Known as The Ukraine Train, Vitaly Potapenko could be a force in the paint. At 6-10 and a strong 280 pounds, Vitaly Potapenko battled against the biggest power forwards and centers that the NBA had.
He was born in Kiev, Ukraine and went to high school there at Kozchagin. Potapenko would attend Wright State University. Playing 30 minutes a game, his stats were big with 20.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1 block per game.
Few college players were as strong as he was, and Cleveland didn’t have a lot of size so they picked Potapenko in the 1996 NBA Draft. He was the 12th overall selection.
During his rookie season, Cleveland only played Potapenko 15.5 minutes per game as they had veteran Tyrone Hill to use. Potapenko averaged just under 6 points and 3 rebounds per game.
The next season, 1997-98, Cleveland now had Shawn Kemp and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to use at power forward and center. Potapenko was able to play 80 games for the second season in a row but didn’t start any and his minutes were 17.7 per game.
He was able to find enough playing time to increase his points and rebounds while his field goal percentage was also improved that season.
When Potapenko was coming to the end of his contract with the Cavs it was believed by many that he did not want to stay in Cleveland. The Cavs looked around for a trade and found Rick Pitino who was someone that even Cleveland could get the better of in a trade.
Potapenko would have been worth the price of a future first round pick and forward/center Andrew DeClercq if the draft pick the Celtics were to send had been protected. Pitino didn’t do that so the trade ended up being Andrew DeClercq and point guard Andre Miller going to Cleveland.
In Boston, Potapenko gave the Celtics a strong rebounder that they needed. He could also score at close to 50% from the field.
Tony Battie and Danny Fortson were other center options they had on the Boston roster in 1999-00, but Battie didn’t have the strength that Potapenko did and Fortson didn’t have the height to effectively play center so Potapenko started 72 games. Potapenko was a good finisher around the rim. Often when Paul Pierce or a point guard penetrated into the paint the opposition center would rotate over and Potapenko would put himself in the right place to receive a pass and drop the ball in for two points.
Potapenko’s best asset would have been his muscles and his willingness to bang bodies in the paint. For offensive rebounds, he could win a test of strength for the right spot to be able to grab the ball. He also wasn’t afraid of some of the intimidators around the NBA.
The Celtics were ready to shake things up and they decided the risky addition of Vin Baker was something they were willing to try. Vitaly Potapenko, Kenny Anderson and Joe Forte went to the Seattle SuperSonics for Vin Baker and Shammond Williams. Shammond Williams hit some shots for the Celtics but Vin Baker caused them a lot of trouble.
Seattle got some games from Anderson and Potapenko gave them three and a half seasons of solid play from the bench with occasional starts. Potapenko gave them what Seattle expected, some rebounds and around 50% from the field.
Potapenko would finish his career with Sacramento. He was part of a complex trade involving four teams, Potapenko went to the Kings, Seattle got various pieces including Earl Watson, Denver got Reggie Evans and a couple of other players while Portland picked up Voshon Lenard and Brian Skinner. Potapenko only played a small number of games with the Kings, including 4 playoff games.