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They're in a Rush to Leave

UCLA: Sophomores Moiso, Rush make themselves available for NBA draft.

May 02, 2000|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sophomore forwards Jerome Moiso and JaRon Rush, showing that at least their ambitions have developed, informed UCLA coaches Monday that they will make themselves available for the NBA draft June 28, the school announced.

Both have intrigued NBA personnel people but also underwhelmed during college careers that were rivaled in inconsistency only by brevity, so the decisions come as gambles, especially for Rush. Some executives say he could go in the first round and some say he might plummet out of the first two rounds and can look forward to next season in the CBA or overseas.

The repercussions to UCLA are much more definite. Moiso and Rush arrived as part of the much-hyped freshman class of 1998 that included Dan Gadzuric, Matt Barnes and Ray Young, and, barring a change of heart, depart as two keys to the improbable run to the Sweet 16 last season.

Moiso spent most of his two seasons as the starting power forward, though he moved to center when Gadzuric was injured. The 6-foot-10, 235-pounder from Guadeloupe, West Indies, was second on the team in rebounding and fourth in scoring as a freshman, then jumped to first in rebounds (7.6 a game) and second in scoring (13 points a game) last season, when he chosen as honorable mention All-Pacific 10 Conference.

"This was a difficult decision for me," Moiso said in a statement released by the school. "Playing in the NBA has been a goal of mine and I feel this is the time to take the next step.

"I have enjoyed my two years at UCLA. I am grateful to the coaches for giving me the opportunity to be part of the UCLA program. I am a much better player today, and I am in a position to realize my goal of playing in the NBA, because of what I have learned and the experience I have gained during the last two years."

Moiso spent much of the 1999-2000 season contemplating a jump to the NBA, saying the day before what turned out to be his final collegiate game, a loss to Iowa State in the Midwest Regional semifinals, that a productive showing in the tournament convinced him he could play in the NBA. NBA executives, meanwhile, were impressed, but not convinced.

Moiso can play with his back to the basket and on the perimeter, where he is more comfortable. He shied away from physical play much less as a sophomore. He can run and jump like a wing player, even at 6-10 and has great mobility, so scouts were able to visualize him at small forward and power forward.

But Moiso also has a fragile psyche that could be crushed in the pros faster than one of his left-handed flip shots inside. His lack of self-confidence had long ago become a running joke with the Bruins, even as he stacked up big performances. His lack of heart and motivation in some games seemed to signal of a player who couldn't be consistent.

"The real scary part about him: Does he want to compete?" one scout said. "The guy has the talent to be looked at in the lottery, with his size, quickness and agility. But he's a guy who hasn't proven that he will show up every night. There's been some games when I didn't even know he was there."

In what is either the truest sign of what is thought of his NBA potential (plenty) or the rest of the draft class (not much), Moiso is pegged to be selected anywhere from the teens to the early 20s. He reached his personal line in the sand for deciding to try the pros when he became convinced he would go in the top 15, or two picks beyond the lottery.

Rush's situation, however, is much different, with no consensus on where he will be taken, or even if he will be taken. So enamored are NBA personnel people over his athleticism that even though he has no shot, no ability to put the ball on the floor to create, no real chance at 6-7 to score as many baskets off offensive rebounds as he did in college--that guaranteed money as a first-round pick is a possibility if he plays well at the pre-draft camp in Chicago. But so is a bleak future, starting as an undrafted free agent.

"I'd like to know who's telling this kid to come out," one NBA executive said.

After two seasons marked by controversy and off-court troubles, Rush may have gotten the message on his own. His sophomore season, though it included making the game-winning shot against then-No. 1-ranked Stanford and other highlights, was cut 24 games short by NCAA suspension.

The NBA has overlooked worse things in the name of talent than taking money from an agent and an improper relationship with a former summer league coach. What may not be so easy to get beyond, especially given that Rush does not have the game that allows teams to take a chance, is that he also walked out on Coach Steve Lavin during a postgame talk and spoke of transferring in both seasons--which bring his commitment into question.

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