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SPORTS EXTRA / NBA 2000-01 PREVIEW | CLIPPER FACTS

A Second Helping

Maggette Learned as Rookie What It Takes to Get Better

October 30, 2000|LONNIE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The difference between being an all-star and a castaway for an NBA player is sometimes determined by how hard he works on his game the summer after his rookie season.

Clipper swingman Corey Maggette heard that theory so much last season, he decided not to leave anything to chance. He put in eight-hour days, fine-tuning his skills, shooting one jump shot after another, trying every high-tech exercise he could.

"It may only be a year but you become a veteran," said Maggette, acquired by the Clippers in a draft-day trade with the Orlando Magic in June. "'When you get that year in, you just understand more."

The way Maggette sees it, he's already been through more than the normal share of "real world experiences" for a player who will not turn 21 until Nov. 12.

Since he left Duke for the NBA after his freshman season in 1999, Maggette has been built up and torn down. He has been praised, criticized and traded twice.

Now, he says, it's time for him to just play basketball.

"Every year, I want to get better and that will come only if I continue to work and do whatever I have to do," said Maggette, a 6-foot-6 swingman. "I want people to notice that I've put in work and that I'm always trying to get better.

"Once you play a season, you know what you have to do to be prepared for training camp. I know I came into this season in much better shape because I worked out throughout the summer."

It would be a drastic understatement to say the Clippers are happy to have him. Elgin Baylor, vice president of basketball operations, and Jeff Weltman, director of scouting, have been high on Maggette since he was a senior at Fenwick High in Oak Park, Ill.

After only one season with the Blue Devils, Maggette was selected by the Seattle SuperSonics with the 13th overall pick in the 1999 draft, then traded to Orlando the same day.

The Clippers, who passed on Maggette to select Lamar Odom with the third overall pick, nevertheless kept close watch on him. So when the Magic talked about a deal last June to help clear salary-cap room to sign free agents, the Clippers made sure he was included.

"He's as athletic and as talented as he was when he was in college," Baylor said. "But he's been working on letting the game come to him. The one thing he has to work on is to slow down. He seems to play at one speed. You love the way he plays . . . he plays hard and is very aggressive all of the time."

Averaging only 17.8 minutes a game, Maggette still averaged 6.4 points and 3.9 rebounds as a rookie.

"We brought him along slowly," Magic Coach Doc Rivers said. "And at times, we put too many thoughts into his head."

Maggette figures to have a chance to develop with the Clippers. Even though the team is loaded with talented young swingmen, Maggette showed in the exhibition season that he's too good to be sitting on the bench.

"His defense, his rebounding and his outside shooting have really improved," Baylor said. "He's also making better decisions on offense, but he has to still concentrate on that."

Concentrating on basketball is all Maggette has wanted to do ever since he became the first freshman to leave Duke's famed basketball program. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case.

In July, Maggette acknowledged in a sworn statement that he'd taken cash payments from his summer league coach, Myron Piggie, while he was a high school student. Piggie pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection to payments to Maggette, former UCLA forward JaRon Rush and Rush's brother Kareem, who now plays at Missouri, as well as Andre Williams and Korleone Young.

"We only got money for expenses or simply per diem," Maggette said. "We would be on the road for three or four weeks, and we were just kids. It's kind of sad, what has happened to Piggie. I didn't know anything he was doing."

The NCAA still has not decided whether Maggette was ineligible to participate in the 1999 NCAA tournament. If that's the finding, Duke could be forced to give up its second-place finish in the Final Four and repay $226,815 in tournament revenue.

Because he had previously denied accepting money from Piggie, Maggette understands why he has been under a microscope. But he gets upset when people think that's why he left Duke.

"If that was the case, it would have came out a long time ago," Maggette said. "I realize now people are going to write and say what they want. But that doesn't mean it's the truth. I know the truth and why I left school early."

Maggette said he has not spoken with Piggie since the trial but has talked with Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who did not support Maggette's decision to leave early.

"We spoke about a lot of things and he told me that he's there if I ever need him," Maggette said. "I'm glad that we got a chance to talk."

Clipper teammate Quentin Richardson, also a Chicago native, has known Maggette since they were in grade school. They played against each other in recreational leagues around the city and played together on an AAU team when they were high school freshmen.

"He's always been an athletic type of player, even when we were in seventh grade," Richardson said. "He was dunking back then and I hadn't even thought about the rim yet."

Although Coach Alvin Gentry has not decided whether Maggette will start, he's excited about working him into the lineup. Which is fine with Maggette.

"It would be nice [to start] but it is not a priority," he said. "My job is to do whatever the coach wants me to do to help the team win."

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