Joel Przybilla stepped out of a cab and into a hotel, 90 minutes late for a recent media session sponsored by the NBA.
His flight to Chicago from the Twin Cities had been delayed twice. His luggage was missing. All he carried was a backpack and a multimillion-dollar future.
By the time Przybilla finally made it to the interview room, the other high-ranking, invited draftees-to-be had finished and cleared out.
So Przybilla quickly posed for an NBA photographer who was collecting mug shots, then met with the few writers who hadn't given up on him.
The young man from Monticello, Minn., spoke quietly about his aspirations as a professional and his short life as a college athlete.
The 7-foot-1 center, who left the Gophers in the midst of last season, said he felt betrayed when scandal-scarred coach Clem Haskins was forced out a year ago. If Haskins was still at Minnesota, Przybilla said he would be, too.
''I promised him I'd be there for four years,'' Przybilla said. ''But things came up.''
Things certainly came up.
With six regular-season games to go in his sophomore season, Przybilla -- who had been suspended by new coach Dan Monson for academic reasons -- walked away from college and set his sights on an NBA career.
As Wednesday's NBA draft at Target Center draws closer, the fact that Przybilla quit on his college team has raised a red flag for franchises that hold high picks in the draft. While Przybilla is still expected to be one of the first players selected, questions remain.
''I would think that anybody in the position to draft him would investigate what went on,'' said Dallas Mavericks coach and general manager Don Nelson, whose team holds the No. 12 pick.
Rob Babcock, director of player personnel for the Minnesota Timberwolves, said: ''You always take a look and ask why someone quit. It's not a mentality you like to have with your players or anybody in your staff.''
The Timberwolves' only pick in the 58-player draft is No. 51. So, like Dallas, they aren't concerned about Przybilla's past.
But the teams with high picks surely are. Przybilla has worked out for and been interviewed by the New Jersey Nets (who hold the No. 1 pick), Vancouver Grizzlies (2), Chicago Bulls (4, 7 and 24), Orlando Magic (5, 10 and 13), Atlanta Hawks (6), Cleveland Cavaliers (8) and Houston Rockets (9).
''They just ask me what went on and I tell them the truth,'' said Przybilla, declining to go into specifics about the splintering of his relationship with Monson. ''I tell them there was just a lot of frustration there, a lack of communication with the coach. I tell them that I've learned from the mistakes that I made and I've got to move on and improve myself so I can be the best player I can be.''
Przybilla was indefinitely suspended by Monson on Feb. 15 for what the coach called a ''lack of academic commitment.'' Monson, like Przybilla, has never publicly discussed specifics of what happened.
''I've always said Joel's a tremendous basketball player and he's got a huge upside,'' Monson said last week. ''I hope that it works for him. He works very hard and has the ability to play at that level, and hopefully he'll get drafted high and be very happy with it.''
Przybilla knows he will continue to face doubters after he is drafted.
''When I come in, the veteran players will know I quit the team,'' he said. ''They're going to be saying stuff, and I've got to fight through that. It's going to come, but I'm ready for it.''
One big factor in Przybilla's favor, however, is that he's a big factor at 7-foor-1. He and the 7-foot Chris Mihm, who left Texas after his junior season, are seen as the most attractive centers in the draft.
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