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04-10-2003, 12:24 PM
PIT: Seniors who overstayed their welcome
by Chad Ford

PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- Michigan senior LaVell Blanchard sits at the end of the bench, in a high school gym of the Churchland Truckers (complete with a mural of a big rig busting through a concrete wall) here in Portsmouth, looking more than a little dejected. LaVell Blanchard (30) helped resurrect the Michigan program, but he hurt his draft stock in the process. The starting lineup for Riddle Acura team he's playing on has just been announced and Blanchard isn't on it. Blanchard, once regarded as the best player in a high school class that included Jay Williams, Drew Gooden, Jason Richardson, Mike Dunleavy, Kareem Rush and Jamal Crawford, can't even get the starting nod over relative unknown Quinton Ross of Southern Methodist.

This is what you call rock bottom.

His eyes look glazed over as he and his teammates take on the Sales Systems Ltd. team. So this is what four years of college, a great education and several years of basketball servitude buy you -- a three-day audition in front of NBA scouts and GMs along with 64 other seniors no one seems to remember or care about anymore. Blanchard gets into the game at the 15-minute mark when Ross takes a nasty finger to the eye. He runs the court, dives for loose balls and even sinks three 3s in his 27-minute audition. At one point after a big-time 3 from beyond the NBA line, Blanchard looks over at the bleachers where most of the NBA's top talent evaluators are sitting. Only a handful are even watching.

When his game is over, scouts rush out to get a cup of coffee before the next game begins. Blanchard stands alone at halfcourt and looks around. A handshake and a pat on the back from the Riddle Acura coach (a local high school coach) are all the accolades Blanchard gets. He walks, head down, to the showers. The next 20 hopefuls pass him on the way out looking like lambs going to the slaughter. Life goes on. While almost every NBA scout will concede it rarely hurts a player to stay in school, there's a history of highly touted studs who resisted the NBA's siren call and paid for it dearly.

Illinois' Frank Williams, Maryland's Terence Morris, Auburn's Chris Porter, Arizona's Miles Simon and UCLA's Toby Bailey are prominent examples of one-hit wonders whose NBA stock dropped after they decided to return for another season. Morris, Porter and Simon were all mentioned as lottery picks after strong sophomore and/or junior years.
Of course, it works the other way as well. Illinois senior Brian Cook went from a borderline second-round pick to a potential lottery pick with a strong senior season. The same could be said for Louisville's Reece Gaines and Kansas' Nick Collison. But the difference is none of those seniors had a legitimate chance to be a solid first-round pick during their sophomore or junior seasons. Blanchard did. And he knows it.

In the world of NBA scouting, it's, What have you done for me lately? No wonder underclassmen like Carmelo Anthony and Mario Austin want to leave college while they're still ahead.Still, after the game, Blanchard insists he made the right decision by staying in school.
"My mother was real big on education, she wanted me to get my degree," Blanchard told Insider. Blanchard, who will earn his degree in Psychology this spring, gives real meaning to the word student athlete.
"I love learning, and I love playing basketball," he said. "The University of Michigan gave me a chance to do both, I really don't have any regrets.

"I've learned so much at Michigan and I feel like I have so much more to learn. We can always get better, I just chose to do it at college. Some guys decide to do that in the NBA. To each their own." Blanchard is a rarity here. Thirty-four top seniors skipped Portsmouth, opting instead for private workouts or the NBA's more prestigious Chicago pre-draft camp. Most NBA scouts were shocked Blanchard decided to attend.

"I know a lot of guys don't want to play here," Blanchard said. "But I just love the competition that basketball brings. Why would anyone who loves to play turn down the chance to play with some of the best players in college basketball. If you're confident in your game, you shouldn't have anything to hide." NBA scouts agree. Blanchard has earned some big brownie points just for showing up. "I really like him," one Western Conference GM told Insider. "But you know what I like the most about him? That he's here. That takes courage. I don't think any of us question his heart."

What scouts do question is Blanchard's athleticism and his ability to get to the basket. "He's a 6-foot-6 jump shooter. Nothing more, nothing less," one scout said. "I think he's got a real chance of being drafted in the second round. He's very skilled, but the lack of athleticism hurts him." Scouts maintain Blanchard was ranked so highly out of high school because he was skilled beyond his years. But when the more athletic players, like in-state nemesis Richardson, caught up with him skill-wise, they left Blanchard in the dust.

Clearly Blanchard knows the obstacles he faces. He wants to know what the scouts are saying about his performance and draft stock. His basketball future is uncertain. Luckily for Blanchard, his life won't hit a dead end if the NBA doesn't pan out. "I'll have my degree," Blanchard said. "And I really love psychology. No one can take that away from me."

News and notes from Portsmouth

North Dakota power forward Jerome Beasley got most of the buzz on Wednesday after a solid 10-point, four-rebound outing. Statistically, it wasn't the best performance of the tournament, but scouts (most of whom never made the trip to North Dakota to see him play) were falling over themselves for a couple of reasons. First, Beasley measured in at a legit 6-foot-10. In a draft that lacks any real size at power forward, that alone meant that Beasley (who averaged 26.6 ppg this season) would get a get a nice long look from scouts. Second, Beasley showed some nice range on his jumper, sinking two 18-footers on the wing. He ran the floor well and showed flashes of his ability to play in the paint.

Remarked one NBA scout after the game, "He reminds me of a young Karl Malone." Beasley does have a similar body and seems equally comfortable facing the basket or posting up in the paint. Scouts worry a little about his work ethic, conditioning (he didn't exactly hustle back on defense several times) and his rebounding skills, but several of them declared that he could be the one guy in Portsmouth with a legitimate shot at the first round if he continues to play well. Beasley's coach, Rich Glas, told Insider that Beasley was still improving. "He's a late bloomer. I think he hasn't even scratched the surface of what he's capable of doing."

Beasley, who played two seasons at Midlands Junior College in Texas after playing high school ball in Moreno Valley, Calif. was just glad to get a shot playing with the big boys. "I think a lot of scouts didn't give me a second look because I played in the D-2," Beasley told Insider. "I wanted to come here and just play my game and show them that I'm more than a scorer. I can play defense, run the floor and do other things too. I know people don't really respect D-2 schools, but after playing here tonight, I don't think the competition is all that different. Players are players, I'm just trying to prove that."

Wednesday's other big standout was Miami forward James Jones. Jones hit 4 of 5 three-pointers and also had several nice baskets in the paint. "He's a much better shooter than I think people give him credit for," one scout said. "At Miami, he played a lot more in the paint. Obviously in the pros he's a small forward. I think he can really help himself here if he keeps shooting like that. The NBA needs plenty of shooters."

Arizona State's Tommy Smith (6-10, 215) probably had the line of the night. He scored 16 points on 7 of 14 shooting, grabbed six boards, handed out four assists, picked up five steals and had four blocks. "He's intriguing," said one NBA scout, "but he needs to add 25 pounds before anyone will take him seriously."

South Florida center Will McDonald (6-11, 249) shocked several scouts with a dominating 19-point, 17-rebound performance -- mostly against Duke's Casey Sanders. Quipped one scout, "Why didn't Will ever play like that in college?"

Everyone here loves Wisconsin's Kirk Penny (15 pts, 6 rebs), but when pressed on whether they'd draft him, 10 different scouts balked. Not good.

Alabama's Erwin Dudley played just nine minutes before getting injured. Three more PIT players, Oklahoma's Ebe Ere, Butler's Joel Cornette and Indiana's Jeffrey Newton, pulled out of the tournament with injuries.

In or Out of the NBA Draft

Of course, the big buzz in Portsmouth had much more to do with guys who weren't here. Teams are still trying to get a better handle on which underclassmen will be putting their names into the draft. Here's the latest . . . Several NBA sources told Insider that Syracuse sophomore Hakim Warrick was expected to at least test the draft waters. Warrick recently submitted his name to the NBA's official draft evaluation committee. According to someone with knowledge of the process, Warrick was told that he could go as high as 10th in this year's draft.

"He reminds me a little bit of a Keon Clark," one NBA scout said. "He's just so long. He measure at only 6-foot-9, but with that wingspan and leaping ability he plays much bigger. I think we all like how much he improved this year. You're always looking for guys who are willing to work on his game. He worked his butt off last summer and now it's paying off. If he keeps that work ethic in the pros, he could be very, very good." While scouts say Warrick needs to work on his jumper, his combination of length and athleticism will get him far. Several NBA GMs feel that several other underclassmen still sitting on the fence will eventually be in the draft. They include Marquette's Dwyane Wade, Georgia Tech's Chris Bosh, Central Michigan's Chris Kaman, Georgetown's Michael Sweetney, Oregon's Luke Ridnour, Gonzaga's Ronny Turiaf, Miami's Darius Rice and two high school kids -- Kendrick Perkins and James Lang. So what's the hold-up? "Most of these kids are still interviewing agents," one NBA GM said. "We know who they are. But nothing will be official until they pick a guy."

The only two players NBA teams seemed convinced would stay in school were Texas' T.J. Ford and Connecticut's Emeka Okafor. High school phenom Travis Outlaw is still flirting with going pro. His decision may ultimately hinge on his ACT scores. Outlaw took the test two weeks ago, but given his weak academic record, there are no guarantees he'll pass the exam. Outlaw is committed to playing at Mississippi State if he decides to stay in school

"I fell pretty confident about the test I took and my grades have definitely picked up this year," Outlaw told the Starkville Daily News. "But I am still working hard, and working on improving my all-around game, especially my defense. "But I am still up in the air with the whole NBA deal. And I won't know until later what my decision will be. But with Mario [Austin] leaving, that will not affect my decision either way. I am glad for Mario and was behind him regardless of his choice. I wish him well and will be behind him all the way."

While NBA scouts are intrigued with Outlaw's athleticism, he's way too weak and thin to make any impact at his true position, power forward. Scouts say he's "years" away from contributing in the NBA, but admit that if he came out, someone would take a chance on him in the first round. From the "what the hell are they thinking?" department: University of Washington shooting guard Doug Wrenn announced on Wednesday that he'll enter the draft.

After a stellar sophomore season, Wrenn crashed against the rocks this year under new head coach Lorenzo Romar. Wrenn averaged 12.7 point, shooting just 40 percent from floor (22 percent from three-point range) and 53 percent from the foul line. Wrenn is a solid one-on-one type player, but his lack of an outside shot and some serious defensive deficiencies will hurt his stock. Most of the NBA scouts Insider talked to Wednesday night felt that he had virtually no shot of getting drafted in the first round.

Mississippi power forward Justin Reed is leaning toward returning to Ole Miss for his senior season. "You can say I've been 50-50, but I'm thinking more about coming back," Reed told the Clarion Ledger. "There are still some things I have not done and some unfinished business to take care of here. But I still have to look at what's best for my future." NBA scouts feel that Reed is undersized to play power forward in the pros. Reed has been working on his perimeter shooting (he shot 42 percent from beyond the arc this season) and the general feeling is he needs another year to refine his skills. None of the scouts Insider has talked to over the last month has him projected as a first-rounder.

"I feel favorable that he'll be back," coach Rod Barnes said. "From the information I've gathered the last several days, his draft status is the basis of everything. You look at where he is now and how can he better that situation. He's also told me and his mom he wants to get his degree within the next year. I feel good about this process with him because he's been straight up with me. There hasn't been any secrets." Miami junior Darius Rice told the Miami Herald he may not declare for NBA draft after all.

"I'm listening to what the GMs say, getting their evaluations, and talking over everything with my family, but right now I'm hearing that I'm ranked anywhere between 19 and 37, and I think I'm better than that," Rice said. "If I can only go late first round, I don't think it's the best decision. It might be better to come back and prove I can play with all those top guys." It sounds like Rice is getting good advice. Most NBA scouts I've talked to have him rated as a late-first-round pick. Rice's ability to shoot is impressive, but his sleight frame and lack of a post game hurt his chances. If Rice can hit the weight room this summer and add a few post moves to his repertoire next season, his stock could really rise.

Peep Show

New Jersey Nets: The Nets not only lost the game Wednesday night against the Hawks, they may have lost the confidence of their point guard. "Some people showed up, some people didn't. You can't single anybody out but . . . as a whole, the team didn't show up," said Jason Kidd, whose triple-double wasn't enough. "It was there for the guys who were out there in the fourth quarter. They gave the effort. A couple guys gave great effort but as a team, as a whole there was no effort at all." His coach wasn't happy, either. "It's tough to win a game where you don't come out ready to play," Byron Scott told the N.Y. Post. "We had one guy who truly understood what this game meant, how important this game was and that was No. 5 (Kidd)."

Houston Rockets: Is that fat lady singing, yet? "When you're this close to the goal you've been talking about all season long and see it slipping away with each loss, it definitely makes you think during the game," Rockets forward Maurice Taylor said to the Houston Chronicle. "It definitely puts a little more added pressure on your shoulders. With every point they add to the lead, you think, 'Man, that could be our season.' " And, man, the Utah Jazz added 94 points of pressure to Houston Wednesday night as the Rockets fell two games behind the Suns for the eighth and final playoff spot. "Guys are just tired, I guess," said Cuttino Mobley. "It's the wrong time to get tired, but we're human. Oh, well. I could write a book about it. But that's all I've got to say."

Los Angeles Lakers: Where's Shaq? "Flat tire was what he said, that's all I know," coach Phil Jackson told the L.A. Daily News, clearly unimpressed by the explanation his center had for missing a light workout and film session. "He can find another car. He's got plenty of them to find his way here. ... It bothers me, yeah." Well, that and a certain matter about a game tonight against the Sacramento Kings. "I think we know Shaq well enough to know that it's not a disappointing thing with Shaquille," Jackson said, "but it's something that we wanted to do as a team to kind of push ourselves a little bit here at this time and kind of create a playoff atmosphere for ourselves right now. So (his absence is) a little bit of a setback for us."

Orlando Magic: Where's Drew Gooden? "If I felt all right, I'd be out there playing," he told the Orlando Sentinel. Gooden is being bothered by a sore right toe. He sat out Wednesday night's game in which Steven Hunter played in his place. "I don't know," Gooden said when asked how long he'll sit. "I'm not Nostradamus or anybody, so I don't know. Luckily, this is the worst injury I've had in my career so far."

The Doctor is in the house. And it doesn't sound like he's going anywhere. "I'm a Magic man and I plan on staying that way," said Orlando coach Doc Rivers on speculation that he might be headed to Atlanta or Chicago. "That won't change. There's always going to be speculation. The problem with me is I played with two many freaking teams. The Clippers, the Hawks, the Spurs and I'm from Chicago, too."

Portland Trail Blazers: Where's Scottie? "See, they don't even look alike," Pippen told the Oregonian, explaining why he missed Wednesday night's loss to the Spurs. "I don't know what happened. I worked out yesterday, and today my calf muscle flames up with a lot of fluid. Once it occurs, it's bad, because the fluid just lingers, and it makes my calf so tight that I can't even run." He had surgery on his left knee on March 18. "I was really looking forward to being activated. Yeah, I'm worried about it," Pippen said. "I would like for it to get better. I think it will, over time, but it worries me a little bit that it's not ready like I wanted it to be."

New Orleans Hornets: It was Christmas in April for the Hornets. "I'm trying to push through the pain, and I ignored it," guard David Wesley said upon returning to play after injuring his left foot on March 15. "My instincts took over. When you have been out, your first game can be your best. You're in that flow. You have fresh legs until that tiredness catches up with you . . . It felt like Christmas, and I was saying, 'Let's get this thing on, let's go, let's go.' I was happy to be out there."

Memphis Grizzlies: By the way, Hubie Brown doesn't want the job, either. "That's a far reach by whoever wrote that," Brown said with a slight grin about the vacuum created by the Jerry Krause resignation in Chicago. "I would never consider being in that type of a position." Besides, he has more to do in Memphis. "I'm extremely pleased with everything that has happened in the first year," Brown told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "I'm not happy with the way it's ending with our depletion of players because of injuries. But we have a mindset and we have a style of play now. Our fans can see that it's exciting but we need the (Michael) Dickersons, (Mike) Millers and Lorenzen Wrights healthy plus what we're going to get over the summer."

Golden State Warriors: What's eating Gilbert Arenas? "Yeah, what team is Earl going to?" Arenas asked the San Francisco Chronicle. "People aren't (messing) with Earl. I don't see anybody talking about Earl and where he's going." Of course, he means Earl Boykins, the OTHER free agent on the Golden State roster. "I definitely could see myself playing here," Boykins said. "At the same time, I want to keep all my options open." Sure, the Warriors want to keep him but his agent may have something to say about that. "This has been a big jump for Earl in his progression as an NBA player," Mark Termini, Boykins' agent, said. "The feedback I'm getting is that he's viewed as one of the top backup point guards in the league."

Chicago Bulls: And the winner is . . . John . . . and BJ. KC Johnson writes in the Chicago Tribune: "It's becoming increasingly clear Reinsdorf wants to revamp the front office to spread responsibility beyond one person, with B.J. Armstrong likely assuming a greater role in personnel decisions and assistant Pete Myers moving back into management." That means John Paxson would assume GM duties much the same way Joe Dumars does in Detroit. "John and I have talked a little bit," Dumars said. "I think he has some good ideas about trying to do similar things, delegate a bit. It's hard to be a jack-of-all-trades in this business. I've told John that the staff you hire, if you're ever in this position, will determine your success or failure. If you try to do everything yourself, it's too hard of a job. I can't go scout 50 college games a year, go to Europe and do all the scouting there, do every bit of transactional work that has to take place. You have to have a good staff of people around you to help make decisions."

04-10-2003, 08:57 PM
Lee Nailon did the same thing if he came out his junior year he was a sure lottery pick, he stayed in school, had a misdemeanor then he slipped to 40.