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Radojevic hopes for another shot

PHILADELPHIA — From Aleksandar Radojevic's perch, the world should seem just a little clearer than it would for the rest of us. Understandably, too: At 7-foot-3, the outlook is quite unobstructed.

But that's just the short of a rather tall tale.

Radojevic's first NBA job, in Canada, didn't last long, as the No. 12 overall selection in the 1999 draft played just three games for the Toronto Raptors before getting hurt and eventually packaged into a trade with Denver.

With not one but two surgeries to repair the same herniated disc in his injured back, though, Radojevic's career has spanned the globe.

The man who looks as if he is walking on stilts — but who actually has his feet planted firmly on the ground — has played in Slovenia, Italy, Germany and, most recently, Greece.

And now he's with Utah, something of a long shot to stick with the Jazz.

With a Monday deadline looming before their regular-season roster must be set, however, the odds are not nearly as stacked against Radojevic — who hails from what is now Serbia-Montenegro — as they were when training camp opened three weeks ago.

With big man Jarron Collins nursing a sprained wrist the past week and likely starting center Mehmet Okur sitting out Sunday night's loss to Detroit because of stomach woes, the big fella has been getting a lengthy look from Jazz brass.

He has appeared in all five of the Jazz's exhibition games to date, pulling down 19 rebounds in just 43 minutes of play. For the mathematically disinclined, that is more than two boards per minute. And in his longest stint of the preseason, he went 26 minutes Sunday, blocking one shot with eight rebounds.

"He's made the decision more difficult than we thought he would," said Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz's senior vice president of basketball operations.

"He's played fairly well, and he's got size, and he's got skills," O'Connor added, "so we've got (two) more games to look at it."

In that last couple of exhibitions, tonight at Philadelphia and Thursday night at New York, Radojevic must finish proving what he has already started: just how much he wants another stay in the NBA, and just how much he hopes this one will be much longer than the last.

"I want to stay, bad," he says with a voice as deep as a winter's worth of snow. "I don't want to go back to Europe and play. Because I've done that.

"I think I can give a little bit more here than I can down there — because everything is under-appreciated down there."

Radojevic has longed desired the United States to be his basketball home.

He even started his collegiate career in Kansas, playing at a relative outpost called Barton County Community College. When Radojevic tried to transfer to Ohio State, however, his plans unraveled.

The NCAA ruled him ineligible for accepting money to play in what was then Yugoslavia, so Radojevic made the jump straight to the NBA — and has been hopping around ever since.

Now, though, he figures the time is right to land back where he really wants to be.

Granted, he's not as mobile as he was while with the Raptors, before being besieged by the bad back. That's a fact even Radojevic will even acknowledge: "In Toronto, before I got injured, I moved much better," he said. "Quicker. I was faster."

But now he is a better all-around player.

"It was a bad break for me," Radojevic said of the career-hampering back troubles, "but I can't look back so much."

Just ahead, over a horizon that bounds with unhindered views someone 7-3 can truly appreciate.

"I have a little more experience now," Radojevic said. "I'm 28 years old, and I've finally matured as a player. That's how I've looked at it."

O'Connor's view, from a stratosphere much closer to Earth, is similar: The Jazz exec wholeheartedly agrees Radojevic is much-improved from his first NBA go-round.

Factor in that unproven 7-footer Curtis Borchardt is the only Jazz big man who stands over 6-11, and that Radojevic's current contract is non-guaranteed, and it has become tempting to ponder the possibility of keeping him around for the season's start.

"(Knicks big man) Vin Baker tried to be very physical with him — and (Radojevic) responded," O'Connor said of a Utah-New York preseason game last Tuesday night. "(But) he also got in foul trouble in five minutes.

"He's 7-3," O'Connor added. "He changes some shots. He'll rebound for you a little bit. And he can pass the ball — that's one of his better assets."

Another is his perspective.

Radojevic seems to sense he might have a shot, yet there is no way in the world he would admit it.

Not now.

Not even from on up high.

"I don't want to say anything," he said. "I don't want to jinx anything.

"I'm going to wait until the last day, and if I'm still here, that's good ... If I don't make it, (I can say) I got a chance."

NOTES: Okur and Andrei Kirilenko (sprained ankle) both practiced Monday and are probable for tonight ... Raul Lopez returned to practice for the first time since starting rehab to strengthen weak leg muscles, but is doubtful for tonight ... Collins (sprained wrist) is out.


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com