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What NBA needs, preps -- not colleges -- offer

Seeking size and height, teams might draft a record six high school players.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


In the vernacular of playground trash talk, the phrase "Taking you to school" means one thing.

But to NBA franchises, it might be taking on a new meaning.

Forty-seven underclassmen have declared eligibility for Wednesday's draft, a mind-boggling number considering only 57 players can be selected overall.

But even more amazing is an NBA record six of them -- Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, Kwame Brown, DeSagana Diop, Tony Key and Ousmane Cisse -- are weeks removed from their high school proms.

The love affair between the NBA and high school never has been more passionate.

"We have already headed down this road, and this is more of a confirmation that the draft is about players who can develop in the second, third and fourth year (in the league)," Heat general manager Randy Pfund said. "Teams are not thinking they are going to make an immediate impact, but there is so much talent out there, you can't pass on these guys. Down the road, they can be monsters."

Magic general manager John Gabriel said that while talent continues to be one of the most important variables in player evaluation, the size of this year's high school stars is forcing the hands of many teams.

Of the six, the 6-foot-9 Cisse, a native of the Republic of Mali, is the shortest. Curry, the Chicago legend considered the most polished and a front-runner for the No. 1 overall pick, is 6-11 and 285 pounds. Brown and Key are 6-11, and Chandler and Diop are 7-footers.

"I don't think the league will ever completely ignore the college players in favor of the high school players," Gabriel said. "But this year, because of the size of the (high school) kids coming out, they are hard to ignore. There is such a need among so many teams for height and size that the value of these high school kids went up."

Despite the All-Star status of Kevin Garnett (1995), Kobe Bryant (1996) and Tracy McGrady (1997), and the marginal success of Jermaine O'Neal (1996) and Darius Miles (2000), banking on an adolescent pro still is a risk.

The strength of veteran players, the demands of an 82-plus-game schedule and the expectations and temptations that come with being a celebrated phenom make the NBA no day care for youngsters.

There have been failures, like Taj McDavid (1996) and Ellis Richardson (1998), who went undrafted and lost their college eligibility, and Korleone Young (1998), who played in three games for the Pistons and is out of the league.

Brown, however, believes high school players who have turned pro and not blossomed are in part unfairly singled out.

"You can spend four years in college and I still don't think you'll be ready, mentally, to handle the NBA life," Brown said. "As you can see, some players in the NBA are still not ready to handle the NBA life. You don't see anything about high school players getting in trouble, getting in fights in bars, going to jail."

While the likelihood of Curry, Brown, Diop and Chandler going in the first 10 picks is good, the verdict on the draft might not be read for a few more years. As good as they might be, Magic coach Doc Rivers said, they still are teenagers. At 19, Brown is the oldest, and Diop won't turn 19 until January.

"It's been proven that if guys spend four years in college they're much more ready for the NBA than not going to school or spending only a couple of years," Seattle coach Nate McMillan said. "So, it's going to take at least four years, from a coaching standpoint, to develop (these players)."

In the past, with a three-year rookie contract, teams might not reap the rewards for developing their young investment. McGrady signed with the Magic after three growing seasons with the Raptors. But with a new five-year rookie contract in place, franchises appear more certain of happy returns and players have an increased chance of developing ties to the franchise.

"In some ways, that has hurt the college senior," Rivers said. "If a 19-year-old is close in talent to a 22-year-old senior, then you're going to take the 19-year-old every time. Now, you have the time to help them blossom."

The teams know it and now, perhaps more than ever, the teenagers know it as well.

"If you're a 17- or 18-year-old, you can go to jail, you can go to the military, you can fight and die for your country," Brown said, referring to criticism of high school players entering the draft. "Why not play basketball for money? I don't get it."

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

* * *

NBA DRAFT: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Madison Square Garden, New York. TV: TNT.

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