Thursday, June 26, 1997
Fortson heads to Denver
Bucks pick him 10th, then trade him

BY MIKE DeCOURCY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Danny Fortson
Danny Fortson watches the draft with UC coach Bob Huggins at Huggins' house.
(Michael Snyder photo).
| ZOOM |

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In the Charlotte Coliseum, the voice of NBA commissioner David Stern was muffled by a substandard public address system. Through the speakers of the television, though, Danny Fortson plainly heard his name.

This was the only thing immediately clear about his position in Wednesday night's NBA Draft. It was the Milwaukee Bucks who made Fortson the 10th overall selection, but the Denver Nuggets who made them do it.

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"Denver called me before the pick, a couple of minutes before it happened," said Fortson, a 6-7 power forward who left the Cincinnati Bearcats following his junior season. "I know I'm going to go out there and be a great player."

The Nuggets worked tirelessly in the days preceding the draft to arrange a deal that would bring them Fortson in exchange for veteran center Ervin Johnson.

The deal, which was not announced until an hour after Fortson was drafted, . also sent veteran forwards Johnny Newman and Joe Wolf to Denver to solve salary cap concerns.

Although Fortson learned of the trade possibility a day earlier and was well aware of Denver's interest, he spent a nervous Wednesday afternoon at his apartment, hoping for some indication of which team would select him. He then watched the telecast at the home of Bearcats coach Bob Huggins.

As the 10th pick, Fortson is guaranteed a three-year contract worth as much as $4.5 million. And he had plans for that money Wednesday night.

"When I was young I was so poor that churches would put food on my doorstep, and so the chance to make thousands of dollars, the chance to take care of my mom, is a dream," Fortson said.

There had been persistent rumors in the weeks leading to the draft that Fortson's esteem among professional teams was rapidly dwindling, even as he performed well at individual workouts.

Several NBA scouts insisted Fortson was too short to be an effective power forward in their league, although he was measured at 6-7 1/4 in his bare feet - 6-8 1/2 in a pair of sneakers.

"It doesn't matter. I didn't care if I went 20th," Fortson said.

Bearcats coach Bob Huggins had no doubts about Fortson's chances in the NBA.

"The most important attribute (in the NBA) is the will to be great, and Danny has the will to be great," Huggins said.

"I can't make kids go into the gym for a couple of hours every day, but Danny does it."

Fortson became the second projected power forward to wind up with the Nuggets, who earlier selected 6-11 Tony Battie of Texas Tech with the No. 5 overall pick. Battie is a rapidly developing big man who averaged 18.8 points for the Red Raiders as a junior. It's expected Battie will be employed at center.

Denver vice president Allan Bristow had success as the Charlotte Hornets coach with compact power forward Larry Johnson, and he views Fortson as someone to add a scoring touch.

In three seasons with the Bearcats, Fortson scored 1,881 points, the second-best total in school history. He was named first-team All-American as a junior and Conference USA Player of the Year in 1995-96 and 1996-97.

Previous stories

NBA WOULD BE MISTAKEN TO UNDERESTIMATE FORTSON June 25, 1997
TRADES COULD HELP FORTSON June 25, 1997
TRADES COULD HELP FORTSON June 25, 1997
FORTSON'S LONG FORTNIGHT June 10, 1997
FORTSON: 'I KNOW I CAN PLAY' April 2, 1997
FORTSON LEAPS TO NBA April 1, 1997