Longley is glad he put pros on hold

March 13, 1991|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

Rare is the college player who ignores the call of the NBA to remain at the hallowed halls of higher learning. Even more rare is the player who lives not to regret it.

Luc Longley, New Mexico's 7-foot-2 senior giant from Down Under, is that double rarity: the man who said no to the pros and found he made the right choice.

Longley, who leads the 14th-seeded Lobos into tomorrow's East Regional first-round game in the NCAA tournament at Cole Field House, was highly coveted after his junior year by NBA scouts who liked his height and his passing ability.

Longley said he weighed the benefits of leaving New Mexico early with his frustration that the Lobos had never received an NCAA tournament nibble during his career in Albuquerque -- settling for three of seven consecutive National Invitation Tournament bids -- and he nearly left.

"I thought for a long time about going hardship," said Longley. "But this [an NCAA bid] was one of the key reasons that I came back. I thought we had a chance to get in this year.

"Plus, I just didn't think my game was ready. I needed to work on a few things to get my game ready to play against the world's best."

Whatever the reason, Longley came back and the decision, by all accounts, was a good one. He and Georgetown's Dikembe Mutombo almost certainly will be the first centers chosen in June's NBA draft if Louisiana State's Shaquille O'Neal doesn't spurn his last two collegiate years.

Longley says he hasn't let the heady talk of NBA millions go to his head, or at least, not yet.

"I don't think about the lottery when I'm on the court," said Longley. "It's very tough when I'm off the court, though."

Longley has become New Mexico's all-time leading scorer and rebounder and is the active NCAA leader in blocked shots with 333, a figure that places him 10th on the all-time list.

Folks at Towson State will recall that Longley scored 31 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked eight shots in 36 minutes last season in a 96-68 drubbing of the Tigers.

Georgetown observers might remember that Longley, a native of Perth, Australia, dominated Alonzo Mourning in a 79-78 loss to the United States during last summer's World Games.

Longley, whose full first name is Lucien, says his very presence at New Mexico is a "lucky break."

It seems that former Lobos coach Gary Coulson had gone on a recruiting trip to Oregon to see Andrew Vhlahov, a 6-7 forward also from Perth.

Coulson spotted Longley, who was visiting his friend. Vhlahov ended up at Stanford and Longley chose New Mexico over Hawaii, because Coulson convinced him Hawaii would be too much like Perth.

"He said it would be a lot like home," said Longley, whose 6-8 brother Griff is a senior at Albuquerque High. "I wanted to be on the mainland and Coulson convinced me that I needed as few distractions as possible."

Believe it or not, Longley, who would easily be spotted by any NBA scout in a crowded airport, is hardly known in his native land.

He says Andrew Gaze, who starred on the Seton Hall team that lost in overtime to Michigan two years ago in the national championship game, is the big basketball star in Australia, where roundball is still more a curiosity than a passion.

"It's still in its infancy there," said Longley. "It's gone from a backyard sport to something a little above that. They're getting some crowds of about 8,000 to 10,000, but it's still not a big deal."

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