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Sonics hope French pass muster

Tim Booth Associated Press

SEATTLE – Fresh from a surprising division title and playoff run, the Seattle SuperSonics chose development over immediate impact in the NBA Draft.

Seattle selected a 19-year-old Frenchman, Johan Petro, with the 25th pick in the first round Tuesday night.

At 7 feet and 265 pounds, it was tough for Seattle to pass up the opportunity to add a bulky, frontline player to its roster, even after drafting 7-0 high schooler Robert Swift last year.

“It’s a good pick for us because of his height and the fact he’s at the center position,” Seattle general manager Rick Sund said. “We really focused on the fact that we’ve got a lot of young players and as they mature, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”

In the second round, Seattle took another Frenchman, 6-7 forward Mickael Gelabale, with the 48th pick. At No. 55, Seattle took 6-9 forward Lawrence Roberts from Mississippi State, but traded Roberts to Memphis for two future second-round picks and cash considerations.

Seattle has drafted four international forwards or centers since 1998.

Petro played the last two seasons with Pau Orthez, averaging 6.1 points in 28 France Pro A league games. He played another 11 games in the Euroleague, averaging 5.1 points.

Petro declared for last year’s draft, but withdrew. He’s seen the SuperSonics play and believes he will fit well into Seattle’s system.

Speaking via conference call from New York City, with his manager Bahpna Dahane translating, Petro said he would prefer not to return to Europe, but play in Seattle next season.

Seattle assistant coach Jack Sikma coached Petro at an international camp last spring and came away impressed.

“He’s very athletic,” Sikma said. “Offensively he’s got some work to do. There is room for him to improve. But bodywise, he’d be able to play some next year.”

Last year, Seattle took Swift with the 12th pick, basing the selection mostly on potential.

Petro falls into a similar category.

“He needs to build up his body and improve his shooting skill,” Dahane said.

Swift spent this season working extensively with Sikma and saw little playing time. The team hopes Petro spends next season in Seattle following a similar development plan.

Seattle’s scouts also see Petro as having different skills than Swift, and the two can complement each other.

“I think looking at the risk versus reward, it was a very attractive pick,” said David Pendergraft, director of player personnel.

Pendergraft said Gelabale was perhaps the best athlete in Europe. He played for Real Madrid and is contractually obligated to the Spanish squad for one more season before he could join Seattle.

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