Early exodus to NBA is a pathetic pattern

June 02, 1996|By John Eisenberg

I called the NBA office the other day and asked for the list of players who have applied for early entry to the NBA draft.

The NBA faxed me back a comedy routine, a laugh riot of a list with 41 names on it.

Forty-one!

The list includes three high school players, three junior collegians, three players apiece from Greece and the University of Arkansas, and two from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which has never won a game in the NCAA tournament.

It includes such household names as Vitaly Potapenko of Wright State University, Dut Mayar Madut of Frank Phillps College and Idris Lee of Mount Senario.

Let's play Scrabble!

As recently as four years ago, only six players declared early.

This year . . . is anyone left in college basketball?

Marcus Camby, Ray Allen and Allen Iverson are on the list, but also Randy Edney, a 7-footer from Mount St. Mary's who didn't even dominate at the lower end of Division I; Coppin State's Terquin Mott, who has had one big year in the MEAC; and Kevin Simpson, a guard/forward from Southern High School and Dixie Junior College, who, according to one scout, "doesn't have true guard skills."

The list isn't very funny, actually. It's pretty sad.

Maybe half of the 41 players will get drafted.

Maybe a dozen will develop the skills to last in the NBA.

What will happen to the rest? You don't want to know.

A few will return to college if they haven't signed with an agent, but many will disappear to goodness knows where, their dreams quashed and their educations aborted, leaving the happy spotlight to the few who succeed in the NBA.

And then, alas, those spotlighted, shoe-commercialed successes will inspire thousands of other young players to contemplate taking the same path, reaffirming the tragically flawed notion that it is easy to build their lives around basketball, not education.

It is a horrible pattern, a terrible trend. There is no other way to put it.

Many of these players are leaving school early because their families need money and the NBA is a financial Disneyland, so let's not judge them too harshly. But they should heed the advice of former Maryland star Len Elmore, who told The Sun's Jerry Bembry, "If a guy has a need to help his family, he needs to continue to pursue his education. This [leaving early] is just a total indulgence of a childhood fantasy."

True. Camby, Allen and a few others among the 41 will make big money. The rest are just dreaming. They'll need career counseling more than a jump shot.

"These kids are crazy," NBA superscout Marty Blake said.

The craziest of all are the high school players.

Kevin Garnett made the jump from a Chicago high school to the NBA last year, so now any high schooler with a game thinks he can make it, too.

Wrong, wrong, double wrong.

Garnett was one in a million, a 6-foot-11 player with sensational guard skills. His kind comes along once in a generation, maybe.

Kobe Bryant, the high schooler from Philadelphia who made headlines when he applied for the draft last month, is a 6-foot-5 shooting guard -- the most common basketball commodity of all. There are dozens like him, only stronger, in the pro game. Out of the pro game, too.

Bryant has publicity, a new shoe contract, all the trappings of success. But he is deluding himself if he thinks he has the game. Or if he thinks he is going to develop a game sitting on the end of some bench.

He is by all accounts a good kid from a strong family, but you have to root for him to fail. Same with the other high schoolers who have applied for the draft.

Only if they fail will others realize how foolish they are for even thinking about the pros while in high school.

The Motts, Simpsons and Edneys of the world are deluded, too, for thinking that a little bit of obscure success enables them to know what it takes to make it in the NBA.

They'd all be better off staying in school, maturing physically and working on the education that would give them a fallback if basketball didn't work out.

It also wouldn't hurt them to "stay a kid," as Cal's Shareef Abdur-Rahim did when he renounced his application for early entry the other day.

But you can't tell them that.

You can't tell college basketball players much of anything anymore.

Many of them have been coddled since they were in eighth grade, funneled through a professionalized grind of all-star camps and summer leagues, with college coaches urging them on and flirting with them every step of the way.

The college coaches created this monster by forcing kids to grow up on the court long before they grew up off it, so it's hard to listen to Rick Pitino and the other coaches whining about the damage this is inflicting on the college game.

It's also hard to watch the pros shrug and say there's nothing they can do about it, because there is. They can turn their back on these "crazy" kids who have no chance. Just not draft them. Send them the appropriate message. What about a nudge in that direction, Commissioner Stern?

The list of 41 names, most of them desperate dreamers, is evidence that the situation has gotten way out of hand.

But for a scant few, a career in pro basketball is just a pipe dream.

And that isn't funny.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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