Six high school players eligible in youthful draft

Anthony Maggio

In the past few years, the NBA Draft – taking place Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City – has been evolving into what it is now: A draft full of players leaving college early or skipping school altogether.

There are 54 early entries waiting to be drafted, a record six of whom are straight out of high school, and nine who left college after one season.

This influx of younger players forces teams to now draft on the basis of potential rather than more proven talent. As a result, the 2001 Draft is more of an enigma than any previous draft. There is no consensus number-one pick, and things get even fuzzier from there.

“We’re against having players come out early at all,” Rob Babcock, director of player personnel for the Minnesota Timberwolves, said. “We’d be better off if they all stayed for four years of college. They’d be more ready to play and help an NBA team, and it would help college basketball as well.

“There’s such a large number of early entries. You haven’t had a learning curve established with those players and they are under-evaluated. That’s what makes it much more difficult.”

The Washington Wizards own the first selection in the draft, but could elect to trade the pick for veteran players.

“Having to choose the top player in the draft is guesswork,” Babcock said. “There’s so many high school players involved and they’re under-evaluated. I’d trade it if I were them.”

Since 1995, there have been 13 high schoolers eligible for the NBA draft. Among the 11 players selected include superstars Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. While they enjoy success, others such as Taj McDavid, Leon Smith and Ellis Richardson are now out of basketball.

Richardson has since been convicted of robbery, while Smith attempted suicide and was later arrested for attacking an ex-girlfriend.

While the question of mental readiness dogs players entering the draft out of high school, many find it hard to pass on the size and skill of these youngsters.

A common trend among the high school players entering the draft this year is size. The shortest of the six is Ousmane Cisse, who stands 6-foot-9. Three other prep stars, Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry – each standing near 7-feet tall – are projected lottery picks (top 13).

Of the college players leaving early, three come from Big Ten schools. Indiana’s Kirk Haston and Michigan State’s Zach Randolph and Jason Richardson are likely first round selections. Richardson is expected to be a lottery pick.

The college senior expected to be selected highest in the draft is Shane Battier, who led Duke to the NCAA title and won Player of the Year and Final Four Most Outstanding Player along the way.

However, Battier could fall as far as sixth or seventh in the draft as teams attempt to fill holes in their lineups with young prospects.

Other solid seniors whose stock may fall due to the younger talent in the draft include Iowa State’s Jamaal Tinsley and Maryland’s Terence Morris.

Although players like Battier bring strong credentials to the table, teams may opt to take a chance on the potential of a young player.

“The fact is they (early entries) do come out and nothing has been legislated against them coming out as of yet,” Babcock said. “As long as they come out we have to evaluate if that player at that pick is the best pick for our team.”

The draft will be shown tonight on TNT beginning at 7pm EDT.

Anthony Maggio welcomes comments at [email protected].