Kaman out to bust big-man stereotype

Chris Kaman understands the common perception when it comes to the NBA Draft.

Big guys get drafted, well, because they're big.

It's a stereotype that goes back to before the Central Michigan junior was born, but is reinforced each time a 7-foot, first-round pick doesn't perform up to expectations. Or worse, goes bust.

Kaman didn't need to name names. He knows those who fit the criteria. Kaman, himself, may fit the profile, but he is determined to be different.

He may be tall. He's a likely lottery pick. But he's no stiff.

And he says he'll be worth his lofty draft position.

"I don't want to be another one of those guys who gets drafted because I'm big," Kaman said. "I want to be skilled as well. I have good footwork and good hands to hit the outside shot. I don't want to be drafted just on my height and potential. I can score around the basket and rebound."

Still, the big man gets the benefit of the doubt on draft night -- whether he's ready for the NBA or not ready.

A year ago, 6-foot-11 Nikoloz Tskitishvili was taken No. 5 overall by Denver and struggled to adapt to the NBA as a 19-year-old. Curtis Borchardt -- a 7-foot junior out of Stanford -- was drafted 18th overall by Orlando, traded on draft night to Utah and spent his entire rookie season on the injured list with a broken foot.

In 2001, 7-foot high school seniors Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry and DeSagana Diop were each selected within the first eight picks. Juniors Michael Bradley and Kirk Haston, and senior Brendan Haywood were all gone by No. 20. Seton Hall 7-foot sophomore Samuel Dalembert rounded out a first round that saw 12 players 6-10 or taller selected.

While all the players above are still developing, few have cracked the starting lineup of lottery teams, and none have made major impacts on the league.

And for every Kenyon Martin, there is a Chris Mihm, Joel Przybilla or Jason Collier -- each top-15 picks in the 2000 draft.

Kaman, however, is savvy to the business of the NBA. He knows the first year or two isn't crucial, but said he wants to work hard to get that second contract after Year 4 in the league. That's when the big money is made, but only after four years of proving his size comes with substance.

"I don't know how hard those other guys work, but I know I'll work hard every day," Kaman said. "I've been told that my footwork is better than 80 percent of the league. Now, I don't know that because I haven't played in the NBA. I'm just ready to have this draft stuff over. Mentally, it's tough. I'm ready for June 26. That morning I'll be so excited that there are no more workouts."

Kaman is about as small town as an NBA prospect can get, growing up in Wyoming, Mich. He said he likes "smaller" cities and doesn't enjoy flying. His only workout requiring air travel was to Los Angeles for the Clippers.

"After that whole 9/11 thing I'm nervous," Kaman said. "I don't like going places and getting off planes because my legs get tight."

The rest of Kaman's workouts will be held in Chicago -- a short drive from Naperville, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago where Kaman is living during the draft process. He said he drives into the city every day to workout with former NBA center Will Perdue and/or Tim Grover at Hoops The Gym. And, of course, he has his workouts when teams come to watch him play.

What NBA teams can expect to see is a big man who is worthy of being a top-10 pick. Kaman put up gaudy numbers in the Mid-American Conference, averaging 22.4 points and 12 rebounds a game for the Chippewas. He led Central Michigan to the NCAA Tournament and to a first-round victory over Creighton before losing to Duke in the second round. Kaman was less of a factor in the win over the Bluejays (12 points, six rebounds), but proved he could dominate against the top talent in college when he scored 25 points and grabbed 10 boards against Duke.

"He really does want to show that he's not just another big guy," Central Michigan coach Jay Smith said. "He wants to be a player in this league. And, by the way, he'll get on airplanes in the NBA. He doesn't have a real problem with it. He'll do it."

Kaman's national profile, not to mention draft status, soared after he posted 30 points and 21 boards in a win at Michigan on Dec. 3, 2002. He said he had 19 phone messages from people telling him that he was an NBA player. It led to thoughts of leaving CMU early, but also got into his head, as was evident in four of the ensuing six games when he failed to score at least 20 points. He was still posting double-figure games in scoring and rebouding, but his play was below his standards.

"We were concerned about it," Smith said about Kaman thinking too much about the NBA. "But he never stopped having a passion to play."

"I knew I had to quit thinking about it because I was struggling," Kaman said. "But I finished up the season strong (five of six final games with 20-plus points, including 39 at Ball State). I knew that I wanted to go to the NBA rather than stay in college another year."

Kaman has the size to play at the next level. His 7-foot frame is a thick 252 pounds, while also agile enough to move around the floor with ease. He claims to have a mean streak just "waiting to come out," and when he does get mad, he plays harder. And he warns fans to not pigeon-hole him as another big-man project if his name is called instead of a more known commodity.

"We weren't in the national spotlight," Kaman said. "That might be a bonus because people don't know about me. They may say, 'Chris Kaman, who is he?' That doesn't matter because I can play."

The questions, however, will remain: How well? How much? And, most importantly, how soon?

And, those answers will go a long way toward determining whether Kaman is more Vlade Divac than Aleksandar Radojevic.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.