Standing flat-footed beneath the basket, Mouhamed Saer Sene stretched toward the ceiling, and standing on the tips of his toes, his freakishly long 7-foot-8 wingspan allowed him to touch the rim without leaving the floor.
At that moment, Sonics coach Bob Hill locked eyes with Dave Pendergraft, the team's director of player personnel, who exchanged glances with general manager Rick Sund.
Hill remembers bursting into laughter and the look of awe on each of their faces.
"This kid can do things nobody else in this draft can do and for me, that was the difference," Hill said.
At that moment, the Sonics believed they might have found their newest player. Days later Seattle made it official and selected Sene, a 7-foot Senegalese center, with the 10th pick in Wednesday's NBA draft.
In what was supposed to be the draft where the Sonics dangled Rashard Lewis as bait for trading down or trading out, they stuck with tradition and for the third consecutive year drafted a project at center who will need time to develop.
In 2004, it was Robert Swift and last year Seattle chose Johan Petro.
Where some might see a pattern of redundancy, the Sonics believe they've fortified the center position for years to come.
"The shot blocking and the length just grab you every time you see him," Sund said. "It's [Dikembe] Mutombo-like. The hands are pretty good. The quickness, the way he finishes are solid. He's going to have to learn offensive moves and things like that."
Seattle had serious interest in Randy Foye, who was taken at No. 7 by Portland and traded to Minnesota. The Sonics also considered trading down to take guard Ronnie Brewer, who was selected at No. 14 by Utah.
However, the Sonics expect to sign last year's second-round pick Mickael Gelebale, a 6-7 forward, who they believe is a better perimeter defender than anyone in this year's draft.
"Sene, Randy Foye and Brewer, those were the guys," Pendergraft said later. "We felt like in the long run, to maximize that pick [Gelebale] it was best to go with a center this time around."
In the second round, Seattle chose Connecticut sharpshooter Denham Brown with the 40th pick and Israeli guard Yotam Halperin was taken at No. 53. Halperin has a year left on his contract with Maccabi Tel-Aviv and won't play for the Sonics next season.
Brown, who averaged 9.4 points at UConn and impressed scouts with a strong showing at the pre-draft camp, has an outside chance of making the roster.
Sene informed the Sonics that he might play for the Senegal national team in the upcoming FIBA World Championship. But his agent, Jeremy Medjama said that Sene will skip the tournament and play for the Sonics' summer-league team.
Sene spent the 2005-06 season with Verviers-Pepinster of the Belgium Division I League, where he averaged 3.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 10.5 minutes. He gained national recognition in this country when he recorded 15 points, six rebounds and nine blocked shots in 27 minutes at the 2006 Nike Hoop Summit.
The Sonics brought him in for two workouts and were impressed with his defensive abilities.
"He's got some developing to do," Sund said. "He's at the age where he'll grow some. He's a young guy. He touches the rim without jumping, which is amazing. He has good hands and he's a quick jumper. He's not mechanical."
Shortly after their 35-47 season concluded, Hill was adamant about acquiring a veteran big man and three-point shooter off the bench, which led to speculation that the Sonics had interest in Duke's J.J. Redick.
"I was relentless with that whole mindset and maybe the day after the season I went in and got the free agent list of all the 7-footers and it wasn't real pretty," Hill said. "So I wasn't discouraged, necessarily.
"When these workouts started and I saw this kid, I slept on it for a night. And the next day I asked the staff and everybody, 'Would we be better off in the big picture trying to get Mouhamed and would he help us the second [half] of the season and playoffs more than the guys on this list?' It's Mouhamed, I believe."
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|Sonics' No. 1 picks|
|Seattle's first-round selections and the overall pick:|
||Col, HS, country|
||Mouhamed Saer Sene
||Trinity Valley J.C.|
||North Carolina St.|
|* Traded rights to Orlando; + traded rights to Denver; % traded rights to Golden State; # traded to L.A. Clippers; ^ traded rights to Chicago. Note: Sonics had no No. 1 picks in 1978, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1996, 2002.|