- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

Lee Benson is emblematic of the desperation that accompanies the NBA Draft this week. Benson was No.44 at Brown Mackie Junior College in Salina, Kan., last season. He was No.A275317 in the preceding eight-plus years, spent as a ward of the Warren Correctional Institution in Lebanon, Ohio.
There was a gun, a quantity of cocaine and a failure to recognize the absence of health benefits in thug life. The 6-foot-10 forward was released from prison last August, the time lost forever, the time even more precious to someone on an athletic clock.
Benson, 28, is being projected as a second-round pick in the draft, if only because of his age and past. Otherwise, he might be a lottery pick, which does not say much for the spiffily dressed anticipating their official handshake from David Stern at the podium.
This is not a strong draft, and not to hold Wang Zhizhi and Mengke Bateer against Yao Ming, considered the best Chinese import since the arrival of the two rent-a-pandas at the National Zoo.
Many NBA players already are partial to China's culture, judging by the Chinese characters on their biceps. The message is roughly translated into an order of two egg rolls, tasty as well as fashionable, and not just in Tony Cheng's neighborhood.
Yao is expected to be the No.1 pick in the draft because of the NBA's inability to teach 7-5. The notion might go down easier if this were pingpong. As it is, Yao might help the Rockets one of these years.
That was the thought of the 76ers in 1993 and the 7-6 accident also known as Shawn Bradley. To be fair, Bradley was only the No.2 pick overall in the 1993 draft, Chris Webber the No.1 pick who left two franchises in a mess before becoming Mike Bibby's caddie.
The brief history lesson is provided to stem the applause. Most first-round picks never look better than this week. A few wind up as busts, the majority as interchangeable parts to be peddled on whim.
Jay Williams, who has altered his first name to avoid being confused with the author of stupid basketball tricks in Memphis, Tenn., is slated to be the latest piece to Jerry Krause's ongoing rebuilding project in Chicago.
Mike Dunleavy Jr. is earmarked to follow Yao and Williams in the draft, and possibly soothe the hurt around Golden State. The same prospect is not before Dunleavy Sr., who is believed to be ready to coach again after recovering from Rasheed Wallace.
The draft order becomes murky after the first three, except in Minnesota, still not on the first-round board because of Joe Smith.
The Wizards have the No.11 pick in the draft and an inclination to move up or down or sideways, depending on Michael Jordan's golf swing and the rumor of the day.
The development of Kwame Brown, the team's former flavor of the moment, remains open to debate after one uneventful season and one impressive joyride on Georgia's roadways. Brown now needs a chauffeur in addition to a well-rounded game.
The Wizards have a series of needs as well: a point guard, another scorer and a low-post player who merits an occasional second defender. This is assuming Jordan sticks around another season. If not, the Wizards just need a miracle and Doug Collins an ample supply of tranquilizers to cope with the 82-game season.
Dajuan Wagner is said to have scored points with the Wizards after scoring 100 points in a game in high school and enduring a layover in Memphis. Does he qualify as help or another Chris Whitney? Who knows? That is the nature of the draft, this one in particular.
The vowel-heavy contingent has an ever-increasing appeal following the emergence of Dirk Nowitzki, Predrag Stojakovic and Pau Gasol last season. There must be another European who can fall down as expertly as Vlade Divac around Shaquille O'Neal.
The NBA's personnel gurus are trained to wear a smile and speak of better days ahead after completing their maneuvering this week.
This is their version of eye candy, weighing the pros and one ex-con.
It all amounts to an uncertain something.


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