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Overcoming age-old situation

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Kevin Durant definitely does not like the rule that prohibits players from entering the NBA until age 19.

The 6-foot-9 Suitland native finished his stellar high school career and at least wanted the option to jump straight to the league. But thanks to commissioner David Stern, the NBA had to wait.

Instead of being a prep-to-pros phenom,Durant went to college. The result was an unforgettable season.

Durant played for Texas and dominated the college game unlike any freshman since Carmelo Anthony, who led Syracuse to the national championship in 2003.

He averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds and was the first freshman to earn the Naismith Award, given to college basketball's top player. He also led the freshman-oriented Longhorns to 25 wins and proved he could play all five positions effectively.

Durant still doesn't like the NBA's age requirement, but he at least can see some good came of it.

"I would not say I am in favor of the [age limit], but it helped me out," Durant said. "I learned how to wake up on my own and do things on my own. It helped me grow up, and it helped my game."

Durant is widely considered the most complete player in Thursday's NBA Draft, though he likely will be chosen with the No. 2 pick by the Seattle SuperSonics if the Portland Trail Blazers take 7-foot center Greg Oden of Ohio State with the first pick.

The Blazers might think the less-developed Oden has more potential, but Madison Avenue has a different opinion. Durant's boyish smile and effective all-court game — as opposed to the less-exciting inside game of Oden — make him one of the most sought-after pitchmen since LeBron James entered the NBA in 2003.

Durant already has signed with the Upper Deck trading card company for $5.5 million. Nike and Adidas are competing to sign him to a shoe and apparel deal expected to be worth about $50 million. That figure is far from the $90 million deal given to James but significantly higher than the relatively modest $12 million deal Oden signed with Nike.

"I see more of what brands covet in terms of endorsements in Kevin Durant," said Scott Sanford, senior talent director for Los Angeles-based Davie Brown Talent, a group that matches companies with endorsers. "He is a bit more flashy. Centers, other than Shaq or Kareem Abdul Jabbar, usually don't have that. Durant brings excitement on the court and away from it. And that is what companies want."

On the court, Durant will step into the role of franchise player wherever he lands. If he goes to the Sonics, however, he will be expected to take on another role: savior.

The franchise has been unable to get public funding for a new arena, and owner Clay Bennett has talked of moving the club if it doesn't get a new home. Durant's success could have a lot to do with whether the club stays or goes.

Durant says he is ready for the pressure and attention. He has, after all, been training for this moment for much of his young life — with the help of his mother, Wanda Pratt.

"I told her when I when I was 11 I wanted to be in the NBA," Durant said. "She made sure I did what I needed."

Pratt took her son's request seriously, and the young Durant began to spend almost all of his time at Seat Pleasant Activity Center, running hills and doing crab walks and countless other drills well into the night. She would bring him dinner at the center so that Taras Brown, his godfather and coach, could work with him on fundamentals.

Pratt even would instruct coaches to be tougher on her son if she felt he was not playing up to his potential.

"I have gone through a lot of pressure in my life," said Durant, who under Brown's watch ran hills in 20-degree weather and with snow on the ground. "I handle it all the same. I know this is a different level of basketball, but I am looking at it just the same. I am going to work."

Durant will not be alone when he begins his NBA career. His mother and two cousins initially will live with him.

Wherever he goes, Durant's next stop will be his fifth in as many seasons after one-year stays at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., as a junior in high school; Montrose Christian School in Rockville under legendary coach Stu Vetter as a senior; and Texas. Durant spent his first two high school years at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington.

Durant credits Vetter for much of his maturation as a player. At Montrose Christian, he teamed with current Maryland point guard Greivis Vasquez, adding to his repertoire as a big-time scorer and developing post moves while also honing his defensive skills.

"It was like a college program," Durant said. "I worked on fundamentals and defense. At Oak Hill, I focused more on scoring."

Now a year removed from Montrose Christian, Durant is a household name on his way to NBA stardom. He owned the college game in one short season. In two days, he will don an expensive tailored suit and shake hands with the commissioner who denied him entrance to the league a year ago.

"I am kind of anxious and nervous at the same time," Durant said. "When I hear my name, it will be the greatest night of my life."

An night that comes a year later than he hoped but one he now feels was worth the wait.