"Although he is surrounded by the trappings of fame, future NBA All-Star Andrew Bogut remains a modest all-Australian boy, David Sygall writes.
In MANY ways they seem a perfect match. An Australian NBA star with a predilection for poker and nice cars, and the United States, a land where success is lauded and riches are flaunted.
But while Andrew Bogut's peers easily drop six figures for a piece of jewellery, indulge in tattoos, outrageous cars, gigantic houses - and exude an attitude to match - Bogut lives a quite different life.
Maybe it's because he's new to this environment of private planes, Hummers and bling. Maybe it's because he's been reared well.
But the 213-centimetre 22-year-old Milwaukee Bucks centre, widely anticipated to become Australia's greatest basketballer, prefers simpler pleasures and the kind of lifestyle that keeps him in touch with his past.
It's not that Bogut forbids himself to enjoy the rewards of his success. But everything's relative.
"I like to go to casinos," he says in a deep but youthful voice. "We have a casino in Milwaukee with a poker room. You don't want to be playing too often, of course, but I probably play once a week."
The poker craze sweeping the US caught Bogut last year. He often plays against "the boys". But he does the real business at the casino. You might expect him to play in a separate room for high rollers and famous people. But he doesn't.
"People know who I am when I walk in," he says. "But I'm not the kind of person to expect a private table. I like to play against regular people. When you sit at a table, for the first half an hour you're an NBA star. But, after that, everyone forgets that and just plays cards. I think that's pretty cool.
"Like anywhere, you get good people and there's the people who want to try to take your money. Some people want to play you so they can talk to you. Others want to try to put you in your place."
Bogut has learnt a lot about humanity over the past couple of years. Well before he became the first Australian player to be nominated the No.1 pick in the NBA's draft, wheelers, dealers and agents besieged him, trying to tap into his huge earning potential.
Finally, he signed with smooth-talking David Bauman, of management group SFX, which looks after some of the game's biggest names, including Kobe Bryant.
Yes, there are massive sponsorship deals being negotiated, even though Bogut has a long way to go to truly live up to the hype. He works in an environment in which modesty is secondary, but some light chat with the massive Melburnian reveals a sportsman proud of his foundations and achievements, one who finds solace in normality in spite of the temptations around him.
"We'll finish practice each day around 2 or 3pm and I'll always have some errands to run before the close of business," he says, explaining his average day when the team isn't travelling. "I'm always sending something back to Australia or getting something repaired.
"Then I'll have a nice meal and relax for a while, maybe play cards or go out with friends for a drink.
"I don't really plan my week. I like to be able to do whatever I feel like doing. Other times I'll just stay home and watch a DVD or get on the internet for a few hours and read about cars, poker players, basketballers, read the Australian newspapers …
"When I arrived they gave me a cheque and I got myself an apartment. I've set myself up pretty comfortably. But I really miss Australia, because I have a house with a backyard.
"I'm looking for a house in Milwaukee because I just got a dog, a husky, and I'm not allowed to keep it in my apartment.
"I always wanted a husky when I was growing up. It's a lot of work and they're hard to look after. But that's all part of it, I guess."
This is an unprecedented insight into the life of one of Australia's most private sports stars. Bogut speaks sharply and with conviction. He is mostly serious but does laugh. The apparently rehearsed lines disappear as he relaxes.
"I don't mind talking to journalists if the questions are different," he says. "It's a chance to get your point across, which is a good thing. It gets a bit hard when you're answering the same questions over and over."
It's questions about Bogut's work environment that get him fired up. His sentiments are well thought out, fearless, yet far from complimentary. He is clearly determined not to get swept up and spat out by the system in which he now finds himself.
"The public's image of NBA players is true," he says. "A lot of them get caught up in the hype and do video clips with rappers and all that crap. They want bling bling all over themselves and drive fast cars. But that's just the way the culture is in America - if you've got it flaunt it and if you don't, you can't."
Bogut catches himself. He bought some nice wheels recently and he collects old cars. His father was in the motor trade and recalls how, as a youngster, he and his father would give the thumbs up to people driving cool cars.
"But that's where it stops for me," he says. "I'm not into jewellery. I've got some earrings but they're not too expensive. There are guys who drop a hundred grand for a chain. The public's got it right - a lot of NBA stars are arrogant and like to spend lots of money and have lots of girlfriends and all that.
"The smarter guys don't do that. They like to live a regular life and want to retire and be set up. About 80 per cent of them go broke by the time they retire or come close to it.
"We have compulsory tutoring each week where they teach you to manage your money and they tell you about all the things that can happen to you, people trying to take advantage of you, but it's amazing how many guys totally ignore it. I guess if you're a normal person and suddenly you're getting $10 million a year, it can go to your head.
"But it's just the culture over there. I would never want my child to be brought up in an environment like that, where if you have money you're supposed to flaunt it and make everyone jealous.
"The American attitude is 'We're the best'. That's why the NBA guys who come from other countries, the Europeans, all sort of stick together away from the game."
Bogut may loathe aspects of American culture. But it's not as though he thinks Australia's tall poppy syndrome is a healthy alternative.
"I don't know why, but people do try to cut you down in Australia," he says. "Look at Lleyton Hewitt. From all the things I read about him, I thought he was an idiot. But then you get to a similar position, being around a big sport, and you start to see things a bit differently.
"Whenever I used to read about Hewitt, I'd read that he was all just for himself. But then you start to have people say that about you and you realise it's just the way the media portrays you and there's nothing much you can do about it."
So, what kind of image would you like people to have of you?
"I'd like people to think of me as someone who works very hard, who has gone through a lot of crossroads along the way," he says.
"I clashed with a lot of coaches and people along the way, I've worked a lot and I'm proud of who I am and where I've got to.
"I don't want to be seen as arrogant but I know that sometimes that's how it will come across. I have a lot of respect for the game and I hope it respects me back.
"There are people who can't accept it when you say that you've given up a lot to get where you are. They only see that you're getting paid millions of dollars to play basketball. But as a 15-year-old it's very different. You can't go out, you have to give up friends, you lose childhood friendships because you don't have any time and suddenly you're left with one or two friends. As a young guy, that's pretty hard to get your head around.
"I always wanted to make it in basketball. But then I missed out on the state team and it was turning into a nightmare. I wondered whether it was all worth it and when I was about 16 I wanted to quit. Before that point my dad had said I could stop if I wanted to. But by that time he'd realised my potential and wouldn't let me give up. It all went from there."
Within four years, Bogut went from Victorian junior team reject to NBA star.
"It is an amazing world I'm living in - more crazy than you think," he says, before recounting the draft, his first real taste of his new life.
"The two days leading up to the draft were ridiculous. When you're a top-10 pick there are so many obligations. You have to do a lot of media, promotions for the NBA, promotions for this, that …
"It was a buzz in a way, but I'd never want to relive it."
Our conversation is over and we now know this giant of Australian sport a little better. "One more thing," he says, before saying goodbye. "Can you let me know when this story's going in the paper? I want to let my mum know."