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Biedrins Celebrates 19th Birthday

Salt Lake City -- It was the last hurrah Friday for Andris Biedrins and his most famous legacy to date. The Warriors' rookie played his final game as the NBA's only 18-year-old against the Jazz on Friday night. He turns 19 today.

"I'm sad," Biedrins said. "It was a good feeling. But I'm still the youngest player in the league, so I still feel special."

The league's next four youngest players -- Orlando's Dwight Howard, Atlanta's Josh Smith, Seattle's Robert Swift and Miami's Dorrell Wright -- all celebrated their 19th birthday within a week of each other in December.

At that time, Biedrins was an afterthought, stashed away on the Warriors' injured list while learning the NBA game and bulking up. The trades of veteran centers Clifford Robinson and Dale Davis forced him into action, and Biedrins has become a staple in the rotation.

He has played in 15 straight games and entered Friday averaging 4.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 0.64 blocks in just under 14 minutes per game. The Latvian also made his NBA debut against the Jazz on Nov. 5, when he became the youngest ever to play for the Warriors.
 

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High-Rising Rookie



Andris Biedrins had just signed a slew of autographs before a Warriors game and was strutting down the hallway to the locker room, giving high-fives to security guards, looking like an oversized, giddy kid enjoying a grand adventure.

``Of course I'm having fun!'' he said later.

How could he not?

Biedrins, the NBA's youngest player, is finally getting some playing time and showing some hints of potential that's as large as his 6-foot-11 frame. The bonus is living a life he never imagined possible while growing up in Latvia.

He has a 23rd-floor Oakland apartment with a commanding view of the Bay Area. He drives a Porsche Cayenne -- base price: $89,300.

``It's so fast that it's unbelievable,'' said Biedrins, who has one speeding ticket. ``It's got a turbo in it. It's sweet.''

He has adjusted so well to life here -- notice his correct usage of the word sweet -- that Mom was able to return to Latvia in December.

``I told her, `It's time for you to go home, although you can come back later if you want,' '' Biedrins said.

Now the final weeks of his rookie season -- which was supposed to be something of a redshirt year considering he just turned 19 on April 2 -- have become a sneak preview of possible things to come from him. Midseason trades have allowed Biedrins (pronounced BE-a-drinsch) to play about 12 minutes a game.

``He's the baby-faced giant,'' Warriors point guard Baron Davis said. ``He's going to be one of the top 10 centers in this league. It's just a matter of time.''

Biedrins is still more baby than giant. He's a good-natured teen who is liked by teammates and seems stunned at the turn his life has taken.

``Right now, all of my friends are sitting in a high school classroom,'' Biedrins said. ``I can't believe how quickly all of this happened.''

A quick study

After practice one day last week, as Biedrins strolled to a downtown Oakland restaurant, he got long looks from passersby. Their faces said: ``I should know this guy, but I can't quite place him.''

Biedrins, like most players his height, has grown accustomed to the stares.

``People are always asking me, like in the elevator of my building, if I play basketball, and I tell them no, I play soccer,'' he said with a grin.

Biedrins is conversant in four languages -- Latvian, English, Russian and German. And although he speaks English well, when he's ticked off, he switches to Russian.

``Russian has many more bad words,'' he said.

His quick wit helps explain Biedrins' quick adjustment to life in the United States -- and in the NBA.

``There's no way I would have been ready at his age, not emotionally or physically,'' said Warriors forward Mike Dunleavy, 24. ``But there's something about him that's grown up even though he likes to have a good time, too.''

Then Dunleavy thought for a moment.

``But if you were a teenager, in the NBA, driving a fast car, and not having to do homework, who wouldn't have a smile on their face?'' he added.

Adonal Foyle can relate to the adjustments Biedrins has had to make. The native of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean moved to the United States in high school. He lived with married college professors before attending Colgate.

``My first season in the league, I brought my parents out with me,'' said Foyle, 30. ``I had been in the United States several years already and went to college, and I still needed my mommy.

``But not him.''

Yet there have been moments Biedrins has felt like a stranger in a strange land. Early on, he preferred to stay at his apartment, playing pool and video games and keeping up with news from home on the Internet.

``Maybe I was a little bit lonely, I guess,'' he said.

He started feeling more comfortable when midseason trades brought Nikoloz ``Skita'' Tskitishvili and Zarko Cabarkapa to Warrior-land. Tskitishvili is a native of the Republic of Georgia, and Cabarkapa is from Serbia-Montenegro. The three ``Euros,'' as they've been nicknamed, are inseparable.

``They just yap all the time,'' Foyle said. ``You can't get them to shut up. I've instituted a rule that they have to speak English when they're playing. But their enthusiasm is really infectious. They're always together on the road.''

During a trip to New York, the three even took a horse-drawn carriage ride together around Central Park.

They form a mutual support system that includes Mickael Pietrus, a native of the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe who played professionally in France.

``We can just hang out,'' Biedrins said. ``All three of us, and Pietrus, we all know how we feel about being away from home and how different it is here from Europe.''

It's also another reminder of how international the NBA -- which has 77 players from 34 foreign countries -- has become. If a guy can play, NBA scouts know.

Even if he's in Latvia.

And still growing

A Baltic country in northern Europe, Latvia was part of the former Soviet Union. Biedrins' father, Aivars, was a champion discus thrower, and his mother is of above-average height. But Biedrins can't explain how he got to be almost 7 feet tall.

```Maybe in two years, I might be 7-2,'' said Biedrins, whose size-17 sneakers look like small boats. ``I think I'm still growing.''
 
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