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Breakout Season, Right on Schedule

Kaman, who has fought a behavioral disorder since childhood, is growing into a starring role with the Clippers, just as Coach Dunleavy expected.

April 14, 2006|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

Here come Chris Kaman and the Clippers, making strides together as the NBA takes notice.

Kaman, a former first-round draft choice, has followed the Clippers' plan for him, emerging among the game's most productive centers in his third season while helping the team earn a playoff berth for the first time in nine seasons.

He has complemented power forward Elton Brand, the No. 1 option on offense, maximizing limited opportunities. And Kaman has taken big steps, despite having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, which has affected his concentration and behavior since childhood.

Don't be fooled by Kaman's lumbering stride and chaotic hairdo, NBA observers say, because he's got style on the court.

"He's got to be one of the most underrated players in the league, there's no question about it," said Tim Legler, an ESPN studio analyst. "If you listed all the centers in the NBA, the guy is one of the best in the league, and he's only going to keep getting better."

Kaman, who turns 24 on April 28, has produced personal bests across the board this season, averaging 11.8 points, 9.6 rebounds -- ninth-best in the league -- shooting 51.9% from the field and 76.9% at the free-throw line.

Coaches and teammates, though, have had to exercise patience with Kaman because of the characteristics of ADHD, which include hyperactivity, forgetfulness, mood shifts, poor impulse control and distractibility.

ADHD afflicts 3% to 5% of school-age children; studies of those who maintain the disorder as adults vary from 30% to 70%.

When Kaman was 2 1/2 , physicians recommended he take Ritalin, a calming medication, to treat the condition, said Kaman's mother, Pam.

Kaman started on the drug in kindergarten, and later took another similar medication, but "he never wanted to take it, and we just weren't sure," she said. "As a parent, you never want your child to take medicine if they don't have to.

"We did the stupid thing that some parents do with kids like that. We tried to fool the doctor and fool the teacher. Well, they always knew. They could tell when he was not on it."

Kaman was often being punished for poor behavior as a child.

He tore the shingles off neighbors' roofs, and was familiar with the principal's office at Tri-Unity Christian School in Wyoming, Mich.

"He was always difficult, I will not lie about that, and he sometimes is now," Pam said. "But then, in other ways, he's so good. He is very sweet and caring and loving to his family."

Kaman grew nine inches from his sophomore to senior years at Tri-Unity, reaching 7 feet but weighing only 200 pounds. After he'd led the small school to the quarterfinals of the state basketball playoffs in 2000, only Central Michigan offered him a Division I scholarship.

"You know, I have to be honest about what happened with Chris," Central Michigan Coach Jay Smith said. "It wasn't that we were brilliant in finding this guy no one else really wanted, it was just that a car dealer of mine saw Chris and we got in on him early."

Kaman prospered, though, with the Chippewas of the Mid-American Conference.

As a junior, weighing about 255 pounds, he averaged 22.4 points, 12 rebounds, 3.2 blocked shots and shot 62.2%. He was selected as the conference's player of the year, defensive player of the year and postseason tournament MVP. He declared for the draft after the NCAA tournament.

While in college, Kaman decided to stop taking medication to control his condition.

"His coach called me once and asked if Chris had a prescription, because he really thought he needed something," Pam said. "Chris refused to take it. I don't think there's anything wrong with taking the medication, but he's chosen not to and I think he handles it pretty well."

As the 2003 draft approached, Kaman's ADHD was a concern for some teams, but Central Michigan's Smith tried to get the facts out.

"I told Elgin [Baylor, Clipper general manager], Joe Dumars [the Detroit Pistons' president of basketball operations], all those guys, that it would take Chris some time, because it took him a little while to get comfortable with new experiences," Smith said. "But I knew that once he got comfortable, he would explode, and whoever took him would have a real good player for a long time."

The Clippers are finding that out. A preseason thumb injury contributed to a slow start, but Kaman has played at the highest level of his career since it healed and is 17th in the NBA with 28 double-doubles.

"He's 23 going on 24, and he's out there getting double-doubles on a winning team," Brand said. "There are parts of his game he really isn't even using right now, but he's still playing a lot better than most of the centers out there."

At 7 feet and 265 pounds, Kaman is a classic back-to-the-basket center. He has a variety of post moves, the footwork to guard players on the perimeter, and is ambidextrous. He could add a midrange jump shot to his repertoire, scouts say.

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