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College Cage Stars Take a Long Shot--Making the Pros

June 26, 1986|GARY KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

The excitement--like their college careers--is over.

Keith Smith and Forrest McKenzie of Loyola-Marymount and Dwayne Polee, Grant Gondrezick and Anthony Frederick of Pepperdine experienced the happiness of being selected in last week's National Basketball Assn. draft.

Now they are resigned to the fact that it will take more than past achievements to guarantee a future in professional basketball.

"Everything you did at the college level has to be left behind," McKenzie said. "In the pro ranks everyone is good. You have to learn to think the game more."

The local picks are already preparing for the next few months when they will go up against veterans battling to keep positions and No. 1 draft picks almost guaranteed spots on NBA rosters.

Bucking the Odds

The five players, all drafted between the second and sixth rounds, have demonstrated ability to beat defenders to the basket. Now they must conquer a tougher opponent--the percentages of making an NBA team.

Based on statistics compiled by the NBA for the last 10 years, a second-round draft choice has a 31% chance, a third-round pick has a 15% chance and fourth-round choices and below have less than a 4% chance of playing in the NBA.

The proving process for rookies begins in July when teams hold their free-agent rookie camps to select the players that will get the opportunity to come back for the real test--training camp--in the fall.

None of the five locals expects anything more than an opportunity to make a team and a chance to establish himself as a solid performer. No one is making a down payment on a home or checking the stock market just yet.

The average NBA salary was $400,000 last season, but usually only a team's No. 1 draft pick goes into a rookie camp with any guarantee or money up front. All five players claim that money doesn't even come to mind as they embark on professional careers.

Outstanding Assist Man

Smith, a 6-4 guard who averaged 21 points a game last season, was also was among the assist leaders in the West Coast Athletic Conference for the second straight year. A second-round pick of the Milwaukee Bucks and the 45th player selected overall, Smith was taken earlier than any other player in Loyola history.

But he was chosen after the Bucks had made Michigan State point guard Scott Skiles the team's No. 1 choice. The Bucks surprised most NBA observers when they bypassed the opportunity to select a big man and chose Smith.

"If you take the best talent available, you may bulk up on a certain position, but it makes players more movable," said Stu Inman, the Bucks' director of player personnel. "Sure we're heavier in the back court than we are up front, but it gives us more options.

"Keith has as good a chance as any second-round pick has. We were thinking about trading up to get him, but as it turns out he was still around."

Smith is confident that he will play in the NBA. But unlike most players who are spending the weeks before rookie camp sharpening their game, Smith is waiting for the cast to come off the foot he injured while playing in the post-season Aloha All-Star Classic.

Complete Confidence

"Thoughts of not making it don't ever enter my mind," Smith said. "My biggest worry is getting healthy. If I'm back to 100%, I don't think there is any doubt that I'll make it."

Or as Smith said immediately after the draft: "If I'm healthy and me and Scott Skiles have to go head to head for a job--it's mine."

The Bucks, however, aren't intent on having their two top picks butt heads for a job.

"With Skiles, you give him the ball and he runs the team," Inman said. "Smith can do that too, but we see him as more of a wing guard.

"Keith's reputation is as an offensive player. He has the creativity to be very good but there are a lot of other things that enter into it. We're looking for him to show a great commitment to the defensive end of the court."

McKenzie, a 6-7 guard/small forward, was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs--the first selection in the third round and the 48th pick overall.

Just an Opportunity

"I don't know much about the Spurs other than that they didn't do too well last year," McKenzie said. "They have a new coach and I have an opportunity to step into a team that is rebuilding. That's all I want. An opportunity."

Never one to get overly excited about anything, McKenzie says he has no problems keeping his future in perspective.

"I knew before the draft that I was going to be picked, so when it happened, it wasn't much of a surprise," McKenzie said. "There isn't any need to get emotionally tied up right now because I haven't done anything yet.

"A lot of times people try to confuse you. Everyone has something different to say about what you should or shouldn't be doing. I just stick to the basic truth--you've got to make the team. The draft doesn't mean a thing."

The draft did mean quite a bit to Polee, who was the 54th pick overall and the first player chosen by the Los Angeles Clippers.

He's Going Home

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