After Orlando’s rough ride with Doug and Jackie Christie, it’s just the Magic’s luck to have squandered the 11th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft on a player closely advised by his girlfriend. From the Orlando Sentinel’s George Diaz :
Fran Vazquez walks through the streets of Spain with no worries.
A small-town young man who doesn’t own a drivers license, Vazquez has taken his walking shoes and said adios to the Orlando Magic.
Vazquez, 22, made a curious, if not controversial, decision to forgo the NBA, recently signing a four-year deal to play for a local professional team in Spain. The Magic are the jilted suitor, wondering why he ignored the intoxicating pull of dollars and destiny in another country.
He had no devious plans at play shortly after the Magic selected him with the 11th pick in the first round of the NBA draft last June. But doubts would begin to build the minute he stepped foot on American soil, escalating with the tug of an influential girlfriend, an agent who stood to make significant financial gains if he stayed home, and finally, an unexpected offer making him the richest professional basketball player in Spain.
The first troubling steps occurred on the streets of Manhattan.
Vazquez came there with his girlfriend, Ana Toral, for three days in conjunction with the NBA draft on June 28.
Before shaking hands with NBA Commissioner David Stern, Vazquez got a new suit from the league as part of the deal, something he could use because it’s a sharp upgrade from the only one he owns.
Despite the fashionable pose, Vazquez remains a small-town man at heart. He comes from a village of 2,000 people in Chantada, nestled in the Galicia region of Spain along the northwestern coastline. It is part of the Spanish Outback called Espana Profundo. Agriculture is the main industry.
The frenetic energy of Manhattan overwhelmed him.
“Yes, I was a little scared,” he said, looking back. “It’s not just changing cities, it’s changing countries. I was thinking I would have to adapt as quickly as possible to a different lifestyle.”
“Manhattan shocked us quite a bit,” Toral said. “Everybody was running down the streets, and we were just looking at them [wide-eyed].”
The opinions about Toral are harsh among the Spanish media and basketball community, pointing to her influence in persuading Vazquez to stay in Spain. She appears to have a say in everything involving Vazquez, including his interaction with the media. She sat down with Vazquez a few minutes into an interview with an Orlando Sentinel reporter and stayed for the duration, though she was cordial and did not try to interfere.
The perception is not always so benign.
“I recently asked the players on the national team how many tickets they needed for the [international] games,” said Manolo Rubia, the team manager of Unicaja Malaga (and who has the same role with the national team).
“Everybody said, two, three, six, whatever. Fran said, ‘I’ll have to ask Ana.’ He can’t even decide how many tickets he wants for himself. Orlando is not losing anything.”
Dave Twardzik and Sam Foggin, the team’s international scout based in Naples, Fla., combined to see him play eight times. Despite the physical potential, they never got into his head. Vazquez did not take any psychological profiles that are now common among high-profile prospects. Although the NBA administers those tests on a voluntary basis during the predraft camp in Chicago, Vazquez didn’t participate in those workouts.
Perhaps a closer peek into his psyche would have revealed a naive nature, seeing if there was any reluctance to play overseas, and would have provided other insights.
“If a top law firm is recruiting the top minds in law school in the country, you would never hire somebody who you couldn’t interview or talk to,” the European basketball official said. “You would have a picture of what the kid thinks like before offering him a contract.”