- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

Chris Wilcox is the latest teen being encouraged to resist the intoxicating vapors of the NBA.

The stay/go quandary has become an annual rite of March, when monetary considerations collide against athletic and academic concerns.

Maryland's Wilcox fits within the usual parameters, in a gray area. He has lots of what the NBA covets: a 6-foot-10 body, with plenty of athleticism and upside. He also is an unpolished basketball player who could benefit from another season with the Terps and a larger role prompted by the departures of Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter.

The temptation to fret in behalf of Wilcox and the precocious ones in short pants is strong, and misplaced. What a nice problem to have, if problem is the right word.

Wilcox, a 19-year-old sophomore from Whiteside, N.C., either becomes one of the leading players with the Terps next season or another multimillionaire sitting at the end of the bench in the NBA.

All those in favor of being sentenced to either outcome, raise your hands.

There, it is unanimous.

Both choices are good. Both also are a gamble.

Athletes who elect to stay in college are playing a risky game, starting with the capricious nature of perceptions.

Wilcox may never look as good as he does now. His name is hot, the program is hot, and next season is next season. A lot can happen in one season. Look what happened to North Carolina.

Wilcox is destined to improve as a player if he stays at Maryland. That does not necessarily mean his draft position will improve as well. The latter is a whole lot more dependent on the subjective.

The most celebrated collegians each season normally are the ones who perform for the right schools and coaches. The deification process begins with Dick Vitale and the breathless before trickling down to the print types. The truth eventually emerges from the hype, usually after the player has evolved into just another interchangeable part in the NBA.

The job of the NBA's personnel gurus is to eliminate the hype from their evaluations. In letting Shane Battier slip to sixth in the draft last June, they probably outsmarted themselves.

Battier, who looks as if he will be a solid NBA player, was a victim of the backlash against Duke's player inflation. This was motivated by the draft wrongs of the past, the three previous Naismith Player of the Year recipients at Duke: Johnny Dawkins in 1986, Danny Ferry in 1989 and Christian Laettner in 1992.

Wilcox hardly has to look far to learn how fragile it all is.

Terence Morris, an ex-teammate, would be a multimillionaire today if he had elected to leave Maryland following his sophomore season. Instead, he stayed all four seasons and wound up costing himself a considerable sum of money.

In his last two seasons at Maryland, Morris fell from lottery status to the second round of the NBA Draft last June. A lottery pick is guaranteed millions and a roster spot, the other a chance to make the team. Morris is earning $490,000 this season as a member of the Houston Rockets. That's not bad, just hardly what it might have been.

There are no divine answers for Wilcox, only points/counterpoints on both sides of the debate.

Kwame Brown, who is five months older than Wilcox, skipped college to be in the NBA. It is too early to judge his decision. It is not too early to say he has the financial capacity to be set for life and, if he so chooses, attend college on his dime.

Even the suggestion that Brown would be a better basketball player if he were playing at Florida instead of with the Wizards is questionable. Brown, no doubt, would be playing more in college. He also would be playing against far inferior competition than what he faces just in practice with the Wizards.

Wilcox has tried to downplay the speculation around him. The attempt, however predictable, only has fueled more talk. Is he going or not? What do you think? Bad move? Good move?

The only certainty is this: You can't beat the NBA's hourly wages.


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