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Inside the NBA | Mark Heisler / ON THE NBA

Old-School Thinking on Way Out

March 14, 2004|Mark Heisler

In what used to be my annual salute to the NCAA tournament, here's a mock draft of the top 29 prospects.

I did my first one in Philadelphia in 1978, when the late, great Jack McMahon gave me thumbnail descriptions of about eight players. Since I always liked knowing what the pros thought of college players in other sports, I revived it here.

However, college players are now only one source of prospects and this spring, for the first time, one general manager predicts they'll become a minority in the first round, with an assortment of high school stars and young international big men coming on line.

According to the NBA perspective, this draft tilts heavily toward size and potential. Thus, such fine players as Arizona State's Ike Diogu and North Carolina's Sean May, who play inside and look as if they're really 6-7, don't even get a call.

You can safely take an inch off everyone's listed height. Also, just because someone is a Scottie Pippen "type" doesn't mean he's Scottie Pippen.

Thanks, as usual, to the six general managers, personnel directors and scouts who helped me.

1. Dwight Howard, 6 feet 11, 225 pounds, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy -- Big, athletic, skilled and, most important, appears to have his head screwed on right.

2. Emeka Okafor, 6-9, 252, junior, Connecticut -- May go first because he's ready. Great shot blocker but probably an NBA power forward. Back troubles will scare pros.

3. Yi Jianlian, 7-0, 230, Guangdong Tigers (China) -- Yao Ming isn't the only Chinese player who's turning heads. Yi won't be 17 until October and won't be in this draft but has already popped up on all the radar screens. Says a scout, "He's the best pro prospect I saw this year."

4. Nemanja Aleksandrov, 6-11, 210, Partizan Belgrade (Serbia and Montenegro) -- Serbian version of Yi. He's 17 in April and also won't be in this draft but is Europe's best prospect.

5. Martynas Andriuskevicius, 7-3, 220, Zalgiris Kaunas (Lithuania) -- Huge but reedy. Let's hope he changes his name.

6. Andris Biedrins, 6-11, 240, Skonto Riga (Latvia) -- Big power forward, good athlete. "Lots of chatter about him," says a scout.

7. Josh Smith, 6-9, 220, Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy -- Exciting athlete. Indiana signee but the Hoosiers had better not hold their breath.

8. Pavel Podkolzine, 7-5, 303, Varese (Italy) -- A Russian giant who was slated to go in the top 10 last spring. Scouts say he's more a project than a Yao.

9. Luol Deng, 6-8, 220, freshman, Duke -- Already the best Blue Devil on a roster full of McDonald's All-Americans. Mike Krzyzewski started him from the get-go, which means a lot. Not expected to come out.

10. Kosta Perovic, 7-3, 240, Partizan Belgarde (Serbia and Montenegro) -- The biggest, most physical and oldest of Partizan's blue-chippers, having just turned 19.

11. Shaun Livingston, 6-7, 175, Peoria (Ill.) Central High -- Gifted but frail point guard who can't shoot. Signed with Duke and insists he's going.

12. Sebastian Telfair, 6-0, 170, Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln High -- He's been hyped since he was a sophomore. Not quite the second coming of LeBron James but still a dynamic point guard. Signed with Louisville but thought to be NBA-bound.

13. Rudy Fernandez, 6-5 190, Joventut Badalona (Spain) -- At 18, he's supposed to be the Spanish Manu Ginobili.

14. Predrag Samardziski, 7-0, 240, Partizan Belgrade (Serbia and Montenegro) -- Second youngest of their big guys with second-best upside. Is eligible for the draft but isn't considered ready.

15. Ben Gordon, 6-2, 195, junior, Connecticut -- Big-time sharpshooter who pros think can play the point.

16. Devin Harris, 6-3, 185, junior, Wisconsin -- Athletic shooting guard who pros think can play the point.

17. Hakim Warrick, 6-8, 205, junior, Syracuse. Fine athlete with super length who plays inside. Pros think he can do things he doesn't do here, such as handle the ball and shoot from range.

18. Kris Humphries, 6-9, 240, freshman, Minnesota -- He averages 22 points, 10 rebounds and 35% on three-pointers, big numbers for a freshman. Lifeguard body and small-forward skills.

19. Jameer Nelson, 5-11, 193, senior, Saint Joseph's -- Try 5-10. A little tank who gets inside and takes over games, whose shooting (39% on threes) is improving. Pros are split on him so the tournament will be important.

20. Josh Childress, 6-8, 205, junior, Stanford -- The Mayfair High grad is already a good shooter (43% on threes, 81% at the line).

21. Ronny Turiaf, 6-10, 240, junior, Gonzaga -- Born in Paris, good athlete. Has a chance to move up in the tournament.

22. Al Jefferson, 6-8, 260 Prentiss (Miss.) High -- Wide body with enough skills to make up for what he lacks in height.

23. Chris Taft, 6-10, 250, freshman, Pittsburgh -- Coming on as a young guy playing with older teammates on a top team.

24. Andre Iguodala, 6-6, 207, sophomore, Arizona -- Does it all, except shoot, but unless he improves, he can't be a star at the next level. His 8.8 rebounds are high on the team.

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