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Hoop Dreams: Locals Catch NBA Fever

May 02, 1996|ERIC SHEPARD

Visions of NBA stardom are dancing in the minds of thousands of high school basketball players across the nation today, and the daydreaming is just as prevalent here in the Southland.

A day after 17-year-old Kobe Bryant of Philadelphia became the latest high school player to make himself available for the draft, word that more youngsters might follow picked up steam.

"If I were to gain about 10 pounds and work on my outside shot, I think I could go to the NBA," said Chris Burgess, a 6-foot-11, 240-pound junior at Irvine Woodbridge who is projected to be one of the nation's most-recruited players next year. "When I read about Kobe, it certainly puts thoughts in my mind about putting myself in his shoes."

Schea Cotton, a 6-5 junior at St. John Bosco in Bellflower, has been one of the area's most celebrated players in years and the source of many rumors that he plans to bypass college for the professional ranks.

"Right after Kobe announced his plans to go pro, I had at least a dozen people stop and ask me if Schea was going to do the same thing," said Brian Breslin, the coach at St. John Bosco. "I can't say what Schea will do, but I would never counsel a kid to make such a move. College is an important experience."

The idea of bypassing college for the NBA gained momentum last year after 6-11 Kevin Garnett of Chicago became the first high school player in 20 years to make himself available for the draft. He was selected in the first round by Minnesota and recently completed an impressive rookie season.

Garnett's decision was based largely on his failure to qualify academically for college, but Bryant's reasons were different. The 6-6 swingman had met NCAA entrance requirements and was being recruited by such schools as Duke and North Carolina but said he wanted to "seize it while I'm still young" and learn from the best.

With the deadline to declare less than two weeks away, there is speculation two other high school seniors will follow Bryant: 6-11 Jermaine O'Neal of Columbia, S.C., and 6-10 Tim Thomas of Paterson, N.J.

Burgess said he recently returned from a two-week tournament in Germany, where he played on the same all-star team as O'Neal.

"We spent a lot of time talking about the draft," said Burgess, who averaged 26 points and 11 rebounds last season. "There was a lot of discussion about this on our trip. When you read about guys you've seen and played against making the move, it gets you thinking."

The Southland is expected to have one of its most talented senior classes next season, including such players as Burgess, Cotton, 6-11 Jason Collins of North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake and 6-2 Baron Davis of Santa Monica Crossroads, among others.

Many coaches worry the top players will spend too much time contemplating a jump to the NBA.

"No matter how tough you are, playing a season of high school ball doesn't come close to preparing you for the grueling pace of the NBA," Crossroads Coach Daryl Roper said. "I think a lot of kids are getting a false illusion of the demands just because Kevin Garnett has done well. He was much more an exception to the rule."

Davis agreed with his coach.

"I don't think a lot of the high school kids are spending much time thinking about the fact that an NBA season is 82 games and there is a lot of travel involved," he said. "A lot of guys think just because they might go against some pros in a summer league game that they're ready for that every day."

Common sense, however, often goes out the window when there's money involved. Bryant, who's projected to go in the first round, figures to be a millionaire in the coming months.

"It's hard to ignore the money factor," Burgess said. "There's a lot involved. And who doesn't want to be a millionaire?"

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