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NBA must grin and bear it



Published: Sun, July 1, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



You may remember the stories from about a decade ago, when Damon Bailey was a student-athlete playing basketball for Bob Knight at Indiana University.

Bailey, we were told, was such a roundball prodigy in the Hoosier State that he was actually recruited by Knight while still in junior high school.

Now, like many stories ...

(A sidenote: Our all-time favorite college sports story, as related by Lou Holtz, about the 1968 Ohio State-Michigan football game, which the Buckeyes won 50-14. A reporter asked Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes why he ordered his team to attempt a two-point conversion after its final touchdown in the waning moments of the game. Woody's answer, according to Holtz: "Because they wouldn't let me go for three.")

... about college phenoms you probably want to accept that tale with a grain of salt. Knight probably didn't really start recruiting Bailey until everyone else -- in the ninth grade.

Moses the man: Of course, back then, players jumping from high school to the NBA was a very rare thing. Doing it successfully was even a riskier proposition. When Moses Malone signed with the old Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association right out of a Virginia high school, it created such a furor that most of the national preview magazines made it their feature story.

Today, Malone would simply be grouped in with all the other prep standouts who simply bypassed college ball for the big money.

In my opinion, it's not such a shock that a player like Kobe Bryant jumped from the preps to the pros, but it is a surprise that he became an NBA all-star in a relatively quick time.

For every success story like Bryant or Malone, though, there are dozens of players with pie-in-the-sky dreams, guys were who playground phenoms that simply didn't have the maturity and/or talent to make it at the game's highest level.

It's a sad story, for sure, but what makes me angry are the so-called adults who make these kids all kinds of promises, fill their minds with bad advice, then in all likelihood abandon them when things don't work out.

The youngsters are left with no chance at the pros and no opportunity to go back and play college ball. But they still have a dream and often wind up in semi-pro leagues or in some European league, playing for paltry fees with the hope they will someday be rediscovered.

Forced smile: NBA commissioner David Stern had to have a hard time keeping that smile on his face this week at the draft, when one high school player after another kept coming to the podium in the first round.

Stern has campaigned for a rule that would allow only players age 20 or older eligible for the draft.

Let's face it, he has about as much chance of that kind of a rule standing up in court, as I do of making an NBA roster next season.

I can see my evaluation sheet now:

Name: Todor.

Height: 6-1.

Position: Guard?

Vertical leap: Indistinguishable.

Agility: Are you kidding?

Speed: Wait. We're still timing.

Scouting report: Trade rights to the Cavaliers.

All for one: The fact of the matter is, for Stern's proposed rule to overcome a suit by every high school star who contests it, all the major sports leagues in this country would have to band together to enforce it.

That is not going to happen. Major League Baseball has been drafting players straight out of high school for more than 30 years, and so does the National Hockey League.

The NFL hasn't done it yet, but it can't even keep it's franchises from jumping all over the country for a better stadium deal.

The only solution for Stern and his brethren: Grin and bear it.

XRob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write to him at todor@vindy.com.




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