Wilcox exit is seen as slam-dunk

Sources: Flying forward will tell Williams soon that he's going to NBA

Terp assured he's lottery pick

With chance to be taken among top 13, `you've got to go,' he said earlier

April 09, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

University of Maryland sophomore power forward Chris Wilcox is expected to meet with Terps head coach Gary Williams shortly to make known his intentions to leave school early and enter the NBA draft, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Wilcox, a 6-foot-10, 230-pound high-flying forward who helped Maryland win its first national men's basketball championship by averaging 12 points and 7.1 rebounds, was due back in College Park today to meet with Williams after spending nearly a week mulling over his decision in his hometown of Whiteville, N.C.

Wilcox could not be reached to comment last night. Williams, who did not return phone calls yesterday, has said he wants Wilcox to return to school for his junior year.

A source close to Wilcox said the decision hinged on whether Wilcox felt certain he would be chosen as a lottery pick - among the top 13 selections - in the June 26 draft.

According to one high-ranking NBA source, Wilcox has been viewed that way for some time. The source added that by decisively outplaying All-America Kansas forward Drew Gooden and Indiana's Jared Jeffries in Maryland's recent Final Four victories, Wilcox solidified his stock among the draft's elite.

"He's got to improve his skills, but [Wilcox] got a good start because the Lord blessed him with a lot of athletic ability. His athleticism is what catches your eye," the league source said, adding that Wilcox could end up as the best power forward prospect on the board. "Is he a lottery pick? Oh yeah. I've got him rated as a top 10 pick. Can you find me 13 other guys who should get picked before him?"

Wilcox, who will turn 20 on Aug. 3, told The Sun a month ago that the certainty of being a lottery pick would make him skip the rest of his college career.

"I really want to come back to school, but if you've got a chance to go [in the draft] as a lottery pick, you've got to go," he said then. "I think that's where [former Terp] Terence [Morris] messed up. He stayed around too long [going from a possible lottery pick as a sophomore to the 34th pick as a senior]. I don't want to be the one to stay around too long."

Debra Brown, Wilcox's mother, said she hoped to meet with Williams and her son later this week.

"He wants to hear what Coach Williams has to say. I don't think he's really made up his mind yet," Brown said last night. "[When he does], he wants to let Coach Williams know first."

Once he officially declares his draft eligibility, Wilcox could elevate his standing through workouts with individual NBA teams and at the league's pre-draft camp June 4-7 in Chicago.

His draft status also could be affected by the future entries of other underclassmen, foreign players and high school players who intend to skip college. College underclassmen, who have until May 12 to declare, can return to school as long as they withdraw a week before the draft and do not hire an agent.

The No. 1 pick of this year's draft is scheduled to earn about $11 million over the life of a three-year contract. The fifth pick will earn about $7 million over three seasons. The 10th pick will earn about $4.5 million, and the final lottery pick will collect approximately $3.9 million. All of the money is guaranteed.

"Personally, I think Chris should stay," Williams said the morning after Maryland beat Indiana to win the NCAA title and finish with a 32-4 record. "He's on the verge of becoming one of the top players in college basketball. If he stays a year, financially he would get back whatever he would sacrifice by staying another year."

Wilcox would be the third player during Williams' 13-year College Park tenure to leave early for the pros, following forward Joe Smith and guard Steve Francis. Wilcox also would be the fourth starter lost from the championship squad, which already has lost seniors Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Byron Mouton.

Wilcox, who was cut from his seventh-grade team before making a mark at Whiteville and Enloe (N.C.) High School, averaged only 8.6 minutes, 3.6 points and 2.1 rebounds during a relatively quiet freshman year, although he was a crowd-pleaser with his dunking ability.

As a sophomore, he replaced junior Tahj Holden in the starting lineup after 10 games and developed more consistency. His jump hook was a prime weapon, and his ability to rebound, block shots, run the court and finish with his trademark dunks helped Maryland's front line become the nation's deepest and perhaps most talented.

Wilcox dominated Mike Dunleavy in a victory over Duke on Feb. 17, then averaged 14 points, eight rebounds and 2.5 blocks at the Final Four.

After the 97-88 victory over Kansas in the national semifinals, Wilcox perhaps gave a hint of his future plans by saying, "I just want to go out and play great in my last game."

As for his next stop, a source close to Wilcox said, "There is nobody in Whiteville who thinks Chris is going back to school."

NOTE: Mouton was the only Maryland senior to participate in the recent Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational, the first of two NBA pre-draft camps. Mouton made a good impression by averaging 22 points and seven rebounds in two games. "You can't help but notice his energy," Houston Rockets general manager Carroll Dawson said. "There were three or four guys there who might sneak into the bottom of the first round. He might be one of them."

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