Maryland's Wilcox jumps to NBA draft

Skipping final two years, power forward projected as probable lottery pick

NCAA effort `certainly helped'

Player with `huge upside' is fourth starter lost from national champion Terps

April 23, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Maryland lost the fourth starter from its NCAA champion men's basketball team yesterday when the school announced that sophomore forward Chris Wilcox will skip his final two years of college eligibility and enter the NBA draft.

Wilcox, who informed Terrapins coach Gary Williams of his intentions on Sunday in College Park, was traveling home to Whiteville, N.C., yesterday and was unavailable to comment.

Wilcox's decision, which had been expected since early this month, became official three weeks after he helped the Terps win their first national title with exceptional play in the Final Four, solidifying his position as an NBA lottery pick.

The NBA draft will be held June 26. League sources have indicated Wilcox, 6 feet 10, 230 pounds, is a certain top-10 selection, a possible top-five choice, and could be the best power forward prospect on the board. Debra Brown, Wilcox's mother, said her son plans to sign with an agent this week and will begin to prepare for pre-draft workouts with individual pro teams.

"It's exciting, but I guess it hasn't hit yet, because we have so much to focus on," Brown said.

Wilcox, who was cut from his seventh-grade team at Chadbourn (N.C.) Middle School before starring at Whiteville and Enloe (N.C.) high schools, played a key role with the Terps this season after struggling to get playing time as a freshman on Maryland's first Final Four team.

As a sophomore, Wilcox started the final 25 games for Maryland, which won 19 of its last 20 games and finished with a school-best 32-4 record by beating Kansas and Indiana at the Final Four to win the NCAA title. Wilcox, who will turn 20 on Aug. 3, was the Terps' third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. He averaged 12.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots.

A crowd-pleaser who showed striking ability to run the floor, rebound, block shots and finish with tremendous dunks, Wilcox displayed flashes of growth in his offensive game by developing an effective jump hook, although his medium-range jumper and free-throw shooting still need considerable work.

"I'm happy for Chris. I think another year [in college] would have helped him. At the same time, it looked like he was definitely going to be a lottery pick, and that guarantees you a certain [financial] position," Williams said.

"I think he could have been a top-five player next year for sure if he had continued to improve at the same level, but there are no guarantees. Chris is 19, and with his physical ability, he has a huge upside. He had those five-minute stretches when there was no one better in the country. His performance in the NCAA tournament certainly helped him. He played big in the big games."

That was Wilcox's trademark all season. In the Terps' fifth game, when he was coming off the bench as a backup to junior Tahj Holden, Wilcox sparked Maryland to a 76-63 victory over second-ranked Illinois with 19 points and six rebounds. He replaced Holden in the starting lineup at North Carolina State on Dec. 30.

Wilcox went on to post eight double doubles. None was as impressive as the 23-point, 11-rebound show he produced in an 87-73 victory over Duke on Feb. 17 at Cole Field House. That day, Wilcox dominated Duke junior Mike Dunleavy and helped to cement Maryland as a national championship contender.

Wilcox averaged 13.5 points during Maryland's six-game run through the NCAA tournament, and he sealed his NBA future in the Final Four by averaging 14.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks over two games. He outplayed Kansas junior forward and first-team All-American Drew Gooden and Indiana sophomore forward and Big Ten Player of the Year Jared Jeffries, each of whom already has entered the pro draft.

"The right mix was there. Chris played great in those games, and he won a national championship. The stars were right," Williams said. "If Chris got a feeling he would [get drafted] in a very good portion of the first round, he would have to look at that very closely."

Wilcox stands to become an instant millionaire. The top pick on June 26 will earn about $11 million in salary over three years. The No. 5 pick will collect about $7 million, with the 10th selection to earn about $4.5 million over three seasons. All of the money is guaranteed. The lottery round consists of the first 13 players drafted.

The exit of Wilcox marks the third player to leave Maryland early for the pros during the 13-year tenure of Williams. Joe Smith left after his sophomore season in 1995, and Steve Francis headed for the NBA after his junior year in 1999.

With Wilcox gone, junior point guard Steve Blake is the only starter left from the championship team, which already has lost seniors Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Byron Mouton.

The Terps could have four seniors in their starting lineup - Blake, guard Drew Nicholas, Holden and center Ryan Randle - when they open the 2002-2003 season this fall in the new Comcast Center arena.

Williams also expects to feature a heralded, five-man recruiting class in point guard John Gilchrist, guard Chris McCray, small forward Nik Caner-Medley, power forward Travis Garrison and junior Jamar Smith, who is transferring from Allegany College and could start at small forward.

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