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Opinion

Rave: In quest to improve after Hill saga, Okafor is the answer for Orlando

By PETE YOUNG
Published May 30, 2004

Thanks to a lousy record and the luck of the lottery balls, the seemingly cursed Orlando Magic has a chance to put the agonizing Grant Hill saga behind it. By drafting the next Grant Hill.

In playing ability (if not style) and off-court excellence, Connecticut's Emeka Okafor is reminiscent of Hill. He could team with Tracy McGrady to slingshot Orlando toward the top of the NBA in a hurry.

The Magic will be tempted by other options with the No. 1 overall pick next month. But unless prep star Dwight Howard is the next LeBron (he isn't) or Duke freshman Luol Deng is the next Carmelo (he isn't, either), then Okafor clearly is the choice.

Okafor, 21, was the dominant player in the NCAA Tournament and improved significantly every year at UConn. Flaws? His nagging back problem will make everyone's mind in Orlando flood with X-ray images of Hill's never-healthy ankle. And no, the 6-foot-9 Okafor is not a "true center." But so what? Neither is any great player in the NBA save Shaquille O'Neal.

Okafor is Ben Wallace with offensive skills. He is potentially as good as Alonzo Mourning. And Okafor is a man who fulfills his potential. Like Allen Iverson, he will harp incessantly about practice ... because he loves it!

Okafor is a workaholic overachiever with great talent and dignity. That's a combination any team could use. Especially Orlando.

Rant: No room on U.S. Olympic track team for cheaters, or for hypocrites

As it turns out, you're not as slow or weak as you thought, relatively speaking. That's because many of America's best aren't quite as fleet and powerful as they've been cracked up to be.

The U.S. track and field elite used to be infuriated when Soviet-bloc athletes competed with obvious illegal chemical advantages. Now, it's Americans who lead the way, boosting themselves with THG, EPO, HGH and other acronymed, illegal enhancers.

Among the recently busted are women's world 100- and 200-meter champion Kelli White (who confessed to using steroids and EPO and accepted a two-year ban), men's U.S. shot put champion Kevin Toth and women's U.S. hammer throw champion Melissa Price. Among those under investigation are some premier names, including boyfriend-girlfriend 100-meter stars Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones, and middle-distance standout Regina Jacobs.

The crackdown by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency comes on the heels of the federal investigation into steroid distribution at BALCO. Why it took so long for the crackdown is a good question, but at least it finally is happening. As in all sports, there is no place for illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

So then, who will be left to compete in the Olympic Trials, which begin July 9? Hopefully, a group of legally enhanced athletes striving to make the Olympics under fair and equal conditions.

[Last modified May 29, 2004, 23:54:21]


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