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Archive for Sunday, June 30, 2002

Draft worked well for Gooden

June 30, 2002

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When television producers need satisfied, gratified faces to feature in commercials about pills for relief of pain and discomfort, they should start with the visages of Drew Gooden and Roy Williams on Wednesday night. They were classic.

And later in the evening, the mug of Kareem Rush would have met similar standards.

The first three choices in the National Basketball Assn. draft had been made; a No. 4 spot pretty well guaranteeing somebody around $7.5 million over a three-year period was on the line. Projections were for Gooden of Kansas going to the Memphis Grizzlies.

But with foreigners, no-college wannabes and the trademeisters in the mix, there is no certainty of anything. Big money is involved. You go later than No. 5 in the process and salary guarantee drops below the $2 million-plus level; before long you surrender $500,000 or more per year.

When the form chart held up and Drew got the Grizzly Bear hug, his face erupted in delight and so did that of the well-tanned coach Williams watching in Lawrence with a batch of happy court campers.

Sure, there was pleasure for the heralded player and his coach. But there was also massive relief that the horses were in the barn with the gate locked and no prospects of a costly stampede. It was too bad that doggoned weather alert blanked out most of the Gooden interview. But Drew talks enough (sometimes too damned much), so we'll get his views time and time again to the point of overkill and boredom. After so many tape replays, enough!

Williams had done a lot of legwork on Drew's chances in the draft and had told him he'd go pretty high, maybe No. 3 and probably no worse than 5. Pretty sure of the process, Gooden decided to leave before his senior season and trust the winds of chance.

Paul Pierce is still whining about the fact he didn't go higher than No. 10 in the draft after his junior season here even though he's wound up in clover. Does that indicate he felt he got bad advice from coach Roy or was it just circumstance?

Along comes Gooden and the exploratory process. Both he and Williams had to be a little goosey that all those factors which can change so fast might create another Pierce Pout.

Little wonder their faces flashed a lot more than joy when Memphis, with legendary general manager Jerry West in control, came through. The higher the pick, the better the guarantee. Even in the obscene realm of overpaid athletes, $500,000 here and $500,000 there and pretty soon you're talking sizable money.

But while the suspense was over for Gooden and Williams, it was building for Missouri's Kareem Rush like that gathering storm here Thursday night. Rush and coach Quin Snyder, a TV booth flop, figured the Tiger junior would be a No. 10 or better. Rush had high hopes.

Things got worse by the minute, but finally Kareem got nabbed at No. 20 by the Toronto Raptors. He and his entourage had to act happy, but it was a blow. No. 20, Toronto, about $875,000 a year instead of the $1.4 million a No. 10 selection would have created?

But talk about a kid who stumbled into the septic tank and came out looking like Mr. Clean covered with Right Guard and roses, man, Rush lucked out. He later was traded from a questionable franchise to the world champion Los Angeles Lakers. If he makes the roster, he can grow as a support person rather than having to deliver or die with the Raptors.

What happened to KU's Pierce and Missouri's Rush is the very thing that Gooden and Williams were secretly dreading as they waited for the pieces to fall into place. The NBA, its draft uncertainties and the way teams swap players create such a convoluted scenario it's no wonder fans grow sour.

Stabilized rosters like those of the Boston Celtic dynasty in the 1950s and 1960s, the Lakers when they had Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West and the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, Scotty Pippin and that scurvy rebounding monster are finito. You have to be a whale of an aficionado or blindly loyal to buy season tickets, knowing the team you expect to show up may not.

Barring some surprises, Gooden joins a promising Memphis club that also has the brilliant Pau Gasol, pure gold Shane Battier, newcomer Wesley Person, stable center Lorenzen Wright and perhaps backup help from rookie Robert Archibald (I still cringe at how he kept bedeviling Kansas).

Lots of inside potential. Question is, can erratic Jason Williams (from Sacramento via Florida U.) stay out of trouble and become dependable as a point guard rather than being all-world one play, rotten sausage the next? Coach Sidney Lowe and GM West will give him a chance. Stanford's Brevin Knight might help, but Lowe and West will be looking.

Then there is the rumor that West is trying to wangle a trade with Golden State for 6-9 Mike Dunleavy, who went a notch ahead of Gooden in the draft. What an addition that could be!

Gooden has a lot to learn and needs vast improvement in categories such as ball-handling, shooting more quickly and covering the agile mastodons he'll meet in the NBA. But he has the tools, the will to succeed and can make a living as a backboard gyrator, especially on offense.

Drew deserves the best, despite his silly blurt about Kansas. Let's hope he has a rookie-of-the-year performance and that the Kansas team he left becomes even a stronger NCAA title prospect now that the spotlight will be more on team performance rather than shining too much on the Will-He-or-Won't-He Gooden.

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