June 24, 2004
Emeka Okafor:
No. 1 or 1A (a.k.a. "No. 2") draftee, now USA hoopster? But will the drafting team (Magic? Bobcats?) be happy with post-Olympics tired legs?
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Who's No. 1: Dwight Howard or Emeka Okafor?

Prep potential vs. collegian polish: In the history of the NBA draft's top pick since the prep-to-pro era began, tonight's draft (7:30 ET, ESPN) offers the sharpest contrast of these two dominant draft theories.

But it's a phantom issue: The debate is over -- and the preps have handily won. Tonight's big story is the projection that a record nine high school kids will be taken in the first round.

This isn't hype: Teams don't willingly act irrationally (insert Clippers joke). They won't draft a kid just because his last stop was the senior prom.

No, teams draft him because the percentage of preps drafted in the first round who succeed is laughably larger than the percentage of drafted college kids. (And if you weight the draft for college experience, less is even more.)

Is the NBA going to hell in a mock draft, as many critics argue? Or, thanks to the influx of young talent, are great seasons still ahead? This year's unprecedented volume of preps will have the widest impact of any draft class yet in determining the argument's outcome.

Shaq Watch
The linchpin to any Mavs play for Shaq was going to be a high draft pick. So Mark Cuban went out and ate the contracts of Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner (swapping his own big contract in Antawn Jamison) so he could have the Wizards' No. 5 pick to dangle to L.A. (Psst: Mark, it'll still take Dirk to pull it off.)

What about Kobe? The Suns shipped their No. 7 pick to Chicago because Phoenix wanted to save that cap room for wooing Bryant. Many think the Bulls will turn the 7 around to Indiana for Al Harrington so the Pacers can take fast-rising Luke Jackson.

Texas: Shaq to Big D? T-Mac to H-town? Can I get a Yee-Ha?
Texas: UT to CWS finals; love ESPN's catchy "Omaha" song
Texas: Rangers have won 5 straight; lead AL West by 1 game
Tim Montgomery: Oh, Fastest Man, you're in some trouble
Braves: Have lost 6 of 7; that whole Atlanta Era? Over
Josh Beckett: Marlins 2003 World Series MVP headed for DL
The College Guys
Even the staunchest college boosters have ratcheted back their argument that there's a high correlation between college experience and pro success.

With all the attention this year on the unprecedented crop of preps, a fairly deep -- if not spectacular -- group of collegians is being slept on. A handy guide, by class:

O'rated: Jameer Nelson
U'rated: Luke Jackson

O'rated: Ben Gordon
U'rated: Kirk Snyder

O'rated: Andre Iguodala
U'rated: Donta Smith

O'rated: Luol Deng
U'rated: Kris Humphries

Mystery Men
Pavel Podkolzine? Andris Biedrins? Sergei Monya? International players inspire the sports equivalent of the national debate about "outsourcing." The only lock is the usual xenophobic jingoism from commentators too lazy to have bothered to scout these guys. Two words for nay-sayers: Andrei Kirilenko.

Riley to L.A.?
Pat Riley confirmed rumors that he met with the L.A. brain-trust, which resembles a vanity play for both management and would-be coach. When Riley -- ego gratified -- ends up staying in Miami, the Rudy T Era will be off to a fantastic start. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak should worry more about not losing Kobe or getting fleeced in a Shaq trade.

Tiger's Caddie
How's this for a non-apology: Tiger says his caddie "probably went too far" when he went nutso on a fan with an overactive camera. That's probably an understatement (and probably not going to change caddyman Steve Williams' behavior).

Tim Montgomery:
Oh, things are looking bad. Very bad. Two words that may be the worst you can hear in sports: "Lifetime ban." How will Marion save her b/f?
Today on ESPN.com
Page 2: Eric Neel on MLB contenders, pretenders
NBA draft coverage
MLB Power Rankings
Top 5 Prep Draftees
Shaun Livingston
6-7 PG a rare offering
Dwight Howard
Next KG ... or Kwame B?
Al Jefferson
Wide load has NBA body
Smiths (J.R., Josh)
JR a stud; Josh sketchy
Sebastian Telfair
No good, but marketable

D-Rays Watch: Winning streak snapped at 12, ending most improbable run of MLB season ...

More preps: Draft's biggest bubble stock? Center Robert Swift. Even has a ready nickname for, say, Boston fans: "Robert Stiff" ...

Another exciting Cards-Cubs game: StL wins 10-9 on late PB, fending off Cubs play for 1st; great Clement-Carpenter pairing today ...

Why would Jim Harrick debunk rumors he's got a new job coaching in the ABA? Could use juice from people thinking he's employable ...

If you like all those international draftee names, you should really tune in on Saturday for the NHL Draft (Noon ET, ESPN2) ...

The latest top-pick scuttlebutt: Orlando will take Howard over Okafor, giving the Bobcats a huge Eme-coup at No. 2 ...

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