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Early-entry draft mistakes break my heart

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

Oct. 17
I don't know about you, but I took a figurative trip to Heartbreak Hotel when I looked at the NBA waiver list recently. Three names popped out at me and broke my heart. I liked these three kids and wanted to see them do well in the transition from the collegiate ranks to the pros.

Omar Cook
Omar Cook starred as a diaper dandy at St. John's -- and that was it for his college career.
Omar Cook, Rod Grizzard and William Avery all saw their names on the cut list early in training camp. I said it when they came out early: Many early-entry kids aren't ready to make the jump to the NBA and would be better off with another year (or more) of seasoning at the collegiate level. Many felt their decisions were questionable.

For some reason, these kids listened to people on the outside who filled their heads with visions of grandeur. Somebody planted the seed, having them believe they were ready to be sensational players at the next level. These youngsters were led to believe they were ready to give up their college eligibility.

Cook left St. John's after his freshman year and became a second-round selection (32nd pick overall) of the Orlando Magic in the 2001 NBA draft ... so he he missed out on the guaranteed first-round contract.

Cook really would have benefited from at least another season with the Red Storm. I remember working a game at Villanova and talking to Cook, within earshot of his coach, Mike Jarvis. I told Cook that I had nothing to gain by saying this, but I felt he needed St. John's more than the school needed him.

I believed Cook needed to work on improving his perimeter game and hitting the open jump shot. And the extra year on the college campus would allow him to enjoy life as a student. Those who said Cook was ready realize now that he's like a bouncing ball, going from one lesser pro league to another. Remember, he didn't even get picked in the first round. Now he's been given the ziggy by the Magic.

Avery joined two other Duke buddies, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, in leaving school early in 1999 -- the year the Blue Devils lost to Connecticut in the national-championship game. Maggette was only a freshman when he declared for the '99 NBA draft, while Brand and Avery were sophomores.

Even though Avery was drafted in the first round (14th overall) by the Minnesota Timberwolves, he wasn't ready. Think about how his game would have been elevated if had played more for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. His skills would have improved as a point guard.

Then there's Grizzard. He declared for the 2002 draft and was picked in the second round (39th overall) by the Washington Wizards, but then he was cut. Grizzard was signed Wednesday night by the Atlanta Hawks as a free agent, but with 12 solid players already on the roster he's a long shot to make the team.

Had Grizzard stayed in school, he would have been part of a great team at Alabama this season, with Erwin Dudley and Maurice Williams. Grizzard's stock under coach Mark Gottfried would have climbed, as he would have been one of the better scorers in the SEC. Think about Alabama with Dudley in the low post, Williams on the perimeter and Grizzard on the wing -- that would have been a potent lineup.

These kids listened to people on the outside who filled their heads with visions of grandeur.
These players will be begging, pleading and hoping to hook on somewhere. They hope to be fringe players in the NBA, and actually that would be good news for them right now. Instead, they will likely move around from league to league, maybe getting a chance overseas.

You wonder why they listened to the wrong people. There would have been nothing wrong with returning to college -- and starring there -- while improving their draft stock at the same time.

The ironic thing is, the rosters will be cut down further as we get closer to the start of the season. There will be other kids who left early but should have stayed in school (Khalid El-Amin, who left Connecticut early in 2000, was also released this week by the Miami Heat). It's sad when so many of these kids would have benefited by staying in college.

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