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USA - Raptors make Bargnani first European No. 1

NEW YORK (NBA) - Italy's rising star Andrea Bargnani has made history as the first European ever to be picked number one in the NBA draft after being chosen by the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night.

The 20-year-old, who some list at 6ft 10 and others, including former Benetton Treviso general manager and new Toronto vice president and assistant GM Maurizio Gherardini, say is really 7ft, joined Yao Ming (2002) as the only pure international players to be taken with the top pick. 

"Number one is incredible," said Bargnani, who has been likened to the Dallas Maverick's German superstar Dirk Nowitzki. "I tell you, I cannot describe the sensation. I have no words. I cannot describe because I am not able to describe in English well."

Bargnani averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 21.7 minutes per game in his third season with Benetton. He shot 57.8% from the field, including 36.9% on three-pointers.

Like many taller European players, Bargnani has an excellent catch-and-shoot ability to about 20 feet. Unlike many European bigs, Bargnani loves to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket. The arrival of Gherardini and now Bargnani means Toronto are truly underdoing an international revolution.

Just last week, Toronto added Slovenian center Rasho Nesterovic after a trade with the San Antonio Spurs.

The NBA side drafted Benetton's Uros Slokar last summer in the second round, with the Slovakian center having so far elected to remain in Italy's Lega A where he is developing a reputation as one of the league's top defenders in the low post.

Toronto signed former Tau Ceramica point guard Jose Manuel Calderon last summer and now are closing in on his Spanish international team-mate, Jorge Garbajosa of Unicaja Malaga.

There are Benetton connections at every turn with Toronto. Garbajosa is a former Benetton player won was voted most valuable player of their Coppa Italia winning side in 2004.

"We felt Andrea Bargnani was really the best pick for the future of this organisation going forward," said team president Bryan Colangelo. "It's not about today, it's about today and tomorrow, and we think Andrea is a player that's not only going to help us in the short run, but we think is going to grow into a terrific star in this league."

Benetton coach David Blatt paid tribute to Bargnani, and also hailed the Italian club.

"This has been the crowning moment of a perfect year," said Blatt, who led the Palaverde side to the Lega A title this season.

"It's the fulfilment of the Benetton dream and vision. The club is all about finding and developing young talent and moving them forward in their careers and hopefully, bringing them to the ultimate level which is of course the NBA, and in Bargnani’s case, historically, the first European to be picked number one."

"It's a great source of pride for us, for him, the organistion in general and the team."

Bargnani stole the headlines at the draft, but there were many more storylines.

The Portland Trail Blazers traded for four first-round picks to try and improve on the league's worst record of 21-61 last season.

They landed Texas forward LaMarcus Aldridge, Washington guard Brandon Roy, Spanish guard Sergio Rodriguez and teenage Briton Joel Freeland.

In the trades, Louisiana State forward Tyrus Thomas went to the Chicago Bulls and Villanova guard Randy Foye to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Chicago received Russian forward Viktor Khryapa and Portland got a future second-round pick as part of the trade.

Amid all the Blazers' manoeuvres, the Charlotte Bobcats selected Gonzaga's scoring-machine Adam Morrison, who has been named in Team USA's provisional roster for the FIBA World Championship.

With the fifth pick, the Atlanta Hawks selected Duke forward Shelden Williams, and the first 10 selections were rounded out with Connecticut's Rudy Gay going to the Houston Rockets, Bradley center Patrick O'Bryant being selected by the Golden State Warriors, and the Seattle SuperSonics picking Senegalese forward Saer Sene.

The Orlando Magic landed college standout JJ Redick with the 11th pick. The Duke star - who is also on the provisional Team USA roster to play in Japan - was the Wooden and Naismith Player of the Year as a senior, capping an outstanding career by becoming the all-time leader in the NCAA in three-pointers made with 457. He also finished second in NCAA history in free-throw percentage (.912).

The 6ft 4in guard should play right away.

Bargnani was one of several overseas players to be drafted.

Swiss guard Thabo Sefolosha of Italian side Angelico Biella is heading to Chicago. He was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers but was swapped for Memphis forward Rodney Carney as part of the trading.

The Washington Wizards used their 18th pick on 7ft Ukrainian forward Oleksiy Pecherov, who has been playing with Paris Basket Racing in France.

In the second round, the Golden State Warriors tabbed 21-year-old Croatian Kosta Perovic of Partizan Belgrade.

The New Orleans Hornets selected Brazilian forward Marcus Vinicius, Israeli forward Lior Eliyahu is headed to the Houston Rockets after a trade with the Orlando Magic, and the Washington Wizards grabbed Belarusian forward Vladimir Veremeenko.

Senegalese center Cheick Samb was picked up the Detroit Pistons after a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers, Israel's Yotam Halperin was selected by the Seattle SuperSonics, and the Cleveland Cavaliers moved for Nigerian Ejike Ugnoaja.

The Philadelphia 76ers acquired Bosnian forward Edin Bavcic in a trade with the Raptors, Greek center Loukas Mavrokefalidis was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Milwaukee Bucks picked up Croatian forward Damir Markota in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs.

PA Sport