76ers top draft pick arrives in town

June 30, 2008 5:24:08 AM PDT
Marreese Speights at least has to give his new boss points for honesty. Philadelphia 76ers president Ed Stefanski doesn't expect Speights, a 6-foot-10 forward picked 16th overall in Thursday night's draft, to come in and play a big role as a rookie.

It will be a lot like his freshman year at Florida, where he played behind Al Horford and Joakim Noah on the 2007 NCAA title team. Only this time, Speights knows going in that he won't be a big star right away.

"They don't tell anybody that when they're recruiting them," Speights cracked about his collegiate courtship after Stefanski introduced him to the media on Friday.

But considering how well a season spent learning at Florida worked out, he's just fine with doing the same in Philadelphia.

"It was just a learning experience for me," he said. "I accepted that role and it got me to where I'm at right now."

The Sixers hope to groom Speights for a starting front court position down the road while letting him work at forward and center next season.

Speights said he is excited to join the Sixers, a young team that made an unexpected push into the playoffs last season on the strength of a 22-12 finish.

"They run and gun, similar to Florida," Speights said. "So I'm really excited and ready to start working."

Hard work is what Stefanski expects from his new forward; he went so far as to call it a pact. Speights will work hard for the next year and not pay attention to the box scores and Stefanski will see that Speights turns into a solid NBA player.

"If this kid works hard every day with the coaches we have, and he puts that effort in, he has big upside," Stefanski said.

Speights got significant playing time only after Horford and Noah left for the NBA. He averaged 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds for the Gators as a sophomore and improved as the season wore on. He had 16 points and 18 rebounds in Florida's season-ending loss to Massachusetts in the NIT.

Stefanski called Speights "a project with skills" who can run the floor and score with either hand in the post. Some observers worried about his conditioning, but Stefanski pointed to the up-tempo game against UMass as evidence Speights got into better shape as the season wore on.

"This kid was back on offense and defense before them all," Stefanski said. "The second half of the year he put up some excellent numbers."

Speights admitted he had trouble keeping in shape a couple of years ago, but that changed once he reached college.

"When I was younger, I didn't even have to work," Speights said. "But when I got to Florida I really had to work."

Speights has been working on his conditioning, as well as his ball-handling and jump shot, but didn't let the doubts about his work ethic get to him.

"I just knew that when I got to the workouts I got to show them that rumor is false," he said.

Stefanski was pleased with Speights' work, but knows there's more to be done.

"He has all the tools but it's going to be up to him," he said. "There's no reason he can't be a very good player for the 76ers."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) AP-NY-06-27-08 1712EDT