- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Shane Battier came to embody the student-athlete ideal in his four years at Duke, and so now, the sentimental thinking goes, he should be rewarded as the No. 1 pick overall in the NBA Draft tonight.

Battier is a smart, decent person who won't date 14-year-old girls, and he just might help your basketball team in the seasons ahead as a No. 3 guy in the lineup. He just might turn out to be a Juwan Howard-like producer in the NBA, which, really, is a faint kind of praise in the context of the No. 1 pick overall.

Battier may help little, old ladies cross busy intersections, and he may understand the intricacies of cold fusion, and he may be the NCAA's paragon of all that is right in the upside-down world of major college athletics, and 25 years from now, he may turn out to be one of the self-important gasbags on Capitol Hill.

Unfortunately, none of those wonderful qualities is apt to be the difference between winning and losing next winter and the winters ahead. The NBA is a cold business, and good guys are good to have on a team, but the public, NBC, Turner Sports and those who buy ink by the barrel do not measure teams by the number of good guys on the roster.

Tim Duncan and David Robinson are good guys, but no one was too kind on them following the Spurs' no-show against the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

For that matter, Battier was hardly the only genuine student-athlete involved in a major college sport last season, just the most convenient. The Ivy League leads the nation in model student-athletes, but those beacons of jockdom go largely unnoticed. They are not serious players on the national stage, only useful tools to be implemented when someone feels inclined to lament the hypocrisy of major college athletics.

Otherwise, the business of winning is the principal determinant of who is celebrated and seen the most times on ESPN.

Six high school players have made themselves available to the NBA, and although four of them are likely to be drafted in the first round and granted a guaranteed contract for three seasons, they are, it seems, sending the wrong message to the youth of America.

Countless high school seniors elect not to attend college each year, and America does not seem to object, except when a few end up turning a screw in your sink at $65 an hour. Yet the sky is falling because of the six players from the prep ranks.

In a perfect world, the franchise with two broken ribs would ignore the peach-fuzz types, notably Kwame Brown, and do the right thing by selecting Battier. In other words, the franchise with two broken ribs should be looking to improve itself with a higher purpose in mind, whatever that purpose is beyond winning and losing.

Fifty-seven players are going to be selected tonight, and most are destined to be forgettable. Five years from now, two or three of the 57 probably will have emerged as top-tier stars.

The mission before the franchise with two broken ribs is to land one of those players. Or be haunted by its failure to do so.

Battier is not that player. He is a nice player in the way Rick Fox is a nice player for the Lakers. He is the player who comes after the franchise players, which is hardly what a team is seeking with the No. 1 pick overall in a draft.

Battier made the most of his time at Duke, leading the Blue Devils to a national championship in his last season while earning just about every Player of the Year Award there was. So let there be no hand wringing if, as expected, he is not the No. 1 pick overall tonight.

Being right is sometimes wrong from a distance.

If you recall, the franchise with two broken ribs tried to do right three years ago, peddling one of its troubled stars to a distant city.

As the losses and criticism have mounted, the franchise with two broken ribs has discovered that while it is nice to have principles, you can't win on principles alone, and worse, observers tend to forget your principles if you're 19-63. Instead, they dwell on the 19-63 and the two broken ribs.

Battier does not have two broken ribs, and that, too, is in his favor, along with his grade-point average, even-temperedness and steady play.

Alas, the franchise with two broken ribs is motivated by a generation's worth of ineffectiveness.

It must, appropriately enough, go for broke, two broken ribs and all.

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