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Archive for Sunday, June 26, 2005

Old school cool: Collegians should lead way in draft

June 26, 2005

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— It's cool to be a collegian again.

For the first time in five years, the first pick in the NBA Draft will have at least one season of college basketball on his resume. The Milwaukee Bucks, who beat the odds to land the No. 1 selection, say they have narrowed their choices to Utah center Andrew Bogut and North Carolina forward Marvin Williams.

Kenyon Martin was the last collegiate player to go first overall, when the New Jersey Nets selected him out of Cincinnati in 2000. Since then, three high school players - Kwame Brown, LeBron James and Dwight Howard - have been first off the board, along with Chinese center Yao Ming in 2002.

NBA teams' infatuation with talented teenagers prompted the league and players union to include a 19-year-old age minimum to enter the league in the recently agreed upon collective-bargaining agreement that will go into effect next season.

It won't keep the high schoolers out of Tuesday's draft, but for the first time in a while the biggest names available are coming from college campuses.

After the Bucks choose between Bogut and Williams - Bogut seems to have the edge - the Atlanta Hawks are expected to take the player Milwaukee passes on or one of two college point guards. Wake Forest's Chris Paul and Illinois' Deron Williams both are set to be top-five picks.

"You take the player you can develop," Atlanta general manager Billy Knight said. "The NBA is becoming more of a developmental league."

Coming off a 30-win season, the Bucks had just a 6 percent chance to win the lottery for the No. 1 overall pick. But the pingpong balls bounced their way, and now Milwaukee is set to pick first for the fourth time in franchise history. The last time was 1994, when the Bucks picked Glenn Robinson over Jason Kidd and Grant Hill.

In 1977, Kent Benson was Milwaukee's choice with the top pick, which didn't turn out nearly as well as their first No. 1 overall selection in 1969.

That year Milwaukee took center Lew Alcindor out of UCLA, who went on to lead the team to its only NBA title in the 1970-71 season, then change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and eventually become the league's career scoring leader.

No one is comparing Bogut to Alcindor, but Bogut is a skilled 7-footer who the Bucks believe can move right into the starting lineup.

Bogut first grabbed the NBA's attention with a stellar performance for Australia at last year's Olympics. He followed with a huge sophomore season at Utah that garnered him national player-of-the-year honors.

"Andrew's biggest asset is his ability to step in and play right away because of his international experience and what he's done up to this point in his career," Bucks general manager Larry Harris said. "He said he's taken two weeks off in the last three years, and to me that says a lot."

Bogut, who brought a resume to his meeting with Bucks owner Herb Kohl, doesn't lack for confidence - or knowledge of his possible future employer.

"They don't have a true center, and I can establish that," Bogut said. "A guy like Michael Redd, I can find him open a lot; I can hit him with good passes on back cuts or flashing to the basket. Or the high fliers like Des Mason and Joe Smith, I'd love to play with those guys. And T.J. Ford is lightning quick, like Tony Parker."

Marvin Williams played one season at North Carolina and made quite an impression as the sixth man on a national-championship team. The 6-8 forward displayed an inside-outside game and open-court athleticism that has many observers dubbing him the player with the greatest long-range potential in this draft.

Look for three other Tar Heels - Sean May, Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants - also to be first-round picks Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Portland has the No. 3 pick, and New Orleans is selecting fourth.

While there are no LeBrons or Yaos in this year's draft, there are 11 high school players and 11 international players available.

Last season, eight high school players were taken in the first round, all in the top 19 picks.

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