Archive for Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Jazz owner against drafting preps

Stevenson case tests patience of Miller, who must decide whether troubled player will remain in Utah

July 4, 2001

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— It's not to say "I told you so," but Jazz owner Larry H. Miller knows there was a reason he always was so opposed to drafting kids into the NBA straight out of high school.

Or at least he was until last year, when the Jazz used their first-round pick on California high schooler DeShawn Stevenson, who is scheduled to be arraigned Friday in Fresno, Calif., on a felony count of statutory rape.

"You could say, 'He's 20 years old, blah, blah, blah.' That argues the premise I've always made: We shouldn't be drafting these 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids," Miller said.

"They can develop their technical skills, but can they develop their social and emotional skills to meet the rigors and demands of the NBA? That's a big question, and I think we've got to start dealing with that."

NBA commissioner David Stern favors a ban on high schoolers in his league, but the NBA Players Association is opposed, meaning it's not likely to happen any time soon.

Six prep players declared for last Wednesday's NBA draft, and four were among the first eight selections. Miller, meanwhile, sides with Stern especially now.

"I'd love to find some limitation on the age that we can draft players," he said. "(Last week's) draft scares the heck out of me, when I look at the number of high school kids and (college) underclassmen.

"I think it sends a loud warning to us, if we're listening at all as NBA management and owners, that, 'What are we doing to our farm system?'

"I mean, you can call it what you want, but that's what college has been to us."

The question remains: Will Stevenson ever play another game for the Jazz?

The rookie's recent arrest in his hometown of Fresno., Calif., on a felony charge of unlawful intercourse with a minor i.e., statutory rape threatens to dim that star.

Asked if Stevenson can ever play for Utah again, Miller hedged.

"I think so, but not under any circumstances. There's so many variables; we're trying not to guess too much at them. So the first thing we have to do is have a determination in the legal system, whether it's a trial in front of a jury, just a trial before a judge without a jury or a negotiated settlement you know, plea bargain or a reduction of the charges.

"If DeShawn's convicted in a worst-case (scenario) let's say it's as bad as it can get, and it's as bad as it sounds it's a real problem for us, because we have always said that we want this team to stand for certain things, you want the team to represent certain things in the community, we want the players to be role models."

Miller is disappointed Stevenson, who signed with Kansas out of high school but chose the NBA option, is in this predicament.

"We don't expect them to be angels, but there's certain things we've always stood for. Now, having said that, I think DeShawn is a good guy. If it's what it's charged to be right now, he made a very serious and, in my opinion, a very stupid mistake."

According to Fresno Police, the Jazz guard admitted that he had consensual sex with a 14-year-old girl. If convicted, Stevenson faces up to three years in prison.

"My first choice, by far, would be to have, as the truth comes out, to not as bad as it sounds," Miller said, "(and) that there were extenuating circumstances. ...''

Asked if he was at all satisfied with Stevenson's explanation for the incident, Miller said: "I felt good about it to this extent, or 'satisfied' is a better word: That he 'fessed up to it.

"There were some 'Yeah, buts' that he didn't know the age, and so forth. He truly is repentant. But this is a pretty serious situation, and if it's closing the barn door after the horse is out . At this point, I'm satisfied that he's sincere in wanting to get it handled, to face up to it and to move on . . . and to deal with the truth," Miller added. "Now, I hope I'm not being naive in that. So, it still boils down to 'the system has to take its course;' in the wake of that, we have to make our decision."

He said the team will remember the edict, "Innocent until proven guilty," hence look for Stevenson to play for the Jazz summer league team if his case is unresolved.

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