- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

NEW YORK Chris Wilcox walked out of Madison Square Garden last weekend remembering when Maryland opened its national championship season there last fall.

New York to New York signified a coming-of-age journey for the 19-year-old man-child.

"Last time I was here I wasn't even starting," said Wilcox, of his humble beginning with the Terrapins last season. "I was coming off the bench. I think I was like the seventh man."

Wilcox exited the Garden last Saturday after an impressive workout before NBA executives who were preparing for next week's draft.

In a script that belongs on Broadway, Wilcox may enjoy a higher position in the NBA Draft in the Garden on Wednesday than he did in Gary Williams' pecking order at the beginning of last season. Soon after his quiet season debut, Wilcox beat out Tahj Holden for the starting power forward position. He has continued to build momentum, becoming a lottery-pick lock and is threatening to crack the top five.

"The first two picks look like they'll be [Chinas] Yao Ming and [Dukes Jay] Williams," New Jersey Nets president Rod Thorn said after watching Wilcox work out. "[Wilcox] could go anywhere after that. He has great potential."

Thorn was joined by executives from nine other teams during the session.

The 7-foot-5 Yao is expected to be taken by the Houston Rockets with the first pick. Williams, the Naismith Award winner, is all but assured to go to the Chicago Bulls at No.2. The Golden State Warriors reportedly have assured Duke forward Mike Dunleavy who announced yesterday he would stay in the draft that he will be the third selection. Kansas forward Drew Gooden is expected to go in the top five, either to the Memphis Grizzlies at No.4 or the Denver Nuggets with the fifth pick. Beyond that, selections are less clear.

The New York Knicks covet the 6-10, 225-pound Wilcox, but it is questionable whether he will be available when the Knicks pick seventh. There are reports that New York is trying to trade up for the Cleveland Cavaliers' sixth pick to secure Wilcox.

"When you saw him play with his team during the year, he brought tremendous energy to the court," Knicks general manager Scott Layden said. "He's very active offensively and defensively. He covers the floor. But I think what you see is that he's improved his skills. When you watched him play [in college], you didn't really see many of the refined moves he has inside now."

The New York brass was impressed with Wilcox's low-post moves that go with his NBA-ready body. Wilcox's defense and shot blocking also drew accolades, while his offense particularly a mid-range jumper is still developing. But the upside of the skywalking Wilcox, who left Maryland after his sophomore season, has scouts salivating.

"He's very high-energy," Knicks coach Don Chaney said. "What I really like, you put that guy in the open court with that size, he'll beat most guys down the floor. He should have great opportunities in the open court."

That type of potential ensures he won't wait long on draft night. Memphis appears to be favoring Gooden at No.4 with Wilcox an outside possibility. At No.5, Denver is weighing Wilcox and Connecticut swingman Caron Butler. Cleveland is the early favorite to take Wilcox, but may also consider Memphis guard Dajuan Wagner.

Cavaliers coach John Lucas was in New York to take in Wilcox's workout. The session was set up by promoter Rock Newman, one of Wilcox's agents at D.C.-based Peake Management. Wilcox is not scheduled to do any individual team workouts because he is recovering from a minor hamstring pull. His final workout was yesterday in Phoenix.

"What I like about him is his explosiveness and his quickness," said Lucas, a former first overall selection out of Maryland. "You're not looking for somebody that can come in and knock somebody out right away. You're looking for someone who can grow quickly."

One wild card in the draft is Nikoloz Tskitisvila, a 7-footer from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. The 19-year-old is expected to go in the top 13, possibly as high as No.4. Should Wilcox somehow slip past the Knicks, the Los Angeles Clippers at No.8 or the Phoenix Suns, with the ninth pick, would be ecstatic to grab him.

Wilcox began thinking seriously about the NBA after outplaying Dunleavy in the Terps' blowout win over Duke in February, when he had a career-high 23 points and 11 rebounds while shutting down Dunleavy.

"When I had great games against great players, that kind of pushed me out of school," said Wilcox.

The push continued after he put on several sterling performances in the NCAA tournament. He posted 18 points and 11 rebounds while dominating Gooden in the Final Four. Then, he intimidated Indiana's Jared Jeffries, another expected lottery pick, in the championship game.

"That was big," Wilcox said. "During the whole season, those guys were always on ESPN. People were saying they were the best players in the league. During the tournament, all you heard was 'Gooden and Jeffries, Gooden and Jeffries' every time you turned on the TV. I kind of took that to heart. When I got my chance to play against them, I just took it to them."

It was all part of a whirlwind that propelled Maryland to its first title and Wilcox to an early entrance to the NBA. Since the championship, he ended his college career and met President Bush during the Terps' obligatory visit to the White House. There was even a "Chris Wilcox Appreciation Day" recently in his hometown of Whiteville, N.C.

The next appreciation day for Wilcox comes Wednesday, when he will become an instant millionaire as a top pick in the NBA Draft.

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