It took longer than he had probably hoped, but Ronny Turiaf finally learned Tuesday night where he will be shipping his belonging as he begins his career in the National Basketball Association.
He couldn’t have asked for a more intriguing destination.
The former Gonzaga University star and reigning West Coast Conference Player of the Year disappointingly slipped out of the first round of the nationally televised 2005 NBA Draft, but ended up going to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second.
The Lakers took Turiaf, a 6-foot-10, 245-pound power forward and the fourth former Gonzaga player to be drafted in the last four years, with the first of their two second-round picks. That made him the 37th overall selection of this year’s draft. Barring a trade, the choice placed him under the tutelage of Phil Jackson, who was hired as the Lakers new head coach earlier this month, replacing Frank Hamblen, who had accepted the job on an interim basis after Rudy Tomjanovich resigned last February.
Turiaf, who attended the draft in New York as a non-invitee and made his way onto the stage after his named was announced, did not return messages left on his cell phone late in the evening. But Gonzaga coach Mark Few said he liked where his former standout landed.
“I think it’ll be a good spot for him,” Few said of the Lakers organization. “Obviously, Phil is a great coach and he’s putting in a new system there. And Ronny is probably as quick a learner as we’ve ever had at Gonzaga, so he’ll pick that up in a hurry.
“Ronny’s ready to play in the NBA, no doubt. Hopefully, the Lakers will give him that chance.”
Among the other Zags who have been drafted by NBA teams in recent years are Dan Dickau, a first-round pick of the Sacramento Kings in 2002; Richie Frahm, who was selected by the Charlotte Bobcats in the NBA’s 2004 expansion draft; and Blake Stepp, who was a second-round pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves in last year’s regular draft.
Unlike the players selected in the first round of the draft, Turiaf will receive no guaranteed contract and will be forced to make the Lakers’ roster.
But the consensus opinion of the television analysts working the draft for ESPN was that Turiaf stands an excellent chance of sticking with a Los Angeles team going through a major transition period.
Still, as Few predicted prior to the draft, Turiaf probably missed out on his dream of becoming a first-round pick because of the high number of early entries into this year’s draft.
In the first round alone, 14 college underclassmen and three high school players were selected.
With Los Angeles, Turiaf joins a team with a front line still in flux. Second-year forward Caron Butler averaged 15.5 points and 5.8 rebounds as a full-time starter last season as the Lakers finished 34-48 and failed to make the NBA playoffs after tying for last place in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference.
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