2002 NBA Draft keeps the questions simple

The answers to Wednesday’s 2002 NBA Draft are pretty cut and dry.

Who are the top players? Yao Ming, Jay Williams Mike Dunleavy have clearly separated themselves from everyone else.

Why are there no more seniors? They all left already, and the rest aren’t as good as some 20-year-old from Croatia.

Will the Rockets pick Ming No. 1? Yes, unless there’s another 7-foot-5 player in the draft.

Are any USF players going to be selected? No, just like the past 16 drafts.

Much like the 2002 NFL Draft, in which David Carr and Julius Peppers appeared destined for Houston and Carolina, respectively, the first two picks are locks. Ming has the height that no one else can match. And, as the proverb goes, “You can’t teach height,” so Yao’s No. 1. Jason “Call me Jay so I’m not confused with the guy on trial for manslaughter or the freaky point guard from Memphis with all the tattoos” Williams has practically already moved into Chicago. He’s even learning to say nice things about Jerry Krause.

Golden State isn’t quite so steadfast on Dunleavy, mostly because it appears he would love to go to Memphis, where Jerry West might also hire his dad. However, the Warriors can’t pass on his talent and dream of matching him at small forward next to Antwan Jamison and Jason Richardson.

As for the seniors, look hard; there are actually a few. However, with the proliferation of underclassmen in the draft and more foreign imports than Cheers had available on tap, the first of the four-year college players won’t go until after the lottery has ended. Gonzaga point guard Dan Dickau will be off the board first due to his sweet shooting touch followed by centers Melvin Ely of Fresno State and Dan Gadzuric of UCLA. Look for Calista Flockhart clone Tayshaun Prince, all 6-foot-9, 170 pounds of him, to also sneak his way into the first round and a guaranteed contract.

While the Chinese government continues to leave Ming hanging in limbo, teasing the NBA like a carrot in front of a horse, no amount of legal and/or monetary haggles will turn off the Rockets. Centers towering at 7-5 only come along once in a Shawn Bradley. And no, I haven’t forgotten Manute Bol either, although I keep trying.

Still, anyone who knows a shred about the draft realizes that potential is the only thing that matters anymore, and no one has more of it than a 7-foot-5 center from China with a nice stroke. Add to that the fact that most teams haven’t seen Ming play more than five times, either in an individual workout or against Chinese league competition, and even the keenest of observers don’t know what to expect from him.

As a matter of fact, the mystery factor is what’s orbiting the stock of foreigners like Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Maybyner “Nene” Hilario and Jiri Welsch while seniors like Prince and Dickau are more closely examined than Ebola. Tskitishvili, or “Skita” as his teammates for Benetton Treviso in Italy call him, is a little used reserve for his club team. Yet, since he’s not even old enough to drink and almost 7-foot tall with good ball-handling skills, Skita has every team in the league flying across the Atlantic just to get a glimpse of him in practice. The sad truth is that when the decision comes down to selecting a European or a college senior, teams are finding less to like about American players. Most Europeans have already had the exposure of playing in a professional league for at least two years by the time they’re 21. Why would a team take the college player, who is older and has faced easier competition with the watered-down play in the NCAA? Europeans have better fundamentals at a younger age, which is why a player like Memphis freshman Dajuan Wagner will be bypassed in favor of players like Skita or Nene. Pro scouts have seen guys like Gadzuric and Wagner for years and have managed to overanalyze every part of their game. Skita just emerged on the landscape in the past three months or so, thereby not giving most teams time to thoroughly scout. All of which gives him limitless potential.

As for the Bulls, neither Altron Jackson nor B.B. Waldon was invited to the Chicago pre-draft camp, so don’t expect either of their names to be called during the two-round draft. The last USF player to hear his name called at the draft was Curtis Kitchen in 1986. Back then, the draft lasted seven rounds, and Seattle tabbed Kitchen in the sixth round. Five players in USF history have appeared in the draft including Willie Redden, Vince Reynolds and Tony Grier, all of whom were picked in 1982. All-time leading scorer Charlie Bradley and Redden have the distinction of being the highest selected Bulls, as they both were chosen in the third round. The draft was shortened to two rounds starting in 1989.

But for Jackson and Waldon, don’t be too depressed. Chucky Atkins didn’t get drafted either and, watching him in the Eastern Conference semifinals, it didn’t seem to affect him.