Dreams revised for unchosen after NBA rough draft Early candidates often wind up at lower levels, if at all

June 23, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

For Stephon Marbury, the question most asked these days is simply why? Why leave Georgia Tech after his freshman year? Why give up college life for the hectic pace of the NBA? Why exchange college greatness for possible struggles at the next level?

Marbury usually answers the question with a question: Why not?

"If you were to tell a college student, 'Here's $2 million to come out, or stay in school,' what would you do?" Marbury, speaking two weeks ago at the NBA pre-draft camp, asked. "If it's something you enjoy doing and you can make a lot of money, why not?"

Leaving Georgia Tech was an easy decision for Marbury. He will be among the top picks -- maybe even the No. 1 pick of the Philadelphia 76ers -- during Wednesday's draft at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.

But for every can't-miss product like a Marbury, there's Taj McDavid (Palmetto High School) or a Chris Nurse (Delaware State): players of questionable talent who declare themselves as early entry candidates for the NBA draft.

At one time there were 42 players who had filed for early entry into the NBA draft. In the past week, several players, such as Terquin Mott of Coppin State, have reconsidered their decision and decided to return to school. But even after Monday, the deadline when players can change their minds, this year's draft will have more early entry candidates than any other.

And a lot of them are about to enter a system where there is some hope they do not succeed.

"These guys are coming out to get their first three years [maximum for rookie contracts, which are capped] out of the way, and then get their money," said Gary Fitzsimmons, player personnel director for the Cleveland Cavaliers. "Then they can -- be a free agent. That's their reasoning and rationale.

"To stop this trend, we need to have enough failures," Fitzsimmons said. "Everyone is using the Kevin Garnett situation. Nobody is trying to use the John Wallace situation."

Winners and losers

When the list of the early entry candidates for the 1995 draft was released, both Garnett and Wallace were on it. Garnett was a tall, lanky teen-ager out of Farragut Academy in Chicago; Wallace was a junior forward at Syracuse.

Even with three solid seasons at Syracuse behind him, Wallace was projected as a late first-rounder because of questions about his outside shooting and his maturity. He withdrew his name just before the draft, and is now a projected lottery pick after averaging 22.2 points per game and leading the Orangemen to the national championship game.

"It was my own self-evaluation," Wallace said of returning to school. "You can't go into the NBA with some of the mannerisms I had. Knowing that, I controlled [my attitude] a lot more my senior year."

But a lot of the young players use Garnett as their measuring stick. Garnett, 6 feet 11, was impressive in averaging 10.4 points while starting 43 games last season for the Timberwolves.

Many of the college players were influenced by Garnett's success. And so were high schoolers Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O'Neal, two of the nation's top prep players who have declared for the draft. Both Bryant, son of former NBA player Joe Bryant, and O'Neal should be first-round picks. O'Neal, because he is 6-11, probably will be a mid to late first-round pick by a team hoping to develop him as a center. The stock of Bryant, at one time considered to be a possible late lottery selection, appears to be falling as team officials question whether a 6-6 guard with questionable shooting skills can make the transition to the NBA right out of high school.

"I saw him in the [Pennsylvania] state finals in Hershey, then again in the McDonald's game in Pittsburgh," Golden State Warriors general manager Dave Twardzik said. "In those games, there was no one I watched and said 'Wow.' There was no one who caught my eye as ready to be a pro, no one with the necessary physical and emotional maturity."

Still Bryant, who already has a sneaker deal with adidas, knows there is enough intrigue by an NBA team to take a chance on his being another Garnett or another Shawn Kemp. Teams will take the chance, even as they express concerns about whether the players are prepared.

"These kids are losing out on some of their developmental years [in college] to come to the NBA," said John Gabriel, vice president of the Orlando Magic. "A lot of times, it's tough to devote time to developing players during the season."

Reality check

A lot of the early entry candidates already feel their game is developed and are shocked when faced with reality.

Such was the case with Scotty Thurman, who in 1994 hit a big three-point shot against Duke that helped Arkansas to the national championship. Thurman had the name recognition and came from a big program. Still, he went undrafted and wound up playing all of last season in the CBA.

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