scenes at a Hilario NBA workout

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Randy Hill

Veteran columnist Randy Hill is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.
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LOS ANGELES

The objective is to avoid giving up points in translation. Unfortunately, I'm burdened with a developmental-league caliber understanding of the prevailing language issue. So, thanks to my surveillance of Brazilian females during the struggle to cover World Cup '94, I do know how to say "Which hotel?" in Portuguese. But Maybyner "Nene" Hilario is not here to watch soccer and dance in the middle of Colorado Boulevard. Hilario is here on a basketball audition. Here is a compact gymnasium on the University of Southern California campus. And Hilario is a hulking, 19-year-old Brazilian who outgrew soccer at age 13. Joe Santos, his confidant and translator, tells me "Nene" means "Baby" in Portuguese. This is not an ironic nickname; this is a nickname that tells us Nene is the youngest of three Hilario children. In sports journalism, "Maybyner" means we'll be referring to the kid as "Nene" for what could be a lengthy NBA career. At a Santos-confirmed two months shy of his 20th birthday, Nene checks in close enough to 6-foot-10 for appropriate scrutiny from lottery-enlisted NBA teams. Although he's carrying about 260 impressively distributed pounds, Hilario seems capable of running as fast and relentlessly as the meter in a taxi cab. Nene also jumps well, if not outrageously, but reportedly has a 7-4 wing span. Sufficiently gifted, he dunks with gusto. After Hilario finishes such a maneuver, the backboard vibrates with the same enthusiasm that attends the aftermath of a Doug Christie jumper. Hilario, who appeared on the NBA radar during last summer's Goodwill Games, has been a pro in Brazil for 1½ seasons with the Vasco de Gama club. He averaged 13 points and 11 rebounds during the last campaign, and NBA sources say $1 million can buy his way out. "I really didn't think about playing in the NBA until recently," said Nene, with the "recently" presumed (by me) to span his life as a basketball pro. The league is anxious to determine how well Hilario's physical gifts translate in the NBA. Those who feel obliged to make comparisons have referred to Hilario as a "young Shawn Kemp." After watching him work out for an hour, I've decided such a comparison translates to nonsense. "They're saying that? That's funny," said one NBA scout who's seen the kid compete four times and was interviewed for this column before my Hilario encounter. "He has some excellent tools, but a young Shawn Kemp? Wow, the smell of the draft is in the air, isn't it?" Amen. OK, so he's not a young Shawn Kemp. That shouldn't translate as a knock on Hilario, either. Shawn Kemp was a monster as a pup. Since he's from Brazil, we can refer to Nene Hilario as the "Rain Forest Man." And this particular pit stop on his pre-draft tour is made for the benefit of the L.A. Clippers. The Clippers hold the eighth and 12th picks in this month's draft. Presiding over their review of Hilario and three other prospects is Elgin Baylor, the team's vice president of basketball operations. Elgin also happens to be one of the greatest players in basketball history. Having his pal scrutinized by Baylor is a big deal for a hoop-history buff like Santos, who tells Hilario that Michael Jordan copied Elgin's style. A slight translation loss attends that one. I'd say the progression was Julius Erving copying Baylor and MJ borrowing a few things from The Doctor. Nene knows who Jordan is, but this Elgin Baylor cat seems to be a new one on him. In response to an earlier question, Hilario said his U.S. hoop journey "would be like an American junior soccer player going to Brazil." Good analogy, but I'd bet the American kid would have heard about, oh, Ronaldo. The comparison is unfair, I'll admit, and Santos did a fine job of advising Hilario that Baylor used to be the man. Hilario, while happy to have completed an audition for Elgin, does have a working knowledge of contemporary protocol from Clipper Nation. When a question concerning Clipper awareness is posed, Nene smiles and taps his forehead with both fists, the trademark salute of Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles. His favorite team? The Lakers. His favorite players? Baron Davis, Steve Nash and Jermaine O'Neal ... because he's played against them. His choice for prospective NBA employer? Everyone. With that settled, let's get to the particulars of Nene's Clipper visit. His co-worker is Adama Ndiaye, a lithe, 6-9 forward from UC Santa Barbara. If the NBA Draft still had a third round, Ndiaye would probably be in it. But Adama looks good enough for an NBA camp invitation, so he presents a nice challenge for Hilario. The little guys, whose participation allows the Clippers to see Hilario in pick-and-roll situations, are Lynn Greer of Temple and Shaw University sleeper Ronald Murray. Away we go. Stop. I feel the need to turn a cartwheel. This cartwheel was inspired by Nene, who happens to realize that he is about 6-10, 260 and, by virtue of such dimensions, would be wise to lurk in close proximity to the rim. There seems to be a total lack of interest in pretending he's Kevin Garnett. If you hadn't noticed, such KG role-playing is a basketball epidemic. So, at the moment, Hilario doesn't know who Baylor is, but does possess grand self-awareness. Take it from there, anonymous scout. "Oh, he knows what he is," the scout pointed out, "and that's a big, strong guy who's supposed to go inside and mix it up. "Whoever gets him won't have to spend time breaking him of bad perimeter habits." Well, hallelujah. But, while committed to providing his share of inside banging for NBA bucks, Hilario isn't exactly Tim Duncan. OK, so his jumper has a slight hitch, the shooting range is "sawed-off shotgun" and the jump hook is a bit mechanical. Those things can be corrected; the size, enthusiasm and athleticism suggest NBA survival while the skills catch up. For the record, Hilario can make free throws. The hackneyed hoop term Baylor leans on when talking about Nene is "upside." He uses it twice ... once preceded by "great," and once accompanied by "terrific." "He's going to be a player," Baylor said. "He's athletic. He's very competitive. "He has good size, pretty good footwork and runs the floor well. His skills are pretty raw, but he has the kind of size and athletic ability you look for." So, who else is looking? Well, Hilario's tour has included stops in Cleveland, New York, Indianapolis, Chicago, Phoenix and Miami. I've been told it would be quite an upset for Nene to get past the Suns at No. 9 in the lottery, but now is not the time to believe anything said by anyone. However, it would be a surprise if Hilario isn't a goner by the end of the lottery. But mocking this draft is no hayride. The proliferation of foreign-born NBA prospects has clouded the lottery and could dictate that future drafts be conducted at Ellis Island. To accelerate the interest in Hilario, Santos and Cleveland-based agent Michael Coyne would like Nene to match up with Maryland evacuee Chris Wilcox and high school hotshot Amare Stoudemire. Actually, Hilario is quite similar to Wilcox in size, build and mobility. Let's give Wilcox the nod for superior "ups," but levitating at a lower level than Chris is no disgrace for anyone. Such showdowns would be more than an education for scouts. Each coaching staff that puts Nene through his paces also imparts wisdom for future consumption. The NBA family is nice that way. "Every day I pick up something," Hilario said. On this particular morning, that something may have been contributed by a shaky breakfast buffet at an L.A. hotel. Santos says Nene passed on the advice to avoid the buffet. "Actually, this may have been the worst workout he's had," Joe points out. I'm not going to doubt it. But I also realize that basketball is not the only game they're learning how to play in Brazil. Randy Hill can be reached at his e-mail address, rhill@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Pelicans, Mavericks, Clippers, Timberwolves, Suns, Kings, Spurs, Wizards, Baron Davis, Steve Nash, Quentin Richardson, Darius Miles, Kevin Garnett, Doug Christie, Tim Duncan

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