Portsmouth: Show before 'The Show' Impressing scouts is aim of games

April 09, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

PORTSMOUTH, VA — PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Dennis Rodman, Dan Majerle and Kevin Duckworth are among the NBA starters with All-Star Game credentials who first drew the attention of pro scouts at the annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.

This week, the list of 64 players competing for attention in the PIT includes two Maryland seniors, Evers Burns and Kevin McLinton, whom several scouts consider long shots to be

second-round picks in the June draft.

"Who the heck knew who Pippen or Majerle were before they played here?" said Marty Blake, director of the NBA scouting bureau. He is instrumental in deciding who gets invited to this four-day, round-robin tournament in a high school gym, where the majority of spectators are general managers, scouts from the NBA and Europe and sports agents.

The Boston Celtics have six representatives seated courtside, from team president Red Auerbach down to former player Dennis Johnson, who is now a scout.

"We're all searching for that diamond in the rough," said Bullets ,, assistant general manager Chuck Douglas.

"My job is to find these guys with potential and give them a chance to show their wares," Blake said.

"Let's take Majerle. No one liked him when he was a 6-foot-6 center at Central Michigan. One of my scouts who covers the Mid-American Conference swore to me that Majerle couldn't play in the pros.

"So I bring him to Portsmouth in 1988, and he wins the tourney MVP award. Phoenix made him the 14th pick in the first round, and the Suns' fans booed when his name was announced. [Then-coach] Cotton Fitzsimmons grabbed the mike and said, 'That's the last time you'll boo Dan Majerle.' And Cotton was right."

Pippen, who was a walk-on at Central Arkansas in 1983, is another of Blake's favorite finds.

"Sometimes, it's just fate," said Blake, whose ties with the NBA go back to 1954, when he earned $70 a week as general manager of the Milwaukee Hawks. "When the Hawks moved to St. Louis, we drafted some kid from Arkansas Tech [J. P. #F Lovelady] in 1965 who got killed in an auto crash before the season started. I'm at the funeral, and I meet this guy who later becomes an assistant at Central Arkansas.

"He's the one who tips me to Pippen. I watch Scottie score 31 points against Southern Miss, and I fall in love with the guy.

"I bring him to Portsmouth in 1987, and 10 minutes into his first game, I've got 30 scouts begging me for more information about this kid Pippen, who can shoot, handle the ball and jump through the roof. . . . Me? I'm just the conduit. I don't tell teams who to pick. That's why they get paid the big bucks."

No one is saying Burns and McLinton will be the next Majerle or Pippen.

One NBA personnel director said bluntly: "They can't play. Burns is on the wild side. Most times I've seen him, he's out of control."

Portland Trail Blazers personnel boss Brad Greenburg said: "Burns has been a real productive college player, but nothing jumps out at you as far as being a pro prospect. And I really don't have a feel yet for McLinton except as a feisty guard on a weak ACC team."

Douglas is more kind in his appraisal of the former Maryland co-captains.

"Burns is a strong inside player," he said. "He uses his bulk and agility to out-quick defenders bigger than him and tries to overpower smaller guys."

"McLinton can play either backcourt position," Douglas said. "He's strong, handles the ball pretty well and has leadership skills. But in the NBA, he would have to be an exceptional passer to play the point or an excellent shooter or scorer to play two [shooting guard]. That's what he has to prove here the next few days."

Last night, Burns led his team to an opening-round, 106-83 victory with a game-high 25 points, nine rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes. McLinton had four points and two assists for the losers.

"This is a start," said Burns, the former Woodlawn High star who averaged 19 points and nine rebounds this past season. "I'm confident about my game now. I've improved my outside shooting and ability to beat guys off the dribble. I've been lifting weights and getting stronger. I'm hoping to remind the scouts of [Knicks forward] Charles Oakley."

Said McLinton: "I feel I've got a good shot because I played against the best competition, in the ACC. I think North Carolina proved that.

"I upgraded my shooting and ball-handling this season [16 points, six assists]. When things looked bleak at Maryland, I felt I stood up and took charge of things on the floor.

"I believe basketball is 90 percent mental," McLinton said. "If I've got my head together, I believe I can compete against anybody coming out this year."

Last year's Portsmouth tournament produced 14 draft choices, including La Salle guard Randy Woods, picked in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers.

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