Ability vs. 'Draftability'

Lure of stardom can glitter like fake gold

Early NBA draft entries

Vitale: Lesson resides in All-Pine Team

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Dick Vitale is trying to figure out why so many high school basketball players are skipping college for the NBA.
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Early entry? For every Kobe, there's a Leon Smith


I'm sick and tired of hearing NBA administrators, scouts and GMs scream about really wanting underclassmen and high school kids to stay in school. They say they would prefer that the kids get an education because many are not ready for the NBA.

Samuel Dalembert
6-foot-11 Samuel Dalembert averaged 8.3 points and 5.7 rebounds as a sophomore at Seton Hall.
But those statements are wacky and absolutely unreal. How intoxicating is it for a 17-year-old to walk into a gym and play a high school game in front of 50 to 60 scouts or GMs? Do you think their presence affects a kid's mind-set? Do you think kids get a little excited when they know the upper echelon of basketball is watching their every move?

Then someone says, "They are going to be a late first-round draft choice, baby." And that's all a high school kid has to hear. As soon as they hear those magical words, the players think they will get a guaranteed contract -- three years and millions of dollars, baby. So option B -- going to the NBA instead of attending college -- becomes a good alternative. They take the quick journey to shoot the J and earn some bucks over going to class, learning discipline, developing self-esteem and gaining knowledge that will benefit them for a lifetime.

Counting the early entries from college and high school, the international players and the college seniors, there are amazingly about 70 players who believe they will be first-round draft choices. Well, I didn't go to Harvard and don't have a strong background in math, but there are just 28 potential first-round draft choices (since Minnesota doesn't have one). The math just doesn't add up.

The rest of the players fight for basketball survival. Many become nothing more than basketball vagabonds. Players who failed to dominate in college and couldn't average in double figures -- like Gerald Wallace of Alabama and Samuel Dalembert of Seton Hall -- think they are ready for life in the NBA? Give me a break. A player is labeled "Mr. Potential," someone drafted strictly on potential and not on his ability to make an immediate contribution.

What really drives me wild is that the NBA Players Association allows this to happen. Come on, Billy Hunter. What you are doing is simply taking a job away from a veteran player. A contributing veteran must step aside and allow a young kid to sit on the pine, chase dreams and collect a paycheck. They could have stayed in college and developed, but they end up getting no PT, baby.

Critics believe the early entries will hurt the college game, but as long as the jersey says Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan State, Illinois and others, there will be excitement galore, packed houses, spirit and enthusiasm at the college level. The Final Four will continue to earn top dollar in TV revenue and advertising, second only to the Super Bowl. The beat goes on.

Who loses? The NBA's quality of play diminishes. David Stern understands. He is a bright man, the best commissioner in sports. He wants to implement an age limit of 20, but he needs cooperation from Hunter and the NBA Players Association. Stern certainly would love to see the kids return to school. But the NBA wants to see the pot full with as many potential players to draft as possible. Even though they say the right things, deep down they let the word out to the street agent who fills a young player's head with visions of grandeur. Sadly, street agents are now climbing into high schools.

David Stern wants to implement an age limit of 20, but he needs cooperation from Billy Hunter and the NBA Players Association.
The June draft will be about potential, baby. Of the six high school players declaring for the draft, four -- Tyson Chandler, Kwame Brown, Sagana Diop and Eddy Curry -- will probably be taken in the first seven selections. Florida has suffered "Heartbreak Hotel," losing out in its bid for Brown. But blame the system, not Kwame. With seven siblings, a mom who is receiving disability and a dad who is in prison, what more can he do when he has a potential to make millions of dollars?

I hope Kwame receives the same support Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett received in making the transition to the NBA.

Brown is Mr. Versatility. Of the high school players in the draft, Brown has probably the best chance of making a contribution and getting minutes off the bench in the NBA because he can go inside or outside and has a feel for playing the game.

Unfortunately, many kids get hurt in the draft process. For every Kobe, there is a Leon Smith and a Korleone Young. What has happened to them? They had dreams too, but they -- like many others -- are not ready for the NBA. After three years most end up playing in the CBA, in Europe or elsewhere because they never got a chance to develop.

Stern, Hunter and NCAA president Cedric Dempsey must get together and restore some sanity to the wacky, crazy NBA draft process that exists. The draft should be for players ready to play, not for those drafted simply on potential.

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