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Live from the Draft

June 27, 2003 Columns No Comments

The NBA Draft – Up Close and Personal

by Phil Kasiecki

The talk was that international players would be all the rage, and that high school players would be sent a message. The former happened – though it looked for a while like it might not – but the latter certainly did not.

Youth was also served in the stands, as a crowd with many young kids and teenagers filled the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. They made their presence known immediately, as they expressed their displeasure with general manager Scott Layden with chants of “Fire Layden” before NBA Commissioner David Stern walked out on stage to a mix of cheers and boos.

The first round of the NBA Draft saw nine international players taken, including high school senior Ndudi Ebi (taken by Minnesota with the 26th pick), who was born in London, England. That set a new record for international players selected in the first round, surpassing the seven chosen in 2000, much to the dismay of the many fans who greeted most of the international picks with chants of “USA, USA”. With 11 more taken in the second round, a record 20 international players were selected overall.

On the other hand, the high school seniors who stayed in the draft fared well, as a whole. Five remained in the draft after Charlie Villanueva backed out to play at Connecticut next season, and four of them were drafted in the first round. With many collegiate underclassmen also being borderline first round picks, high school seniors aside from LeBron James were going to be close calls. In the end, it worked out positively for all but one, as James Lang was not drafted until New Orleans took him with the 48th pick overall.

Portland took Travis Outlaw with the 23rd pick, which drew some jeers from fans. Outlaw is an exceptional athlete – perhaps the best in this draft – but his skills have a long way to go to catch up to his body. Three picks later, Minnesota took Ebi, who is similar to Outlaw but more polished and not as athletic. Immediately following that selection, Memphis selected Kenrick Perkins, a big body from Beaumont, Texas, and traded him to the Boston Celtics in a package deal.

Meanwhile, international players did not dominate the lottery as some had projected. Instead, Darko Milicic (taken second overall by Detroit) and Mickael Pietrus (taken 11th overall by Golden State) were the only ones selected among the first 16 players. For a while, it looked like it would be a big night for college players after the buzz about international players. But the final 13 picks saw seven international players selected, including Ebi, who played high school basketball in Houston, Texas.

Local fans were going to make their feelings known on who the Knicks selected, and they cheered the selection of Mike Sweetney with the ninth pick. Sweetney elaborated on the cheers, something Knicks fans haven’t done much of in recent drafts.

“People told me that whoever gets picked by New York is going to get booed,” he said. “They cheered, so that made me feel welcomed.” An early entry to the draft, Sweetney mentioned in the interview that he plans to get his degree in sociology next summer.

When the Knicks were on the clock to start the second round, fans loudly chanted, “We want Maciej!” Not surprisingly, the place erupted when the Knicks selected Maciej Lampe, a 6’11” center from Spain, with that pick. Lampe was projected by some to go in the lottery, but slid all the way to the top of the second round due to a contract issue.

The fans were then hoping for local hero Marcus Hatten, who had two big years with St. John’s, but they didn’t get their wish as the Knicks went much bigger with 7’5″ Serbian center Slavko Vranes.

When the Celtics announced that they had taken Troy Bell with the 16th pick, there were many nodding heads knowing that Bell had played his college ball across town at Boston College. When they then selected Dahntay Jones with the 20th pick, many in the crowd were puzzled – until the trade between the Celtics and the Grizzlies was announced, which also made Bell’s selection look like a tease for the Boston fans.

When the San Antonio Spurs made their selection, a chorus of boos came, especially when Stern announced them as NBA World Champions. The Spurs then traded their selection, Brazil shooting guard Leandro Barbosa, to Phoenix.

As always, the NBA Draft was a night full of interesting selections and stories. In the next couple of days, we will have more stories on it, as well as commentary on how the teams did.


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