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Inside College Basketball

After last month's NBA draft, schoolboys may think twice about

If the NBA wanted high schoolers who are thinking of declaring
themselves eligible for next year's draft to reconsider, it
couldn't have created a better just-say-no message than the one
conveyed by last month's nationally televised humiliation of
18-year-old Rashard Lewis of Alief, Texas, who squirmed
miserably in the draft's greenroom in Vancouver as 31 names were
called before his. (He was finally selected by the Seattle
SuperSonics.) Fellow high schooler Al Harrington didn't prove to
be such a hot property, either (he was taken 25th, by the
Indiana Pacers), and a third blue-chipper, Korleone Young, was
chosen lowest of all (40th, by the Detroit Pistons), but at
least these two hadn't agreed to let viewers watch them sweat it
out on national TV. When Lewis finally escaped the otherwise
empty room after his selection, he was in tears.

For some younger teens who might be pondering making the big
leap next year, the shared fate of Lewis, Harrington and Young
was sobering. "I thought those three guys were going to get
picked pretty high," says DerMarr Johnson, a 6'9", 200-pound
ball handling forward from Kensington, Md. "I was kind of
shocked when they didn't. I'm leaning toward college now."

Two other talented high schoolers who were considering entering
the '99 draft, 6'10", 240-pound Marvin Stone of Huntsville, Ala.,
and 6'11", 195-pound Jonathan Bender of Picayune, Miss., felt a
similar chill and say their sights are now set squarely on
college. It also happens that Johnson, Stone and Bender all had
lackluster performances in the opening week of the summer
evaluation period, when college coaches and pro scouts shuttle to
all-star camps and AAU tournaments to check out prospects. In
fact, by the time the Nike and Adidas camps closed last week,
other players had all but edged those three out of the spotlight.
Among those who intrigued coaches at the Adidas camp in Teaneck,

--Carlos Boozer, a 6'9" forward from Juneau, Alaska, who reminds
some observers of Charles Oakley--but with a better touch.

--Andrew Gooden, a 6'9" forward from Richmond, Calif., who has a
good medium-range jumper and who "came out of nowhere," according
to recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons.

--Tony Robertson, a 6'3" guard from Providence who may have had
the best first step in camp.

Will the buzz surrounding these players encourage any of them to
think they're ready for the NBA next year? USC coach Henry
Bibby, for one, doesn't think that what happened to Lewis,
Harrington and Young will change anything. "It won't be a
deterrent," says Bibby. "Kids watch these guys falling in the
draft and say, 'That won't be me.' They are in for the shock of
their lives."

Out in the Cold

The plight of Ellis Richardson, another high schooler who made
himself available in this year's NBA draft but who wasn't taken
at all, is especially sad. A 6'4" center from Polytechnic High
in Sun Valley, Calif., Richardson thought he was ready to turn
pro even though he had never attended a basketball camp, wasn't
rated by recruiting mavens among the top 100 schoolboy players
in his state and had been advised by his high school coach that
he wasn't even ready for college ball. Richardson made his
baffling decision on the advice of a friend, Taj (Red) McDavid,
who earned the dubious distinction in 1996 of being the first
high school player to enter the NBA draft and not get selected.

"Red comes out here every summer and plays in my park," says
Richardson. "He's the best player I've ever seen. I don't know
how he didn't get drafted. He said I was good enough and I should
go for it. He told me it doesn't matter how you did in high
school--if you believe you can do it, you can. That's what
prompted my decision."

Richardson, who averaged 25 points and eight rebounds per game
for Polytechnic last season, says he has never been interested in
playing at the collegiate level. He says he received a few
letters and one phone call from an assistant coach at Cal
State-Northridge but otherwise wasn't recruited.

Of course, now that he's come up empty in the NBA draft,
Richardson may yet decide he wants to play college ball. Under
NCAA rules, entering the draft makes a player ineligible, but
last month the NCAA made an exception for McDavid, allowing him
three years of eligibility if he sits out his freshman year. But
petitioning the NCAA may not be an option for Richardson
because, unlike McDavid, he committed the additional sin of
making contact with an agent in the weeks leading up to the draft.

McDavid is planning to enroll for the fall semester at Anderson
(S.C.) College, a Division II school. "Division II? Wow, Red is
way too good for Division II," says Richardson, who is working
two jobs this summer and says he is still intent on playing in
the NBA one day.

"Don't say I'm not good enough, because you don't know me," he
says. "I can play with the best, and I will. I've learned just
because you're good enough, it doesn't mean you're going to make
it. You have to be persistent." --B.J. Schecter

Recruiting Gurus

Indiana coach Bob Knight calls them "charlatans" and the service
they provide "a joke." Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien calls them
"the lifeblood of assistant coaches" and turns to these
so-called experts early in the recruiting process. "They save
you a lot of time in eliminating some guys, and they give you
leads on others," he says. Most coaches fall somewhere in
between in their estimation of recruiting analysts, the
unlicensed and ever proliferating brotherhood of basketball
junkies who seek to make a living following high school
basketball and publishing evaluations and rankings of the kids
who play it.

Recruiting experts seem to come from all walks of life except the
one that would seem to best qualify them for their job:
basketball coaching. Like most of his brethren, Dave Telep, a
24-year-old writer for Prep Stars, a recruiting service that has
both a magazine and a Web site, has no special qualifications for
his job. He was, in fact, looking for a gig as a radio
broadcaster when he fell into his current line of work.

For some, judging hoops talent is a calling--"I always knew I
could evaluate at a high level," says Stephen Wacaser, 46, who
started publishing a newsletter, Assists, Turnovers & Loose
Balls, in 1994, shortly after he completed a 39-month prison term
in Illinois for forgery. For others it is a hobby that became an
occupation more or less by accident. Bob Gibbons, 59, who helped
create what would become an industry 20 years ago with his
All-Star Sports service and who remains one of its most trusted
practitioners, is a former insurance salesman.

Some people say the rankings business hurts highly rated players
by giving them an inflated sense of their own abilities. "It can
put enormous expectations on a kid," says new Texas A&M coach
Melvin Watkins, who used the services "as little as possible"
during his 20 years at UNC Charlotte. In any case, Watkins adds,
the services aren't really necessary: "After the first 10 or so
players, it's all a crapshoot anyway."

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER DOWNTIME His disappointing showing at camp brought the high-flying Bender (25) to earth. [Jonathan Bender and others in game]