- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2001

Why, you ask, did NBA teams draft high schoolers with three of the first four picks Wednesday night? The answer's simple, really: Because they were afraid not to.

The 2001 draft had as much to do with fear as with logic or need or talent evaluation or anything else. All you have to do is look at the heights of the three high school kids taken first, second and fourth.

• Kwame Brown, Wizards, 6-11.

• Tyson Chandler, Bulls (by way of the Clippers), 7 feet.

• Eddy Curry, Bulls, 6-11.

Personnel chiefs, beginning with our own Michael Jordan, just didn't want to pass one of these guys up and risk having him turn into a great player. If they had, they never would have heard the end of it. So they drafted based on projection and potential rather than sticking with the obvious (e.g. college graduate Shane Battier, whose strengths and weaknesses are far less mysterious). Is this any way to run a league?

It was the same with Oak Hill Academy 7-footer DaSagana Diop, who was taken eighth by the Cavaliers. Heck, half of the high schoolers if not more will probably turn out to be busts. But NBA general managers, who give sheep a bad name, drafted them before such polished products as Kirk Haston and Joseph Forte. It's a scandal, it truly is.

We see this sort of thing in football all the time. Clubs will draft quarterbacks far earlier than they should because, well, they're quarterbacks and nobody can come back to haunt you like a QB. I call your attention to 1994, when Heath Shuler was selected third by the Redskins and Trent Dilfer was chosen sixth by the Bucs. No one really thought they were that good, but both teams were desperate for quarterbacks and neither wanted to be second-guessed for the next decade if Shuler and Dilfer developed into all-pros. So both players went early in the draft … and, boy, did the Redskins and Bucs ever regret it. (Indeed, you wonder how different history might have been for the Redskins and Norv Turner if they had gone for, say, Bryant Young.)

The Bulls' Jerry Krause had twice as much to fear as other general managers. If he didn't draft Curry, he would have been passing up not only a possible franchise center but also a kid from the Chicago area. Fortunately for the Bulls, Curry fell to them at No. 4 and then Krause went out and swapped his best player, Elton Brand, for the No. 2 selection, Chandler. Poor Tim Floyd. He left the college ranks because he wanted to give the pros a crack, and here he is still coaching a college team. (And a rather young one at that.) I'm tellin' ya, it's gettin' out of control. I wouldn't be surprised if Krause said he traded Brand (who turned 22 this spring) because he's "getting up in years."

As for Battier, maybe he slid to the sixth spot because some GMs got it in their heads that he was another Ed O'Bannon. Remember him? O'Bannon came out of college ball with credentials very similar to Battier's. He was 6-8. He had good shooting range. He led his team (UCLA) to the NCAA title as a senior and won both the tournament MVP and Wooden awards. After being drafted ninth, though, he went on to a totally forgettable NBA career with the Nets and Mavericks.

But here's the thing: Battier is a much better defender than O'Bannon was and has the trophies to prove it. Also, his knees are in mint condition (unlike Ed's). It will be a huge upset, in my book, if he doesn't have a long and productive stay in the NBA, one that includes multiple All-Star Games. But philosophies have changed in professional basketball. Nobody's content with the bird in the hand anymore. Everybody wants the two in the bush knowing that if they don't go for it (or rather, them), some other team will.

And so we have teams drafting high school players in ever-increasing numbers towering teen-agers who may never pan out. What if Brown is merely the next Jermaine O'Neal and is still smoothing off the rough edges in his sixth season? Will Wizards fans be happy with that? What if Chandler, no muscle man, is more comfortable flitting around the perimeter than mixing it up underneath? What if Curry and Diop get swallowed up by the new, legal NBA zone defenses (a shortcoming that one season in college ball would have exposed)? Glad I'm not the one shelling out millions for these kids.

Of course, if the picks don't work out, teams are sure to say, "Hey, at least we took a shot. At least we dared to be great." Dared to be great? Dared to be scared is more like it.

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