Devean George meandered through the lobby of a Portsmouth, Va.,
hotel in April feeling totally out of place. He was one of 64
college seniors who had just arrived to showcase their
basketball skills at the Portsmouth Invitational, a three-day
predraft camp for NBA prospects, but nobody seemed to know who
he was. "There were all these agents grabbing players and trying
to take them out to eat," George recalls. "Not one agent said
anything to me."
George, a 6'7" forward from Augsburg College, a Division III
school in Minneapolis, can laugh about that now. He wound up
leading his team to the Portsmouth title, earning first-team
all-tournament honors and attracting the attention of all the
Jerry Maguire wannabes, who were tripping over each other to
press his flesh. "By the end I must have had 20 guys shove
business cards in my hand," George says with a chuckle.
Like his idol, Scottie Pippen, who made the NBA after playing at
Division II Central Arkansas, George is trying to complete that
rare journey from small-school oblivion to David Stern's podium
on draft day. No Division III player has been drafted by an NBA
team since 1991, when, in the second round, Golden State picked
Lamont Strothers, a 6'4" guard out of Christopher-Newport
College in Newport News, Va. But scouts say George could snap
that dry spell at this year's draft, on June 30. "He's a skilled
player," says NBA superscout Marty Blake. "If he plays well in
Chicago [at the league's June 8-11 predraft camp], he has a
chance to be drafted."
Finding a Division III player in the NBA is harder than finding
an agent without a cell phone. Since Division III prohibits
athletic scholarships, its programs rarely attract players who
can go on to the pro level. This season's NBA opening-day
rosters didn't feature a single Division III product and had
roughly a dozen Division II or NAIA rags-to-riches stories, such
as Pippen. George could change that. Scouts like his size--he's
a muscular 217 pounds--quickness, long arms and soft jump shot.
"Athletically, there's no doubt he's an NBA player," says
Timberwolves director of player personnel Rob Babcock, whose
team recently brought George in for a private workout. "He's
strong. He can shoot the ball. He's got pretty good instincts.
He's still got a lot to learn, but he definitely has the
potential to play in this league."
Four years ago no one would have predicted that George had a
shot at the NBA. Coming out of Benilde-St. Margaret's High in
Minneapolis, he didn't receive any Division I or II scholarship
offers, even though he had averaged 25.0 points and 8.0 rebounds
in his senior season. His biggest problem was that at 6'2" and
150 pounds, he was built, in his words, "like a pencil." George
enrolled at Augsburg thinking he would play some ball, get a
good education and move on with his life.
But then a funny thing happened. From the start of his freshman
season in 1995 to the start of his sophomore season, George grew
to 6'5". He added muscle through long hours in the weight room
and soon was dominating opponents in the Minnesota
Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), posting up at will.
In summer pickup games he was holding his own against Division I
players such as Quincy Lewis of Minnesota and Khalid El-Amin of
Connecticut. "Devean shot up like a weed," Augsburg coach Brian
Ammann says. "Had he been taller coming out of high school, he
could have named his school."
Unfortunately for George, few outside the Twin Cities were aware
of his growth or his improvement. Concerned that NBA scouts
would never see him, he says he tried switching to a Division I
school, first UC Santa Barbara and then Eastern Michigan, but
ran into problems transferring some of his credits. "I wanted to
be seen, and I didn't think it would happen in tiny Augsburg,"
George says. "When [my attempts to transfer] fell through, I was
mad. But I told myself to make the best of it. My coach had been
saying all along, if you make enough noise, somebody will see
Eventually the scouts did visit, and George made it worth their
while. Last season he finished third in scoring (27.5 points)
and seventh in rebounding (11.4) in Division III while leading
the Aggies to the MIAC title. He scored a career-high 52 points
in a January game against Carleton College of Northfield, Minn.,
was named MIAC player of the year and earned first-team Division
III All-America honors.
With help from local coaches, including Minnesota's Clem
Haskins, George secured an invitation to Portsmouth, the
launching pad for other lesser-known players over the years,
among them Pippen, Dennis Rodman and John Stockton. During the
tournament George averaged 13.6 points and 10 rebounds in three
games and drew comparisons to Orlando Magic forward Bo Outlaw
for his nonstop hustle and ability to fill the lanes on the
break. "Portsmouth was my big break," George says. "I was the
last guy picked [to attend the camp]. Everyone was like, 'Yeah,
he's been putting up big numbers against Division III talent.
Let's see if he can do it against Division I talent.' So when I
held my own there, that kind of took the label off my back."
That George would work to make the most of his opportunity
wasn't a surprise. Growing up in a rough neighborhood in north
Minneapolis, he often had to deal with adversity. "Drugs,
gangs--we had all of it," George says. "Our house happened to be
in the worst place, right in the heart of it."
George credits his parents, Eddie and Carol, with keeping him
and his brothers, Eddie Jr. and Chafe, on the right path. Eddie
Sr., a truck driver for a construction firm, and Carol,
owner-operator of a beauty salon, scrimped and saved so their
boys could attend private schools. They even took on extra work
so that Devean (pronounced DEV-in) could meet the
$20,000-per-year tuition payments at Augsburg.
Devean, who graduated in May with a degree in communications,
would love to make it in the NBA and move his parents to a safer
neighborhood. He worked out privately for five teams before
heading to the predraft camp in Chicago, and he says he enjoyed
getting chauffeured around, staying at nice hotels and meeting
NBA stars such as Patrick Ewing. If there's one benefit to being
from a Division III school, he says, it's that he's not spoiled.
"I'm not one of those guys who's been pampered the whole time,"
George says. "Every step I've taken has been three times harder
for me than for the next guy. But you know what? Because of
where I've come from, I think I appreciate it more."
COLOR PHOTO: JUDY GRIESEDIECK
"Athletically, there's no doubt he's an NBA player," says
Babcock, Minnesota's director of player personnel.
"Every step I've taken has been three times harder for me than
for the next guy," says George.