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Top Pick Gets OK To Join Clippers

January 25, 1999

BOLOGNA, Italy (AP) _ Michael Olowokandi, the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, was released from his contract with Kinder Bologna of the Italian League today, freeing him to join the Los Angeles Clippers.

The 7-foot-1 center arrived in Italy three weeks ago, signing with Kinder about 24 hours before the NBA and its players came to terms on a deal that ended the owners’ lockout.

The deal bound Olowokandi to Kinder until Feb. 15, but a club source said the team decided to let him go now to save money and because he had failed to make the expected impact.

Olowokandi appeared in six games with Kinder, averaging 7.7 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Hampered by tendinitis in his right knee, he played just five minutes Sunday in Kinder’s 84-67 victory over first-place Varese.

Attempts to reach Olowokandi in Bologna were unsuccessful. In an interview earlier this month, he was glum about his first taste of pro basketball.

``I’m not here to force anything down anybody’s throat,″ Olowokandi said at the time, ``but usually when you’re the top pick, they build a team around you. They start from scratch. Over here ... their actions, the plays being drawn up, are not indicative of me being a top pick.″

Olowakandi played college ball at Pacific where his average went from 4.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.32 blocks in his first season to 22.2, 11.2 and 2.88 in his third and last year, prompting the Clippers to take him with the first overall pick in June’s draft. Including his stint in Italy, he has played 83 games of organized ball.

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