What's not to love? The sweet lefty stroke that pulls the D away from the basket? The handle borrowed from a shifty guard? Those coast-to-coast forays that start with a space-clearing rebound and end with an emphatic slam?
Man, that Derrick Coleman was a beast. When the Nets made him the top pick in 1990, they were giddy with visions of his becoming the best power forward ever. These days, though, he's a warning beacon of untapped potential—one that is especially relevant to the upcoming draft.
Eighteen years later, Michael Beasley is offering Coleman's same dizzying blend of grace, power and skill. On the night of the draft lottery, ESPN flashed a Beasley/Coleman split screen with both players sporting the same shooting form. As soon as Beasley banked one of the most spectacular freshman seasons in NCAA history (26.2 ppg, 12.4 rpg), the expectations matched too. "Twenty and 10 from day one," predicts a West GM.
But there are those who think Beasley may have a little too much in common with Coleman. Like his predecessor, B-Easy has been dogged by questions about his drive and devotion. "At times he gives the impression of having a little more than he's giving," says another GM. Still, if Coleman's career never matched the hype, neither the Bulls, the Heat nor anyone else who winds up in the top two (Beaze won't slip past the second pick) is likely to be swayed by precedent.
As GMs—and you—know, talent is only one of the factors that determine whether a player will flame out, reserve a place in Springfield or fall somewhere in between. Grit. Determination. Refusing to accept failure. They sound like trite buzzwords and phrases, but they're exactly what separates franchise saviors from the rest of the pack. In the NBA, you are what you do—and do again. "You don't have to worry about that," Beasley says. "There is nobody who's going to play harder. I don't want to be the next anybody. I want to be the best there ever was, plain and simple. No disrespect to MJ."
Beasley has backed up those words with intense predraft prep. From two-a-day on-court drills to strenuous upper-body conditioning and repetitive hand-eye work, he's sweating to squash the skepticism, even as he is annoyed he has to. "So how did I get this good?" he asks the naysayers. Just as he can look as if he is going half speed even as he dominates at both ends of the floor, it's equally tough to get a read on his off-court persona. For one thing, you never know if he's pulling your leg. Beasley is as accomplished a goofball as he is a baller. At Kansas State, postpractice high jinks were the norm: impromptu dodgeball games, mock interviews, dunking contests on lowered rims. A YouTube clip that follows his ongoing fascination with an iPod that keeps showing up at his press conferences has drawn more than 30,000 hits. "I'm not a serious person, I like to have fun," he says. "But I know when to turn it off."
Does he? Two years ago, at Oak Hill Academy, he and a teammate had a bet about who could write his name in more places on campus. The prank ended when Beasley signed the principal's truck. All he got was a lecture, but the rest of us got a glimpse of a guy who may not know quite where to draw the line.
"People forget he's a 19-year-old kid," says former K-State teammate Clent Stewart. Still, Stewart says that Beasley never had a problem getting on a guy for not going hard, and that the public doesn't know about all those times the big guy dived for loose balls in practice or cried after tough losses. And Beasley's mother, Fatima Smith, says, "It's not like he's going to be pulling people's shorts down in the middle of a game." Fair enough, but a lot less will be too much in a locker room full of grown men.
Coleman says Beasley can work out as much as he wants, but none of it will matter if he doesn't spend as much time managing his image. First impressions last. DC clashed with Nets coach Bill Fitch from the start, and it earned him a rep he never shook. He thinks Beasley needs someone to make him aware of consequences. "It's the one thing I didn't have," Coleman says.
Beasley has Bruce Shingler, a 26-year-old former K-State administrative assistant who has been hired to ease the star's transition. "I'm not his babysitter," says Shingler, even though he will move wherever his charge lands. "My goal is to get him to understand that professionalism counts."
Lesson No. 1: Someone is always watching. At the Orlando predraft camp, several bloggers griped that Beasley didn't take the workout seriously, being more interested in practicing his trick shots. One East GM who saw the display still says, "There's not much that would convince me to pass on him."
Lesson No. 2: Potential has a blinding power. At a recent workout back home in Maryland, Beasley, on the left block, dribbles two basketballs. He darts to the foul line, then to the right block where he zips one ball to his trainer and pops a jump hook with the other. When the trainer tosses the first ball back, Beasley finishes with a dunk.
After 10 reps, he walks off the court glazed in sweat. Sitting on the bleachers, he stares at his black Air Jordans. "I do this every day because I want to be a winner," Beasley says. "Losing makes me stronger, but winning makes me invincible."
He chugs a blue sports drink and removes a soaked T-shirt, revealing his newest tattoo. It reads:
MARRIED TO THE GAME.
What's not to love?