Nikoloz Tskitishvili (pronounced NEE-kol-us SKID-ish-Veel-e) is a Georgian Republic-born basketball player who has overcome some unfortunate personal setbacks to become a first-round NBA Draft pick. In the 2002 NBA Draft, the 19 year old Tskitishvili (known as Skita to his fans) was selected fifth overall by the Denver Nuggets, after showing great potential while playing in the Italian basketball league.
Skita was born on April 14, 1983, in Tbilisi, Georgia. His father, a well-known Georgian dancer, was killed in a car accident when Skita was only a toddler. This left his mother, Guliko, as the family's sole breadwinner. As a child Skita was a member of the Georgian National Dance company, and seemed prepared to follow in his father's footsteps. Eventually, he grew too tall to be a dancer and instead turned to professional basketball as a means to alleviate the financial burden on his mother.
Skita went pro at 16 years of age, playing for the Sokhumi club in Georgia, followed by KK Slovan in Slovenia. In 2001-2001 Skita joined the Italian league with the Benetton-Treviso basketball club, and supported his family on $30,000 annually. Skita saw little playing time, as he was restricted by both political reasons, as well as the fact that Benetton-Treviso was laden with veterans who commanded major minutes. Still, after two seasons, he had impressed scouts enough to be considered a possible top ten pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, which he later turned out to be.
In the next four years, Skita will make $11.8 million playing small forward for the Nuggets. While Skita's massive salary has alleviated any future financial worries for Guliko Tskitishvili and her other son, George Kipani, it has also put them at risk. In Georgia it is not an uncommon occurance for the relatives of well-known NHL players or soccer stars to be kidnapped and held for ransom. Since the draft, Skita has tirelessly worked to obtain permission for his family to join him in the United States. Fortunately, his request was granted in late October, and his mother received a visa allowing her to live in the US until June, while young George's two month visa can be easily extended once he enrolls in an American school.
As is the case for most recent European imports, it has been speculated that the seven-foot Skita may likely develop into the next Dirk Nowitzki. At only 19 years of age, it is an accepted fact that Tskitishvili will need quite a while to adjust to the infitely more physical style of playing the NBA. His next challenge is also to gain some weight, since his draft size 7'0" and 225 lbs makes him an easy target for the league's leviathans-- although to his credit, he has gained about 12 lbs since the draft.
Skita comes with quite a potential upside, as he is able to take the ball inside, is also a gifted shooter, and is more than capable from 3-point range. Unlike many foreign players, Skita has an advantage as he is already fluent in English (as well as Russian, Serbian, Italian, Georgian, and Slovenian), and his new team also has the youngest average age in the league, featuring four other rookies-- not counting first-year coach Jeff Bzdelik.