Who Were Those Guys?
by Jed Tai
With training camps opening up around the NBA and a whole host of drafted and undrafted rookies trying to make their mark – or make the team, we take this time to look back upon this year’s NBA Draft.
Like many of the NBA drafts in recent years, a lot of talk was about the underclassmen – and the number of underclassmen – that left school early to go pro.
For some, it was a wise decision. Guys like Caron Butler, Jay Williams, and Drew Gooden were certain lottery picks and will get a chance to play immediately. And with that opportunity comes lucrative dollars from guaranteed contracts and product endorsements.
For others, the decision could have been considered questionable. Maybe they were coming out too early, risking their basketball future by trying to follow the stars instead of their common sense.
Because of the large number of players who have declared for the NBA Draft in recent years – many of whom go unselected in the league’s annual distribution of collegiate talent – critics point to the NBA and fault them for encouraging players to leave school early for the pros. That’s not the case according to Chris Ekstrand, Editor of the NBA Draft Guide.
“Many of today’s basketball fans don’t understand that the process of underclassmen coming into the NBA was created in response to the Supreme Court case involving Spencer Haywood in 1971,” says Ekstrand.
“The Haywood case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the NBA could not prevent underclassmen from applying for admission into the draft, resulted in the hardship draft, which gave way a year later to those players being placed in the regular draft. The hardship requirement was eliminated in 1976, and since that time, college basketball players have been eligible to apply for the draft as underclassmen.”
“So many people still think the NBA should merely prevent players entering the draft until their college class graduates,” Ekstrand said. “They don’t realize that is exactly the system the league used to have until the Haywood ruling came along and the courts forced a change.”
So with that ruling, every year since 1976, a list of early entrants to the NBA Draft is released to the public, with the name of every player who wishes to forfeit their remaining college eligibility.
Some names on the list are well known to all basketball fans. Guys like Butler, Williams, and Gooden. Other names might not roll off the tongue of the casual college basketball fan, but die=hards would recognize the likes of Smush Parker, Troy Wiley, and Terrell Taylor. But some names simply throw everyone for a loop. Who are these guys?
In what has become an annual recap, I have tracked down the identities of those underclassmen who were unknown to even hardcore college hoops experts when they declared for the draft, and who subsequently went undrafted. I present to you the “Who Were Those Guys?” report for 2002.
Cordell Billups, Pierce College Fort Steilacoom
Many die hard basketball fans would have a hard time identifying what and where Pierce College Fort Steilacoom is, much less know who Cordell Billups was. Pierce College Fort Steilacoom is a two-year community college located in Lakewood, Washington. The school has yet to produce an NBA player – even when it was called Clover Park Community College in the late 60’s. But that didn’t stop Billups from trying to turn pro, despite the fact he only averaged 8.2 ppg and 5.3 rpg in two JC seasons, and hadn’t played organized ball since 1999. A native of Tacoma, the athletic Billups didn’t attract much attention out of high school and went to nearby Pierce where he was a solid role player. And after he left school in the middle of the 1998-99 season, it seemed as if that would be the last that anyone would ever hear of him. But apparently he would have one last laugh. Despite not getting picked, Billups hasn’t given up on his pursuit of the NBA. When the Denver Nuggets had open tryouts outside of the Pepsi Center in July, Billups made the trip in an attempt to be one of the final four finalists. But like the NBA Draft, he was not selected.
Rashid Hardwick, Eastern Oklahoma State JC
Don’t blink, but yes – you did see Rashid Hardwick’s name on the NBA early entrant list (and in this column) last year. The reason why Hardwick was still eligible for this year’s NBA Draft is that it was determined that he had actually withdrawn from last year. So he was allowed to enter again – and again not get selected. If you don’t remember the story, here’s the basics: Seven feet tall, averaged a paltry 2.2 ppg and 2.3 rpg in 17 games at Eastern Oklahoma State JC during the 2000-01 season before getting dismissed from the team. Hardwick might be raw and volatile off the court, but the fact that he is seven feet tall and can apparently walk and chew gum at the same time means he’ll get a look from the NBA. Hardwick was spotted in pre-draft tryouts with a few NBA teams, likely to see if he was still alive and breathing. However, while he won’t be getting a call from an NBA team, he has found work in pro basketball. Hardwick has signed on to play/perform with the Harlem Globetrotters.
Giedrius Rinkevicius, Bridgeton (MA) Academy
A native of Lithuania, Rinkevicius was ready to play college basketball. After coming to the United States, the skilled lefty prepped at Bridgeton (MA) Academy, where even at the high school ranks he was considered a project. But although he was raw and extremely skinny, he was 7-2, which piqued the interest of many Division I schools. He signed with Missouri, but was not able to obtain a qualifying score on the SAT. Taking advantage of the NCAA rule that would allow high school players to declare for the draft and maintain possible college eligibility, Rinkevicius decided to try that route instead of sitting out at MU. Now and forever a free agent in the NBA’s eyes since he was not selected, Rinkevicius will hone his game at the collegiate level. He has enrolled at Collin County (TX) CC, where he will be the personal project of head coach Jim Sigona. If he develops, it wouldn’t be inconceivable seeing him on an NBA roster someday.
Jerry Sanders, Northern Illinois
Sanders’ name didn’t make the initial early entry list, but his name was verified in time for the final one. Even if it didn’t make the second list, it probably didn’t matter to NBA scouts as he unfortunately didn’t have much of a college career. Growing up homeless, practically orphaned and on the streets, Sanders found a foster home during his high school years, and earned himself a scholarship to Northern Illinois. The 6-8 post’s freshman year showed some promise, as he averaged 2.6 ppg and 2.3 rpg in limited time. After working on his game during the summer, he started off his sophomore year in 2000-01 strong, averaging 9.3 ppg and 4.3 rpg the first three games. But disagreements with then coach Brian Hammel led him to quit the team. He spent the next year and a half basically playing church league basketball. If you didn’t know this, Sanders is the younger brother of former high school-to-NBA draftee and current Milwaukee Buck Leon Smith. It took Leon a long time and many troubles before he made it to the NBA. If Sanders ever makes it to the pros, hopefully he won’t have to follow the same path.
Eddie Shelby, Dixie (UT) JC
A native of Las Vegas, Eddie Shelby didn’t have the grades to go directly to a four-year school. So he first trekked off to nearby Feather River College in California, where he had a tremendous freshman year averaging 22.7 points and 7.8 assists a game, making All-State. Based on that play and the recommendation of then Dixie State sophomore and now-UNLV senior Marcus Banks (who knew Shelby back in high school), the 6’3″ Shelby was recruited to transfer to Dixie State, where after sitting out the first semester getting academically eligible, became a starter on a powerhouse team. He averaged 13.3 points and 4.2 rebounds helping lead Dixie State to a 3rd place finish in the NJCAA tournament. But that would be the end of his collegiate career. Shelby dropped out of school to return home to Las Vegas to take care of some family problems, hooked on with an agent there, and is now pursuing a pro basketball career. He likely would have never been academically eliglble to play at a Division I school.
Bobby Smith, Robert Morris (IL)
He averaged 27 points a game and led his team to the Final Four. Why didn’t Bobby Smith get more notice from the NBA? Well, when your team is Robert Morris (IL) and the Final Four is in NAIA Division II, you probably won’t get the respect you may deserve. Smith started out his career far from obscurity, however. A highly-recruited point guard out of Maine Central Institute, the 6’3″ Smith signed with Villanova and played with the Wildcats for two years in 1998-99 and 1999-00. As a sophomore, Smith averaged 6.3 ppg in 18 games. Unfortunately, things did not work out and Smith returned home to his native Chicago. After sitting out a year, Smith enrolled at local Robert Morris, a school which didn’t even have its own gym. But there he was able to show off his immense talents, and quickly dominated the competition. Although he didn’t get a look from the NBA, he may get a long look from the NBDL.
Melvin Steward, Eastern New Mexico
If you look up the word “journeyman” in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Melvin Steward. The trip started after Steward graduated from high school in 1994 at famed Rainier Beach High, the alma mater of Doug Christie, Jamal Crawford, and others. Lacking the grades to play at a four-year school, the 6’4″ Steward went to nearby Bellevue Community College, where he played for a year. But after that, he bounced around several community colleges in the Washington State system, never having the grades to be eligible to play. He seemed to have found a home when he was signed by Division II Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, but after some success in scrimmages and exhibition games, Steward got injured and was on the move again. His next move would see him resurface at Eastern New Mexico, where he was added onto the roster for emergency help. Playing at both guard positions, Steward averaged 4.4 points and 1.4 assists. However, the school and Steward decided to part ways after the season and he returned back home to Seattle. Steward declared for the draft in hopes of getting eligible for the USBL Draft, of which he was not selected either. He has since traveled to Yugoslavia in hopes of catching the eyes of international teams and scouts.
Joseph Ward, Fort Hays State
Until he declared for the NBA Draft, Joseph Ward was probably known more for who he was associated with than his own merits. The younger brother of former Michigan star Jerod Ward, Joseph Ward was also a high school teammate of McDonald’s All-American Darius Rice at Lanier High. He also became famous locally after being the center of controversy in high school. During his high school days, Ward transferred between schools in his home state of Mississippi, looking to play his senior year at Lanier. But the state governing body of athletics attempted to block his move and declare him ineligible (claiming he transferred for athletic and not academic reasons), but gave up after a judge ruled in favor of Ward. Ward would go on to help lead Lanier to the state championship. An undersized 6-6 power forward, Ward didn’t field many top college offers and ended up at Bacone JC in Oklahoma, where he was a solid player for two seasons. He went on to earn a scholarship at Division II Fort Hays State, but unfortunately didn’t gel with the coaches and team there. After averaging 7.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 14.6 minutes a game, Ward was not invited back and he headed back home to Mississippi. His connections didn’t help him out in the NBA Draft, although maybe they will be of some benefit somewhere down the line.
Omar Weaver, Riverside (CA) CC
Omar Weaver may be the perfect example of why it’s not only raw talent that gets you ahead in basketball. Because if that’s all it took, the 6’7″ swingman with a smooth shot might have been drafted. A high school superstar in Washington DC, Weaver was very highly recruited but attitude and academics were a stumbling block. He was dismissed from school his senior year at Compton Centennial HS in 1999-00 due to an altercation, and although he committed to Missouri, could not get academically eligible. He would surface at both Hutchinson JC and College of the Sequoias the following year, but would not play at either location. Finally in 2001-02, Weaver did suit up at Riverside (CA) CC – but only briefly. After lighting things up to the tune of 20 ppg, he abruptly quit the team after 15 games after a disagreement with the coaching staff. Knowing he’d probably never get eligible to play Division I, he declared for the draft. However checkered his past has been, there has never been a question that Weaver has tremendous basketball ability. The question will be who will be the one to take a chance on him.
An update on all those “bigger name” players who didn’t get selected (if you played at a major college or made the NBA Draft Media Guide, you made this list):
Lee Benson, Brown Mackie (KS) JC: By now, you have heard the remarkable story of Benson, a former convict who got a new lease on life and started tearing up the junior college circuit. He didn’t want to waste any time because of his age (he was 28 at the time of the draft), and left school early. Unfortunately, his advanced years no doubt worked against him as no team wanted to take a shot at a near 30 year-old rookie as a draft pick. But teams are interested in his raw talent, and don’t be surprised to see Benson evaluated by somebody down the line.
Rodney Bias, Shelton State (AL) JC: Bias almost made our “unknown” list but due to the technicality that he made the NBA Draft Guide, he fell into this category. Quick recap: big body (6’9″, 240 lbs), dominant rebounder (18 rpg his sophomore season), signed with Alabama but didn’t qualify academically, went pro. A late bloomer, Bias wasn’t spectacular in high school but grew three inches and blossomed in junior college. He could find a role in the NBA with his skill in rebounding, but if it doesn’t work out there, he’ll probably find a job overseas or in the NBDL.
DeAngelo Collins, Inglewood (CA) HS: The first McDonald’s All-American to declare early for the draft right out of high school and not get selected, Collins’ colored past may have played a decision in him not getting selected. But talent is talent, so Collins got a shot in the summer, getting invited to work out with the Raptors. But once again, off-the-court issues apparently got in the way as the Raptors have parted ways with Collins. Will another team take a chance on the talented, yet volatile youngster? It remains to be seen.
Lenny Cooke, Old Tappan (NJ) HS: Cooke’s story is well-chronicled and quite honestly, is somewhat sad. It’s pretty clear that he was never going to be eligible to play in college, but at the same time there didn’t seem to be a system in place for his obvious talents for them to develop. Perhaps the NBDL will be the answer because at 20 years of age, Cooke fulfills the minimum-age requirement of the league. There was some interest from the Sonics in the off-season and there was a rumor that he had signed, but Cooke was not on their training camp roster. In the meantime, he sharpened his skills during the summer on the playground in the Rucker League.
Adam Harrington, Auburn: After the Chicago pre-draft camp and workouts, it became pretty clear that Harrington was not going to get drafted. But even though he himself wasn’t deluded into thinking he would get selected, Harrington stuck with his decision to leave Auburn. Although the NBA still seems like a longshot, he did get a chance to play in some of the NBA’s summer leagues. And because of his ability to shoot the ball, he’ll get some time in training camp with the Dallas Mavericks, although the chances of him making the squad are slim.
Muhammed Lasege, Louisville: You may not remember Lasege’s case very well, as he did not play competitively for very long at Louisville. He was one of the three well-hyped Nigerians, along with Uche Okafor and Ben Eze, who came over to the United States to play basketball via questionable channels. After fighting to get eligible and playing briefly during the 2000-01 season, Lasege was declared ineligible for good by the NCAA prior to last season. However, even though he could no longer play, Lasege remained at Louisville, working out with the team in practice, and earning his degree. Professional basketball may be in his future as he is still 6’11” and raw, but if it’s not, he’s got a degree in hand.
Kei Madison, Okaloosa-Walton JC: Many teams were enamored with Madison’s talents, and several had him in for workouts prior to the draft. In fact, it was somewhat of a surprise that no team took a flyer on the athletic 6’9″ forward, as he certainly seemed to have the upside that many NBA teams are enamored with today. He didn’t have the greatest off-court reputation so that may have been a factor, but the Sonics are interested in taking a look as they have Madison on their training camp roster.
William “Smush” Parker, Fordham: One of the relative surprises of the draft was that Parker did not get picked. The former NYC playground legend worked out and played well in the pre-draft camps and his name was tossed around as a first round selection, but apparently teams didn’t feel he had enough polish in his game to be draft worthy. He’s no doubt still considered a talent and if he doesn’t survive Cavs training camp (where he recently signed), expect to see him in the NBDL.
Terrell Taylor, Creighton: Taylor may have been a hero in the NCAA tournament when he tossed in that last second three pointer against Florida, but his heroics weren’t enough to get him picked in the draft. His rumored drug use and other personal problems probably played a role as well. Taylor apparently did not sign with an agent so he could conceivably return to school, although at this point it doesn’t seem likely and it certainly won’t be at Creighton, and it probably won’t be in the NBA.
Adrian Walton, Fordham: Some guys clearly aren’t interested in school. After a decent, but unspectacular freshman campaign, Walton declared for the draft knowing full well he wouldn’t get picked. But with no interest in academics and a child to support, the former NYC playground legend known as “A.Butter” thought he’d take the chance hoping it would get him publicity to play ball somewhere for money. However, given the lack of interest it looks as if Walton has changed his mind and will go back to school – either at the junior college or Division II level. Either that, or it’s back to ballin’ at the Rucker.
Troy Wiley, Rhode Island: Wiley didn’t figure to get selected in the draft, and likely declared simply to show that he intended to play professionally somewhere. Given that he hasn’t played all that much his last two years in college (half a season at both URI and Paris JC) an NBA team is unlikely to give him a shot, but his future could lie in the NBDL or in Europe. In fact, a British team showed great interest in signing Wiley, but because of league rules prohibiting the signing of players with remaining college eligibility, they were prohibited from signing him.
George Williams, Houston: Even though after the pre-draft camps and workouts he had an idea he wouldn’t get drafted, Williams stuck with the draft and went unselected. While he didn’t sign with an agent to keep his options open, Williams has every intention of trying his luck in the pros and has taken the next step by getting invited to training camp with the Atlanta Hawks.
Good luck to all those who weren’t picked, as they try to find out where professional basketball fits into their future careers.
Special thanks to Chris Flynn for his help with this article.
Note: For complete coverage of the 2002 NBA Draft, check out Hoopville’s Draft Central.