It was only three seasons ago that sophomore point guard Khalid
El-Amin led Connecticut to the NCAA championship. The next year
he entered the NBA draft early with visions of stardom. Six
teams, three leagues and two continents later, El-Amin appeared
last week in Shaw's Pro Summer League in Boston, willing to
accept whatever entry-level NBA job he could find. "I had high
expectations coming out of college, but now I'm more realistic,"
says El-Amin, who was invited to play with the Minnesota
Timberwolves' summer league club. "I would love to start for an
NBA team, but my role would probably be as a backup."
El-Amin, an honorable mention All-America with the Huskies, was
drafted 34th by the Chicago Bulls in 2000, slipping to the second
round largely because, at 5'10" and a pudgy 200 pounds, he didn't
have a prototypical NBA body. Yet he was chosen to play in the
2001 Schick Rookie Challenge game at All-Star weekend in
Washington, D.C., scoring 18 points and adding four assists
against the NBA's best sophomores. But just before the break he
received some bad news. "Coach [Tim] Floyd told me my playing
time was going to be cut dramatically because the front office
wanted other guys to play," recalls El-Amin, who until then had
averaged 7.2 points and 3.2 assists in 20.2 minutes per game for
Things got worse with 17 games left in the season, when he was
unexpectedly waived and drew no interest from other teams. At the
time, he was coming off a knee injury that had sidelined him for
10 games. "There were also questions about my work ethic," admits
El-Amin, who has since made fitness a priority. Last week he
showed up for the summer league at 192 pounds, promising to be
even trimmer by the start of the season.
El-Amin says he has learned from his stumbling start as a pro. He
was invited to the Dallas Mavericks' training camp last October
but was cut on the final day. He ended up playing in the CBA for
the Dakota Wizards and the Gary Steelheads, then had a stint with
SIG Strasbourg in the Pro A League of France. "I've matured since
I was in college," says the 23-year-old El-Amin, who has two
sons, Ishmael, 3, and Idreis, 1, with his wife, Jessica. "We won
the national championship, but I wasn't as smart on the court as
I am now."
Though El-Amin was inconsistent in the summer league, he opened
some eyes by averaging 11.5 points and having an assist-turnover
ratio of 2 to 1. "His overall feel for the game is impressive,"
says Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach and director of scouting
Courtney Witte. "He has improved his body so he can play under
control, and he's not looking to shoot every time."
Minnesota would like to see El-Amin succeed. Last February
starting point guard Terrell Brandon had surgery to repair
damaged cartilage on the bottom tip of his left thigh bone, and
the Timberwolves won't know about his availability for this
season until next month. In addition Minnesota free-agent point
guard Chauncey Billups signed last week with the Detroit Pistons.
Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale
envisions El-Amin as a backup playing 15 high-intensity minutes
per game. "Khalid doesn't have Spud Webb's speed, but he has good
change of pace and he knows how to play," says Minnesota
assistant coach Jerry Sichting, who also serves as director of
scouting and player development. "He's a winner, and that doesn't
happen by accident."
Opinions on his NBA future, however, are mixed. One scout doubts
that El-Amin will commit to the scrappy, harassing defense that
would allow him to overcome his size. Adds another scout, "When
he plays hard, he's a tough s.o.b. But he's so limited physically
that it's hard for him to maintain the high level of intensity he
needs to be effective."
El-Amin would like nothing more than to land a job with the
Timberwolves. A former star at Minneapolis North High, he
recently bought a house in suburban Minneapolis. "This week I'm
definitely starting to see progress in my development," El-Amin
said in Boston. "I feel like I'm a special person, and
everything that has happened to me since college has happened
for a reason."
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN (INSET) TRAVELING Since leaving Connecticut (inset), the 5'10" El-Amin has come up short in his efforts to break into the pros.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER [See caption above]