View Full Version : Looking Ahead to the Off-Season: Prospects

03-25-2004, 07:39 AM
A 6-11 Player May Go From High School to No. 1 Pick

Published: March 24, 2004

CHICAGO, March 23 For the Howard family of Atlanta, this is destiny, an inevitability since the day Dwight Howard was born less than seven months into his mother's pregnancy.

"He was a premature baby, but he was 21 inches long," Dwight Howard Sr. said Tuesday at the Moody Bible Institute, where dozens of N.B.A. executives and scouts gathered to watch his son and 20 other high school players perform. "He's always been big, and from that Sunday morning that he was born, we always said, `Oh, this boy's going to be an N.B.A. player.' "

As a youngster, Howard latched onto his parents' vision, and his version of it did not include going to college well before Kevin Garnett started the modern-day exodus of high school players going to the N.B.A. in 1995.

"I always wanted to go to the N.B.A. out of high school," said Howard, a 6-foot-11 18-year-old who received this season's Naismith Award as the nation's top high school player. "I wanted to be the first person to do it, so I made up my mind that I was going to sacrifice time, girls, money and all of that stuff just to play basketball. I really never wanted to go to college, to tell you the truth."

Many of Howard's peers seem to feel the same way. Of the 21 players in Chicago this week to compete in Wednesday night's EA Sports Roundball Classic, more than a dozen are considering forgoing college to enter the N.B.A. draft in June.

And that does not include the Brooklyn point guard phenom Sebastian Telfair and the Mississippi forward Al Jefferson, who are not here but who are widely believed to be preparing to enter the coming draft.

"This is what it is; there's nothing hidden, there's no secret," said Sonny Vaccaro, the founding chairman of the Roundball Classic, which is in its 40th year. "Fifteen guys in this class are thinking about going pro."

That being the case, Moody Bible's gymnasium, where the players practiced Monday and Tuesday, has been transformed into N.B.A. Central. On Tuesday, Pat Riley, president of the Miami Heat, sat next to Larry Bird, president of the Indiana Pacers. Danny Ainge, the Boston Celtics' executive director of basketball operations, was a few chairs away, and Kiki Vandeweghe, the Denver Nuggets' general manager, watched from the balcony. Rod Thorn of the Nets, Chris Mullin of the Golden State Warriors, Billy Knight of the Atlanta Hawks and representatives from other teams were also in attendance.

Vaccaro said Howard's class was the best since Isiah Thomas, Ralph Sampson, James Worthy and Dominique Wilkins graduated from high school in 1979. In addition to Howard and Telfair, the 6-9 forward Josh Smith and the 6-7 point guard Shaun Livingston are projected to be lottery picks if they skip college.

Howard did not compete in drills or scrimmages Monday and Tuesday because of back spasms, but after a shoot-around Tuesday, he said he would play in Wednesday's game at the United Center.

The consensus among scouts and executives is that either Howard or Emeka Okafor, the all-American center from the University of Connecticut, will be the top pick in the draft. Howard said he would like nothing more than to be drafted by the Atlanta Hawks so he could revitalize his hometown team the way LeBron James rescued Cleveland's franchise. "That would be my dream," Howard said. "I grew up liking the Hawks, and they're still my favorite team. There's a lot of negativity surrounding Atlanta's basketball team or all the sports teams in general, so that would be a big thing for Atlanta."

There is little negativity surrounding Howard.

His father is a Georgia state trooper and his mother, Sheryl, is a teacher at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, a tiny private school Howard has attended since age 4. The school has 362 students, and Howard is one of 13 in his graduating class.

Raised as a Christian, Howard greets all adults with a "Sir" or "Ma'am," and despite his longtime plan to skip college, he has always been a solid student, accumulating a 3.2 grade point average.

His aspirations do not end with the N.B.A. He said he hoped to start a church and do other forms of Christian outreach during his playing career. Upon retirement, he said he might continue his education and begin a quest to enter politics.

"I always wanted to be either a professional basketball player or the president of the United States," said Howard, who is often asked for his autograph in public. "I hope to do both. I'll be the first black president."

The sense of destiny is palpable in the Howard household. Howard Sr. said his wife lost seven children, including two sets of twins, to miscarriages, and their three children have been reared to believe they are here for special assignments.

"We try to explain to them that you're looking at a situation where you have 10 children and out of those 10, seven of them have gone on to be with the Lord, but three of them were allowed to be here on earth for some reason," Howard Sr. said. "I think Dwight's grabbing a hold of what his reason is."

Last summer, Howard became aware that his dream of entering the N.B.A. from high school could be a reality. Voted the most promising prospect at the N.B.A. players association camp last June, Howard was told by scouts and former and current players who ran the camp that he had the physical and mental tools necessary to play in the N.B.A. Scoring consistently in one-on-one games against Marc Jackson, the Philadelphia 76ers center, emboldened Howard.

Later, Howard consulted with North Carolina Coach Roy Williams and Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, and both told him he was ready for the N.B.A.

Though Howard averaged 25 points, 18 rebounds and 8 blocks in leading Southwest Atlanta Christian to the state title, scouts do not expect him to excel as James has as a rookie. Like most players who have skipped college, even the stars, he figures to need time to develop.

With a lean but muscular 250-pound frame, he is projected as a power forward who can run the floor, handle the ball and shoot like a small forward.

"He has a chance to be in the Hall of Fame," Vaccaro said. "That's how good I think Dwight Howard is. He's a Tim Duncan. Absolutely. Blocking shots, shooting the ball, running the court. He's Timmy."

Howard says he knows the N.B.A. will be more than a physical challenge. He is already preparing for life outside the arena.

"I have to always make sure I'm on top of my game off the court," Howard said. "I have to make sure I stay away from the things that would make me fall into temptation. I don't want to put myself in any predicament of messing up the name that I've got for myself. The guys here already know that I'm not going to go out and party all night and have sex and all that. I want them to look at me as a regular person and say, `Dwight's someone you can look up to.' "

03-25-2004, 09:53 AM
I heard this kid can play, I also hear Sebastian Telfair, a point guard from Linlcon High in New York, can also be another phenom in the NBA. Telfair would be the first point guard ever to skip college to be in the NBA.

03-25-2004, 10:14 AM
IMO--it's a lot riskier for a PG to skip the college level than it is for a big man.

For his sake, I hope whoever is advising Telfair 1) knows what they're doing; 2) has TELFAIR'S best interests at heart.

There are a lot of wash-out 6-footers at a lot of gyms in a lot of places.

03-25-2004, 10:18 AM
But this boy has SKILLZ!!!