Search

IMPOSSIBLE DREAM A RECORD 47 EARLY ENTRANTS APPLIED FOR THE NBA DRAFT, MANY HARBORING QUIXOTIC VISIONS OF STARRING ON BASKETBALL'S BRIGHTEST STAGE

June 02, 1997
June 02, 1997

Table of Contents
June 2, 1997

Faces In The Crowd

IMPOSSIBLE DREAM A RECORD 47 EARLY ENTRANTS APPLIED FOR THE NBA DRAFT, MANY HARBORING QUIXOTIC VISIONS OF STARRING ON BASKETBALL'S BRIGHTEST STAGE

Each spring the list grows longer, like a weed. The latest
edition is a kudzulike collection of might-bes and
probably-won'ts and what-could-he-be-thinkings, with a few
sure-things mixed in. Rooted in delusion and nourished by
adoring relatives, ego-inflating "friends" and scuzzbucket
agents, the thing could someday choke the sports section's agate
page, squeezing out today's probable pitchers.

This is an article from the June 2, 1997 issue Original Layout

When the NBA holds its annual two-round draft on June 25, a
record 47 early entrants (box, page 85) will be petitioning the
league to take them. Some of the candidates have good reasons
for coming out early. Cincinnati forward Danny Fortson, Kentucky
swingman Ron Mercer and Villanova forward Tim Thomas are
potential lottery picks. Moreover, foreign club players younger
than 22, such as 20-year-old forward Marko Milic, who stars for
Smelt Olimpija-Slovenia, must apply for the draft before NBA
teams can consider them.

Other early entrants, such as junior guard Cory Carr of Texas
Tech and sophomore guard God Shammgod of Providence, have
prudently not signed with agents yet, so they can attend the
NBA's predraft camp in Chicago next week and even go on to be
drafted and still return to college by taking advantage of a
30-day postdraft grace period. There are a few odd ducks whose
personal circumstances help explain their presence on the list:
Junior Dan Buie, a Division II All-America forward at Washburn
University in Topeka, Kans., is a 26-year-old father of three.
Ronnie Fields, the Chicago high school star guard who couldn't
play at DePaul last year for academic reasons, forsook his
eligibility by playing last season with the Rockford Lightning
of the CBA. And forward Bryon Ruffner is just your average
former Eagle Scout and former Mormon missionary who left BYU
after pleading guilty last fall to theft, a second-degree felony
for which he was sentenced to 90 days in jail and fined $10,000.

But many of the other early-entry candidates have less reason to
be on the list, which as recently as 1993 had only 12
applicants. Not since the Hale-Bopp comet passed by have so many
people spoken so monotonously about "going to the next level." A
few sound unsettlingly like this year's version of Taj (Red)
McDavid, a highschool guard-forward from Williamston, S.C., who,
acting on his own folie de grandeur and the expert opinion of
his uncle Jerry (who said, "There's nobody in the NBA who can
stop Red"), declared for last year's draft even though college
recruiters scarcely knew who he was. "He's been doing nothing
for the last year," McDavid's high school coach, Lawton
Williams, said last week. "If you're looking for him, go to the
Anderson Mall. He always hangs out at Foot Locker."

"That wasn't a story," NBA director of scouting Marty Blake says
of the McDavid case. "That was a tragedy. The NBA gets
unjustified criticism for all this, because it can't prevent
anyone from coming out. But these kids need the money. They
don't like school. And they think they're ready."

Most college kids could use some money. Many don't like school.
But how is it that so many sincerely believe they're ready for
the NBA? Consider Ian Folmar, a junior forward at Slippery Rock
(Pa.) University. After a fine career at Warren G. Harding High
in Warren, Ohio, he failed to qualify academically to play
Division I basketball and later spent 3 1/2 years in the Navy as
a welder. Last season he walked on at Division II Slippery Rock,
where he averaged 19.9 points and 8.6 rebounds. Folmar is 27 and
carries 270 pounds on his 6'5" frame. "I'm trying to get down to
250," he says. "I'm big, I'm mean, and I can score and dribble.
I know if I played basketball every day for a living, my game
would be amazing. It's funny to think of some of the things I
could do. I've got a great eye for talent, and I know I've got
it."

What does Slippery Rock coach Anthony Jones think of Folmar's
NBA prospects? "In no way did I encourage this," he says.

Or take Amere May, a 6'5", 270-pound sophomore forward at Shaw
University in Raleigh, another Division II school. Last season
he averaged 13 points, but he says he could have scored 20 a
game if he hadn't been so concerned with setting up his
teammates. He's coming out for the draft in part because he
feels guilty that his wife, Kenya, works to support him and
their four-year-old son, Amere Jr. But he's also coming out
because, as he puts it, "right now I don't think I can be
stopped at doing what I do on the court. I'm a Charles Barkley
prototype. There are only three or four guys in the league like
me. I just love to see Charles play, because he reminds me so
much of myself."

May's coach, Keith Walker, read about his decision in the
newspaper. Walker supports him nonetheless, as does the Reverend
Stenneth Powell Sr., pastor at Raleigh's Abundant Life Christian
Church, where Amere is a volunteer assistant pastor and Kenya
works as an administrative assistant. "The Bible says a man
should provide for his family," says Powell. "Amere is a
tremendous individual. He's very focused and very congenial. And
he's an awesome organ player."

Another player who's coming out early is Darryl Hardy, a 6'8"
junior at Winston-Salem (N.C.) State. The Rams beat Shaw twice
last season. What does Hardy think of May? "When I heard about
him coming out, I had to go get the tape, because I didn't know
who he was," Hardy says.

So it goes with name after name you run by the NBA's Blake.
Damon Jones of Houston ("Don't ask me why he's coming out,"
Blake says). Elgie McCoy of Kutztown (Pa.) University ("He can't
play"). Larrell Redic of Utah State ("Same story"). Dawood
Thomas of California University of Pennsylvania ("Forget it").
Antjonne Holmes, formerly of Central Baptist College in Conway,
Ark. ("No, no...please!").

Even entrants with an outside chance of being drafted aren't
doing themselves a favor. Take Mark Blount, a 7-foot sophomore
at Pittsburgh. If there's one thing that has characterized
Blount's career, it's impatience. He pinballed through six high
schools, having discipline problems at several of them, before
announcing after his junior year that he would attend college at
Massachusetts. That occasioned Bob Gibbons, who evaluates high
school talent, to say, "He's the first kid in history to pick a
college before he picked a high school." Gibbons didn't know the
half of it. As a junior at Virginia's Oak Hill Academy, Blount
called Blake to inquire about his pro prospects. Then he wound
up going not to UMass but to Pitt, where he averaged 9.1 points
and 6.8 rebounds last season.

Many of this year's better early eligibles--players like
Georgetown guard Victor Page and Kansas State forward Mark
Young--have struggled academically. Junior college players face
tough new NCAA standards that make it more difficult for them to
move on to four-year schools. Meanwhile, many agents think that
a cameo appearance among the early eligibles is a good way to
advertise a client who is willing to settle for a minor league
career in the U.S., or an opportunity with a club in another
country.

Imagine for a moment that you're Hugo Risko, general manager of
the Tirana Saurus Rex of the Albanian first division, and
several months from now you get a call from someone representing
Folmar. Having seen Folmar's name in six-point type in the
international edition of USA Today, you might ask, "Would that
be the Ian Folmar of mighty Slippery Rock?" This presumably
would enhance Folmar's chances of squeezing a few leks out of
the Saurus Rex--which would sure beat having to take a
graveyard-shift job to support his four-year-old son, Ian Jr.

Alas, if the Ian Folmars and Amere Mays had heard the rue in the
voices of some players who put in for the last few NBA drafts
and were not chosen, they might have acted differently (box,
left). "If I could do it again, I'd stay in school," says Johnny
Tyson, a 6'10" shot-blocker at Central Oklahoma who came out in
1994, after his junior season, and has kicked around in six
leagues on three continents. "I had an agent who encouraged me
to come out early. You're young and excited; you really want to
make the league; and if people say you can, you listen. At that
age, all you're thinking about is publicity and money."

Listen to Darroll Wright, a 6'1" guard who gave up his final
season of eligibility at Division II Missouri Western to take
his chances in the 1995 draft. "I regret it," says Wright, who
was waived last season by the CBA's LaCrosse Bobcats after he
fractured an ankle. "I shouldn't have come out. By the time I
started thinking about pulling my name out, it was too late.
Everything just goes so fast sometimes, and you don't have time
to think everything through. I remember watching the draft. It
wasn't fun. I just waited and waited for my name to come. The
thing about college--it's fun. I miss it. Miss it a lot."

The starkest cautionary tale is that of Scotty Thurman, the
last-minute hero of Arkansas's 1994 NCAA championship team. He
declared for the '95 draft as a junior, went unselected, entered
the CBA and played last season in Macedonia. (And you thought we
were kidding when we mentioned the Albanian league.)

The simple fact is that being drafted is a bellwether of NBA
success: Of the 55 early-entry candidates since 1990 who were
not drafted, only two have played in the league as free agents.
One of them, 6'9" Marcus Webb, was picked up on a rape charge
after he played nine games with the Boston Celtics in '92-93.
(He pleaded guilty to a lesser offense, spent 28 days in prison
and played last season in Russia.) The other, Thomas Hamilton, a
7'2" Chicago high school star who never qualified academically
to play in college and once tipped the scales at 400 pounds,
appeared in 11 games with the Celtics in 1995-96 and was cut
last December by his hometown Bulls. "I don't really know where
he is," said his agent, Mark Bartelstein, last week.

Regrettably, bad decisions are being made despite the existence
of resources to help kids make good choices. Inspired by a
program the NFL has had in place since 1994, the NBA, in March,
established an undergraduate advisory committee consisting of
Blake, three team player-personnel officials and the league's
senior vice president of basketball operations, Rod Thorn. If an
underclassman asks, the committee will provide him with a
confidential opinion of where he is likely to be picked: in the
lottery, the first round, the second round or not at all. Some
15 collegians have used the system so far, although the NBA
won't divulge how many of the 47 who have declared for the draft
are among that number.

"Some kids may be delusional," says the NCAA's Rick Perko, who
worked with the NBA to develop the committee. "But overall
there's a better job being done to counterbalance what they may
be hearing from agents."

The other tool that's supposed to lead to sounder
decision-making is the 30-day postdraft grace period (although
next year the NCAA will permit only undrafted players to avail
themselves of this option). But few players have taken advantage
of this escape route since its introduction in 1993. Last year
Coppin State's Terquin Mott, Washington's Mark Sanford and
Iowa's Jess Settles all put in for the draft, only to withdraw
and return to school. Sanford paid his own way to last June's
Chicago cattle call, where he was flagrantly fouled by reality.
"After Chicago I just wanted to go home, bury my head and not do
anything for two weeks," says Sanford, who has put in for the
draft again this year. "If I'd have put all my eggs in one
basket, I could've been in a lot of trouble."

Neither Folmar nor May asked the committee to assess his draft
prospects. Neither has been invited to Chicago. May even has an
agent, so he can't return to collegiate ball, regardless of what
happens on June 25.

But just in case the NBA doesn't work out, one of them has a
Plan B. "I played football last season, and I would have put my
name in for the NFL draft if I didn't love basketball so much,"
says Folmar, who walked on as a lineman at Slippery Rock and, in
his only season of organized football since junior high, was a
backup. "I played nose guard, but I could have played any
position on the defensive line.

"I'm a natural at anything I do. I know I could be a millionaire
in football. But I know I can play basketball, and I can be a
millionaire in basketball, too."

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE At Slippery Rock, Folmar torched opponents for 19.9 points and 8.6 rebounds a game, but he has more experience as a welder. [Ian Folmar holding blowtorch and looking through basketball hoop]COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND The handwriting is on the wall for Hardy: The place for him to soar may be overseas, not in the NBA. [Darryl Hardy playing basketball with wall of graffiti in background]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER An academic problem at Syracuse, Lloyd did not make the grade on draft day last year either. [Michael Lloyd in game]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER For Mercer, the question is not whether he will be chosen in the draft but how high he will go. [Ron Mercer in game]

READY OR NOT, HERE THEY COME

These are the 47 players--from high schools, junior colleges,
colleges, foreign clubs and U.S. pro minor leagues--who declared
for early entry into this year's NBA draft. (Player evaluations
supplied by NBA sources.)

PLAYER POS. HT. CLASS SCHOOL/CLUB TEAM

GRACEN AVERIL F 6'5" Jr. Texas Tech
SKINNY Eligibility problems plus good basketball potential
equals early entry

TONY BATTIE F-C 6'11" Jr. Texas Tech
[SKINNY] Good player with excellent prospects for improvement;
possible top-five pick

CHAUNCEY BILLUPS G 6'3" So. Colorado
[SKINNY] Strong court presence; has had peaks and valleys but
still a top-10 pick

CARL BLANTON F 6'7" Jr. Southern
[SKINNY] College career: no starts, 6 of 15 from field,
1.4-point average

MARK BLOUNT F-C 7'0" So. Pittsburgh
[SKINNY] Some skills but at only 230 pounds needs to spend a lot
of time in the weight room

C.J. BRUTON G 6'2" So. Indian Hills C.C.
[SKINNY] Signed with Iowa State, but might have been scared off
by Bulls' interest in Tim Floyd

DAN BUIE F 6'8" Jr. Washburn
[SKINNY] Attended Southern Cal for a semester before
transferring; an outside shot to make it

CORY CARR G 6'3" Jr. Texas Tech
[SKINNY] The nation's 10th-leading scorer (23.1 points);
seriously considering draft withdrawal

KEITH CLOSS C 7'2" - Norwich (ABA)
[SKINNY] Left Central Connecticut after setting NCAA blocks
record in 1995-96; weighs only 215

JAMES COTTON F 6'5" Jr. Long Beach State
[SKINNY] Questionable decision; philosophical differences with
new coaching staff

TONY DOYLE F 6'6" - None
[SKINNY] Ordinary player on bad Ivy League team at Columbia,
from which he left two years ago

RONNIE FIELDS G 6'3" - Rockford (CBA)
[SKINNY] Averaged 7.4 points in limited role with Lightning last
season

IAN FOLMAR F 6'5" Jr. Slippery Rock
[SKINNY] A walk-on with only one year of Division II experience

DANNY FORTSON F 6'7" Jr. Cincinnati
[SKINNY] Imposing physical specimen with a big heart, but at his
size what position does he play?

ADONAL FOYLE F-C 6'10" Jr. Colgate
[SKINNY] His potential for improvement could make him a top-10
pick

DARRYL HARDY C 6'8" Jr. Winston-Salem
[SKINNY] Can score in bunches, but next opportunity to do that
probably won't come in NBA

ANTJONNE HOLMES F-C 6'9" - None
[SKINNY] Hasn't played organized ball since 1994-95 because of
eligibility problems

TROY HUDSON G 6'1" Jr. Southern Illinois
[SKINNY] Good news: averaged 21.1 points last season; bad news:
shot only 39% from field

MARC JACKSON C 6'10" Jr. Temple
[SKINNY] A first-team all-Atlantic 10 selection; strong around
the basket but mobility a question

STEPHEN JACKSON G 6'7" Fr. Butler C.C.
[SKINNY] Talented but young; hasn't played a minute of college
ball because of academic woes

ED JENKINS F-C 6'9" Jr. Ohio State
[SKINNY] Never played for Buckeyes; averaged 18 points, 10
rebounds in '95-96 for Sullivan College

MARCUS JOHNSON F-C 6'9" Jr. Long Beach State
[SKINNY] A muscular player with average talent at best

DAMON JONES G 6'3" Jr. Houston
[SKINNY] An average Division I player who doesn't belong in the
draft

NATE LANGLEY G 6'3" Jr. George Mason
[SKINNY] Played in Paul Westhead's run and gun; has a future,
though probably not in NBA

KEITH LOVE G 6'3" Jr. Dominican
[SKINNY] Claim to fame: the son of former Bulls star Bob Love

GORDON MALONE C 6'11" Jr. West Virginia
[SKINNY] Excellent potential; possible first-round pick who will
have to move to forward

AMERE MAY F 6'5" So. Shaw
[SKINNY] A transfer from Central Michigan; trimmed down from 326
to 270 since last fall

ELGIE MCCOY F 6'9" Jr. Kutztown
[SKINNY] Couldn't make an impact in Division II; wasting his time

TRACY MCGRADY F 6'9" Sr. Mount Zion Academy
[SKINNY] A nobody two years ago who could move from high school
ball into the lottery

RON MERCER G-F 6'7" So. Kentucky
[SKINNY] Coming off superb season; has NBA game; top-three pick

MARKO MILIC F 6'6" - Smelt Olimpija (Slovenia)
[SKINNY] Most athletic European since Toni Kukoc, but, at 20, is
he ready for NBA?

VICTOR PAGE G 6'3" So. Georgetown
[SKINNY] Offensive whirlwind who plays out of control; a poor
man's Sedric Toney

DEMETRI PAPANIKOLAOU F 6'6" - Olympiakos (Greece)
[SKINNY] Another year or two in his European league would help

LARRELL REDIC C 7'0" Jr. Utah State
[SKINNY] Played one game for Aggies after transferring from
Lassen, a junior college

SHAWN RITZIE G 6'1" So. Norwalk C.C.
[SKINNY] Unknown even to one junior college scouting service

EDDIE ROBINSON F 6'8" So. Brown Mackie
[SKINNY] One of nation's best junior college players; averaged
22.7 points last season

PAUL ROGERS C 6'11" Jr. Gonzaga
[SKINNY] Aussie was a medical redshirt who played only four
games last season

BRYON RUFFNER F 6'6" - None
[SKINNY] Left BYU in 1996 because of felony conviction; averaged
18.8 points the previous season

OLIVIER ST. JEAN F 6'6" Jr. San Jose State
[SKINNY] Trying to become first Frenchman in NBA; likely will
become next one to play in France

MARK SANFORD F 6'8" Jr. Washington
[SKINNY] Declared last year, then withdrew; game improving but
would be wise to pull out again

GOD SHAMMGOD G 6'0" So. Providence
[SKINNY] Real talent; may be a star someday but isn't ready yet

MAURICE TAYLOR F 6'9" Jr. Michigan
[SKINNY] CBA skills to go with an NBA body; a potential late
first-round pick

DAWOOD THOMAS F 6'5" Jr. California of Pa.
[SKINNY] Played seven games--and averaged 3.3 points--before
quitting the Vulcans

TIM THOMAS F 6'10" Fr. Villanova
[SKINNY] NBA physique; will be better pro than college player;
top-10 pick

MIRSAD TURKCAN F-C 6'9" - Efes Pilsen (Turkey)
[SKINNY] Has a lot of international experience, but otherwise a
mystery

LUCAS VICTORIANO G 6'4" - Olimpia (Argentina)
[SKINNY] Good potential, but might not be ready for NBA rigors

MARK YOUNG F 6'6" Jr. Kansas State
[SKINNY] Academically marginal; figures another year of college
ball won't do him much good

1996 EARLY ENTRIES
Here's how the 42 underclassmen who declared for the 1996 NBA
draft fared on selection day. (Draft outcome shows whether the
player was picked, and, if he was, by which team and in what
position among the 58 players chosen.)

PLAYER POS. CLASS SCHOOL/CLUB DRAFT OUTCOME

SHAREEF ABDUR-RAHIM F Fr. California Grizzlies (3)
SUNDAY ADEBAYO F Jr. Arkansas Withdrew
RAY ALLEN G Jr. Connecticut Timberwolves (5)
KOBE BRYANT G Sr. Lower
Merion High Hornets (13)
MARCUS CAMBY F Jr. Massachusetts Raptors (2)
ERICK DAMPIER C Jr. Mississippi
State Pacers (10)
RANDY EDNEY C Jr. Mount St.
Mary's Not selected
ERIC GINGOLD C Jr. Williams Not selected
LAMARCUS GOLDEN G Jr. Tennessee Not selected
RONNIE HENDERSON G Jr. LSU Bullets (55)
ZYDRUNAS ILGAUSKAS C -- Atletas
(Lithuania) Cavaliers (20)
ALLEN IVERSON G So. Georgetown Sixers (1)
WILLIE JACKSON C So. Lawson
State C.C. Not selected
DONTAE' JONES F Jr. Mississippi
State Knicks (21)
CHRIS KINGSBURY G Jr. Iowa Not selected
CARLOS KNOX G Jr. IU-PU
Indianapolis Withdrew
PRIEST LAUDERDALE C -- Peristeri
(Greece) Hawks (28)
IDRIS LEE G Jr. Mount Senario Not selected
RANDY LIVINGSTON G So. LSU Rockets (42)
MICHAEL LLOYD G Jr. Syracuse Not selected
DUT MAYAR MADUT C So. Frank
Phillips Not selected
STEPHON MARBURY G Fr. Georgia Tech Bucks (4)
RICHARD MATIENZO F Fr. Miami-Dade
C.C. Not selected
TAJ MCDAVID G-F Sr. Palmetto High Not selected
JEFF MCINNIS G Jr. North
Carolina Nuggets (37)
TERQUIN MOTT F Jr. Coppin State Withdrew
CHRIS NURSE F Jr. Delaware
State Not selected
JERMAINE O'NEAL C Sr. Eau Claire
High Trail Blazers
(17)
JASON OSBORNE F Jr. Louisville Not selected
JESSE PATE G Jr. Arkansas Not selected
VITALY POTAPENKO F Jr. Wright State Cavaliers (12)
EFTHIMIS RETZIAS C -- PAOK (Greece) Nuggets (23)
DARNELL ROBINSON C Jr. Arkansas Mavericks (58)
MARK SANFORD F So. Washington Withdrew
JESS SETTLES F Jr. Iowa Withdrew
GREG SIMPSON G Jr. West Virginia Not selected
KEVIN SIMPSON G So. Dixie College Not selected
KEBU STEWART F Jr. Cal State-
Bakersfield Withdrew
PREDRAG STOJAKOVIC F -- PAOK (Greece) Kings (14)
ANTOINE WALKER F So. Kentucky Celtics (6)
SAMAKI WALKER F So. Louisville Mavericks (9)
LORENZEN WRIGHT C So. Memphis Clippers (7)