- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2003

When a team holds the 10th selection in a draft that becomes convoluted after the top three, what Eddie Jordan and the Washington Wizards are preparing to do sounds pretty smart.

“I think at that point, it’s best to pick the best available player — I’ve always felt that way,” said Jordan, hired last week to replace Doug Collins as coach. “I live by that. When you see teams trying to fill a need and passing over a player because he doesn’t fit the need, that can come back to haunt you.”

When a team ends the regular season like the Wizards did — losing 11 of their last 16 games to finish 37-45 — obviously there are holes to fill. However, it doesn’t require much searching to see that the Wizards’ biggest needs in tonight’s NBA Draft are at point guard and small forward.

If Tyronn Lue leaves via free agency, the Wizards once again would be forced to go at the point with Larry Hughes, who isn’t comfortable there. And if Jerry Stackhouse chooses not to opt out of the final two years on his contract by the end of this month, he has made it known he wants to move back to two-guard, his more natural position, after playing small forward last season.

Barring any deals, the top three picks in the draft almost certainly will be LeBron James by Cleveland, Darko Milicic by Detroit and Carmelo Anthony by Denver. After that it will get murky, mostly because Toronto reportedly has been trying to move its No.4 pick for the last week.

The Wizards know that top point guard T.J. Ford (Texas) isn’t likely to be available, and neither is Kansas point guard Kirk Hinrich. A number of league sources said yesterday that Washington is focusing on 6-foot-7 small forward Jarvis Hayes (Georgia), 6-6 combo guard Reece Gaines (Louisville) and 6-8 forward Mike Sweetney (Georgetown).

Hayes would appear likely to supply the most immediate help because he is ranked highest of the three by most scouts heading into the draft.

An early entry candidate who has been in college for four years, Hayes was a two-time consensus first-team All-SEC selection — just the second Georgia player, after Dominique Wilkins, to accomplish that. Hayes averaged 18.3 points last season and possesses a nice outside jumper. Last season he shot 42.5 percent on 3-pointers.

One thing that will no doubt ingratiate Hayes to the Wizards is that he does not have any problem coming to a chronic loser that is still smarting from Michael Jordan’s abrupt departure.

“I’ll play for anybody,” Hayes said. “I have a pretty good feeling I’ll go in the top 15, which is pretty good; maybe up a little bit, maybe down a little bit.”

Gaines, Louisville’s fourth all-time leading scorer, is seen as a grind-it-out type of player who brings toughness and versatility. For a big guard, he has demonstrated remarkable competency as a ballhandler and an ability to set other players up.

Ex-Hoya Sweetney is a banger seen by some in the mold of Elton Brand, albeit a little less polished offensively. Sweetney authored some of the most impressive single-game college performances of last season, including a 38-point, 15-rebound game against Notre Dame and a 31-point, 19-rebound effort in Georgetown’s second meeting with eventual national champion Syracuse.

Last year the Miami Heat picked Caron Butler at No.10, one pick before the Wizards selected Jared Jeffries, who played in just 20 games before tearing the ACL in his right knee. Meanwhile, Butler led all rookies in scoring (15.4) and steals (1.76) per game.

Other recent notable No.10 picks include Jason Terry (1999), Paul Pierce (‘98), and Kurt Thomas (‘95).

“We think there are some decent players there,” Wizards general manager Wes Unseld said. “We’ll get a player there.”

Notes — Jordan added a pair of coaches to his staff yesterday, naming former New Jersey assistant Mike O’Koren and Jordan’s former coach at Rutgers, Tom Young.

“We are very happy and very fortunate to have Mike and Tom joining our staff,” Jordan said. “They are both enthusiastic and talented coaches with winning experience.”

O’Koren has spent the last four years as an assistant in New Jersey. Before working on the Nets’ staff, he served as the team’s radio color analyst for nine seasons.

Young has coached for 34 years. He coached Jordan at Rutgers in the 1975-76 season, when the Scarlet Knights went 26-0 during the regular season and went to the Final Four. The Maryland graduate also coached at Catholic University, American and Old Dominion.

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