Andy Panko The book says this Division III star might have a future in the NBA

January 25, 1999

Since NBA front-office types had a few idle moments during the
recent lockout, perhaps they had time to peruse a 74-page
booklet that arrived on their desks courtesy of Andy Panko, an
intense emergency-room physician from Harrisburg, Pa. Though the
good doctor's stage-father prose is a bit overwrought--the
opening section, for instance, is headlined THE ARRIVAL...THE
TRADITION...THE DESTINY--the booklet is worth a look, primarily
because its subject, the author's son, Andy, stands 6'9" and
through Sunday was averaging 29.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.8
assists and 2.1 blocked shots a game. Time and opportunity are
the only limitations to his full maturation. We're not sure what
that means, but that's what the booklet says.

Anyway, as far as limitations go, Andy's are obvious: He hasn't
proved himself consistently against top competition. Panko, a
senior forward, plays for Lebanon Valley College, a Division III
school in the small central Pennsylvania town of Annville, where
the longtime public-address announcer, Judge John Walter,
announces a certain free-throw situation as "eins und eins."
Lebanon Valley may be located near the heart of Amish country,
but don't get the idea that Panko plays horse-and-buggy
basketball. He's a two-time first-team Division III All-America
and, given his performance to date, there's every reason to
believe he'll repeat as the division's player of the year. Panko
has more than held his own over two summers in the tough Hank
Gathers League in Philadelphia, and Marty Blake, the NBA's
director of scouting, has described him as "the only NBA-caliber
player currently in Division III." Scouts from a half-dozen pro
teams have found their way to Annville to catch Panko's act this
season.

His height is a major reason, of course. It looked at one point
as though Panko would max out as a sharp-shooting 6-foot guard
until a growth spurt (five inches between the end of his junior
year and the end of his senior year at Bishop McDevitt High in
Harrisburg, and another four since he has been at Lebanon Valley)
put him literally head and shoulders above the competition. Coach
Brad McAlester, whose Flying Dutchmen stood 12-0 through Sunday,
plays Panko at small forward, where he can snipe from the
perimeter or slide into the paint and dominate with a variety of
well-polished low-post moves. Panko, who turned 21 on Nov. 29, is
convinced he's finished growing because his father told him that
"my epiphyses are closed." Imagine that. "They're the areas where
the bones grow," explains Panko. "My dad studied mine on an
X-ray."

One thing you can't see on an X-ray is Panko's court sense. On
two occasions during a recent 76-53 victory over Allentown (Pa.)
College he delivered deft touch passes to teammates for layups.
Those plays were every bit as impressive as one pull-up jumper he
hit from 28--that's right--28 feet.

If Panko gets a chance at the NBA next year, is it possible he
would wilt under the heat of the elite competition? Sure. For
all his size and talent, he is, after all, a kid who has
developed his game without some of the toughening-up he would've
gotten at a major power. But if he picks up his defensive
intensity ("Andy's got a little of that
I-scored-three-you-scored-two-so- I'm-up-one philosophy," says
McAlester) and continues to add strength (he couldn't
bench-press 135 pounds when he came to Lebanon Valley and now
does 280), he has a chance to become the first Division III
player to be drafted since Lamont Strothers of Christopher
Newport College was picked in the second round in 1991. For what
it's worth, the book(-let) on him suggests it's a done deal.

--Jack McCallum

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [Andy Panko]
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)