May 23, 2005
Commissioner David Stern has to be smiling when he looks at the NBA's conference finals. The Detroit Pistons vs. the Miami Heat in the East and the Phoenix Suns vs. the San Antonio Spurs out West are phenomenal matchups with great storylines.
On one side, we have the defensive-minded Spurs against the explosive Suns, and on the other side the defending champion Pistons against Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade. The former Marquette star has become the talk of America. Wow, it should be excitement galore, baby!
There is one common denominator on these four teams: talented players who spent at least three years in college. Look at Tim Duncan and Steve Nash. Check out Shaq and Wade as well as Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups. All these guys spent at least three years in college.
I wish young players would understand the importance of the college experience, both on and off the court. You can grow up and mature while on campus, and you don't have to deal with the everyday pressures of the pro lifestyle. In college, you can work on your game in practice, while the NBA puts less emphasis on team workouts.
The players I just mentioned are All-Stars and multimillionaires who have special skills from their formal education. Their education helps them make good decisions on the financial end as they invest their dollars.
It also helped those guys learn how to play winning basketball. They spent more time with their college coaches and gained team concepts. Some kids put good stats on the board but haven't learned how to win.
Youngsters, take a look. More than 100 kids applied early for the NBA draft, and that is a total joke. I wish some of them had looked at the Tim Duncans of the world and understood there would be time to go to the pros. Instead of enjoying the prime years of college, gaining experience and discipline, they jumped the gun.
Many of these youngsters are simply not ready physically or mentally. On the collegiate level, playing so many pressure games teaches you how to win as a team.
Perhaps in the future, some youngsters will learn and consider staying in school longer to benefit from quality coaching and teaching.
As for the NBA's conference finals, both series should be outstanding.
Detroit has great balance, versatility and flexibility. There are several different offensive weapons, and the coaching expertise of Larry Brown gives them an edge. Miami has the Shaq injury situation as a cloud.
San Antonio got off to a good start by winning Game 1 in Phoenix. Nash and Amare Stoudemire have the screen-and-roll down to perfection, the way John Stockton and Karl Malone did. They are so efficient and difficult to defend.
Duncan knows how to get to the winner's circle. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will enjoy this series as well wide-open basketball with offense a key.
I see Larry Brown vs. Gregg Popovich in the final. Detroit and San Antonio both move on in seven games.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.