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From The Sidelines

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / July 1, 1998

NBA draft passes quietly by

The NBA held its annual player selection draft Wednesday night and like recent drafts, it was a collection of relatively little-known players.

There were no Shaquille O’Neals or David Robinsons or Patrick Ewings Wednesday night. No one player who jumped out as one who could capturewide-spread attention like a Larry Bird, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan.

That is not to say that the players drafted last week will not go on to stardom. Michael Olowokandi may be just what the Clippers need to breaktheir history of futility. Mike Bibby might become the next great guard inthe league and Raf LaFrentz, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter and Robert Traylor might be starters in the All-Star game five years down the line.

It was just that this draft did not have the name recognition of past drafts. The location of the draft itself, Vancouver, was in one of theleague’s lesser-known markets, unlike the NFL which holds its draft in New York.

Unlike past drafts, this year’s did not have a consensus first overall pick.

Throughout the college season, it was widely speculated North Carolina’s Jamison would go first overall. He slid to Toronto in the fourth slot, whichthen traded him to Golden State in exchange for former Tarheel teammate Carter. The week prior to the draft, Bibby appeared to be the choice of theClippers. In fact, Los Angeles was the only team he tried out for. Instead, it was Olowokandi that went with the first pick. The 7-1 Nigeriancenter from Pacific University grew up in England and has been playing competitive basketball for three years. Surprisingly, the player who wasconsidered to be the best all-around, Kansas’ Paul Pierce, fell all the way to Boston with the 10th pick.

One reason for the relative obscurity of these players to all but the most die-hard of college basketball fans is the continuation of players leaving school early. While Olowokandi was the second straight senior to go firstoverall, the draft was dominated by underclassmen. Players often are notin college long enough to make a name for themselves anymore.

And coming out early does not always pay off. Arizona’s Miles Simon, bestremembered for his performance in the 1997 NCAA tournament that won him MVP honors after the Wildcats won the championship, went to Orlando with the 42nd overall pick. Highly-recruited Tremaine Fowlkes of FresnoState fell to Denver with the 54th pick. Houston high school standoutRashard Lewis, who was expected to go to the Rockets with one of their mid-first round picks, instead fell to Seattle with the 32nd pick.

Few draft picks in recent years have had an impact like a Bird or Johnson in bringing their teams to another level. The champions of the 1990s -Detroit, Chicago and Houston – have been veteran teams. Utah, likewise,was led by longtime standouts John Stockton and Karl Malone. Only O’Nealand Penny Hardaway of Orlando and Shawn Kemp of Seattle have helped lead their teams to the NBA finals as draft picks in the 1990s.

With the possible retirement of Jordan and stars like Stockton, Malone, Robinson, Olajuwon and Charles Barkley nearing the end of their careers, the NBA needs fresh new talent to take it into the next millennium. It canonly hope that these lesser-known draft picks can make a name for themselves and continue the work that the Birds, Johnsons and Jordans have started.

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