MINNEAPOLIS -- In the back of Joel Przybilla's mind, he hoped it wouldn't happen. But it did.
The Target Center crowd booed relentlessly for a couple of minutes when Przybilla's name was announced Wednesday as the Houston Rockets' first-round draft pick.
The 20-year-old center, who quit the Gophers in midseason, was taken ninth overall by the Rockets, where he'll have the chance to learn from Hakeem Olajuwon.
''Of course, I hoped they wouldn't boo me,'' he said. ''It's over now and I've got to move on.''
The 7-foot-1 Monticello native has been a basketball icon in Minnesota since he was at Monticello High School, when he made an early commitment to play for Clem Haskins at Minnesota.
But fans soured on Przybilla when he left Minnesota in February in the midst of a dispute with Coach Dan Monson.
Przybilla's last public appearance in a basketball arena was in February, when he led the struggling Gophers to a 77-75 upset of Indiana. Przybilla had one of the best games of his college career, with 33 points and 14 rebounds and was named the Big Ten's Player of the Week.
A day after he won the award, Przybilla was suspended by Monson for academic reasons. Przybilla left the team, school and the state and declared his eligibility for the draft.
He said Wednesday he was prepared for the crowd's negative reaction.
''It doesn't bother me,'' he said. ''I'm satisfied with where I'm going.''
As well he should be. Przybilla goes to a team that has struggled recently, but which won't require him to be a major contributor right away. Instead, he'll get the chance to watch Olajuwon, considered one of the best centers in the NBA when he was in his prime.
''Just the chance to learn from Olajuwon is going to be great,'' Przybilla said. ''I think it's a great fit for me.''
He cited a poor relationship with Monson as the reason he quit after 21 games. He was also said to be unhappy with the way Monson treated him -- the same way the first-year coach treated other players.
Haskins, who was bought out of his contract for $1.5 million last year before investigators implicated him in the academic cheating scandal in the men's basketball program, had a good relationship with his star center.
Przybilla said he doesn't expect to be too popular next time he returns to Target Center in a Rockets uniform. But eventually, he hopes Minnesotans will appreciate him again.
''It's just going to take a lot of hard work in the future,'' he said.
Przybilla averaged 14.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game in his sophomore year. His blocking average was fourth in the nation and he led the Big Ten in field-goal percentage.
In the NBA, he'll need to improve on his shooting before he can get a lot of playing time. Przybilla said he thinks people may find he's already a better shooter than he was in college.
''I think I've done a lot for my offense'' since leaving school, he said.
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