In terms of distance, Montenegro was indeed a world away from the NBA. His home town, with a population of 350,000, is in the southern part of Argentina, and is near the Atlantic Ocean.
But now, 11 years later, the 6-foot-10 1/2, 229-pound power forward may be on the verge of realizing his dream. Montenegro is one of 12 rookies and free agents on the Sixers' team in the Princeton Summer League, and despite an 0- for-7 shooting night Tuesday in a 117-106 loss to the New York Knicks, he has impressed Sixers management with his overall skills.
Montenegro is not fast, but he runs the floor well. He's not especially quick, but he knows how to get to the basket and is aggressive offensively. And, for a big man, he is a very good passer.
Above all, Montenegro works hard at both ends of the floor, is active and is very alert.
"Montenegro has a certain intrigue about him," said Sixers head coach Jimmy Lynam. "I give him a chance" of making the team.
Montenegro first caught the eye of Lynam at the NBA pre-draft camp in early June, in Chicago.
Not many NBA people knew much about Montenegro then because a broken left ankle had ended his career at LSU after only four preseason games.
Montenegro, recruited by the much-traveled Dale Brown, came to LSU last fall as a sophomore in eligibility, since he had played for Argentina's national team before coming to the United States.
He averaged 23 points and 13 rebounds a game for the national team, and had secured a starting spot at LSU before the ankle injury occurred in practice the day before the regular season was to begin.
"When I went to LSU to play, I was intending to stay there one year and then apply to the NBA," said Montenegro, who is married and has two children. ''Then came the injury. It was very hard for me, because I was ready for the season. They told me I couldn't play, and I thought, 'Oh, God, what am I going to do now?'
"I stayed at LSU for another month, and then I went back to Argentina
because I have a family and I needed to make money. I worked hard to strengthen my ankle, and every day I was thinking to myself, 'NBA, NBA, you have to be ready, you have to be ready.' "
Montenegro played in Argentina's National League once he was healthy again, and then came back to the United States for the pre-draft camp. After that, he played several games in a pro league in Puerto Rico, where Lynam paid him a visit.
"I had a good camp in Chicago, and I talked to a lot of teams," Montenegro said. "Everybody said the same thing - that I might go late first- round or early second-round. Coach Lynam came to Puerto Rico two days before the draft and said the Sixers were going to take me. I was happy. Dr. J, Barkley, tradition and a nice city."
Montenegro will almost certainly be invited to the Sixers' October preseason camp, but if he is to make the team, he must demonstrate that he can be the much-needed forward off the bench who can provide added scoring power.
His experience against international competition shows in every other facet of his game.
"You need to play the whole game to make it in the NBA," Montenegro said. ''You have to be able to pass the ball, shoot it and rebound. I've been a shooter all my life, but I think I can give the Sixers the little things.
David Henderson scored 23 points, Everette Stephens had 18 and Montenegro contributed 11 as the Sixers, overcoming a 10-point deficit in the fourth period, beat the New Jersey Nets last night, 107-101.