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Outside the Lines: Rush to Judgment

Here's the transcript from Show 65 of weekly Outside The Lines - Rush to Judgment

Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Guests: Gerald Wilkins, former NBA player, Marc Cornstein, player agent, Chris Wallace, General Manager, Boston Celtics.

Announcer - June 24, 2001.

Bob Ley, host - His uncle was the human highlight film. His father had a long NBA career and has many league contacts.

Gerald Wilkins, former NBA player - You can't beat the bloodlines.

Ley - So after two years in college, Damien Wilkins is told it's time to come out for the NBA.

Unidentified Male - I guess every player has a high opinion of their own ability. But I don't think he's a player who's really ready to turn pro.

Ley - But then, there's a father's pride.

Damien Wilkins, North Carolina State University - For most of (unintelligible) to hear the people say that, you know, I'm not ready for the NBA. I'm not afraid.

Ley - Nearly half of all early entry players never play in the NBA. Teams search and gamble on the upside of youngsters who hear that they are ready.

Unidentified Male - It makes you wonder who these kids are talking to.

Ley - Today on Outside The Lines - the rush to judgment for the NBA draft.

Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance.

Joining us from ESPN Studios - Bob Ley.

Ley - NBA draft decisions are not nuclear launch codes. But you would never know that from the secrecy, the double talk, and the white-knuckle tension three days from the draft. The executive who tells you on background, with a little bit of admiration in his voice that agents lie like dogs in playing one club off against another on behalf of teenage clients. Or the GM who says, I just cannot afford to blow my rare chance to get talent for my club.

It comes down to information. Can players, younger than ever, believe what their inner circle is telling them about their pro potential? And how can teams accurately judge youngsters whose best games may be on grainy high school videotape?

Information, some of it accurate, some of it hot air, on which franchises commit millions of dollars and young men make life-altering decisions.

Which brings us to the story of Damien Wilkins, who grew up around the NBA, has played two years at NC State. And at the recent pre-draft camp in Chicago, having assessed all the available information, he put his dream on the line.

Ley - Damien Wilkins really has to nail his jumpers today. The book on him, the pre-draft information making the rounds in the NBA, says he has a poor perimeter game. But Damien's info, from his father Gerald, is that the time is right to showcase his skills.

Suddenly there's a buzz in the Chicago gym. It's the man himself - Michael Jordan. Damien's father and Jordan embrace as if to validate the family ties to the NBA.

Gerald and his brother, Dominique, are each less than two years removed as players. If Damien Wilkins wonders if he has the right info, his father has no doubt.

G. Wilkins - Once he got out of high school then he was, pretty much, NBA material, and he's following the bloodlines. I mean, you can't beat the bloodlines.

D. Wilkins - I think it is a huge advantage to have my uncle, you know, Dominique and my father, Gerald, who have been in the game for, you know, over 30 years between them. You know, they know the ropes.

G. Wilkins - If he can't get the answer from me, he can get it from Dominique.

Ley - And while they are telling Damien the time is right to come out, Draft experts are frankly astounded.

Chris Monter, Editor/Publisher, "Montor Draft New" - To be honest, I'm not sure if he even gets drafted. He wasn't even a first, second, or third all ACC selection, yet he's putting his name in the draft.

Ley - Wilkins is just another name among the scores filling the backpage of Monter's draft newsletter.

Monter - This year was a record number of underclassmen entering the draft. We had 75 players. When you do the math, there's only 57 picks, so obviously not every kid who came out is going to be drafted. It's a little bit shocking. And a little disturbing, I think, because that means players aren't, maybe, getting the right information.

Ley - In this case, says Monter, from a parent. There is a frenzied free-market run-up to an increasingly younger NBA draft. Relatively unknown teenagers are bolstered by encouraging information offered by those with, perhaps, self-interest.

Teens must separate hard truth from wistful sales pitches. There is information and misinformation. One profession is often blamed.

Clark Francis, Editor/Publisher, "Hoops Scoops Online" - I think agents are the biggest evil in the business.

Ley - Clark Francis is the online publisher of "Hoops Scoop."

Francis - There are a lot of people that probably deserve a little bit of the blame. But the agents deserve a lot of the blame, and it's just really corrupted the whole process.

Ley - But he says there's enough blame to go around.

Francis - I think parents, they're a necessary evil. They go with the business side...

G. Wilkins - I'm watching him play and I'm moving at the same time, as if I'm guarding him and he's going against me. So it's kind of a fun thing right now, actually.

Ley - Damien Wilkins, a 40 percent shooter at NC State, is struggling in his pro tryout. But his father believes NBA scouts will see what he sees.

G. Wilkins - I knew when he was in the seventh grade. You know, he was dominant, he was a match-out among everybody he played against.

Ley - If you think seventh grade is too young to evaluate players, consider that online, there are nationwide-rankings for fifth graders.

Norman Parker, AAU coach - I don't think that anyone can look at a fifth grader or sixth grader -- a young man that's 10 or 11 years old -- and predict that he's going to be a future NBA player, much less a star.

Ley - Clark Francis has. In 1989, his magazine showcased a promising sixth grader. His name, Stephon Marbury. Since then, the perceived importance of such information has blossomed.

Francis - Three or four years ago we did a list of the top 40, 50 sixth graders and seventh graders in Indiana. And I got a guy that called me up, and he was all mad. And he says, my kid is the best sixth grader in Indiana, and he was the MVP of the national tournament. I said, guess what, we've got six years to get it right.

Ley - Gerald Wilkins wants NBA scouts to have the right information on his son.

G. Wilkins - His credentials speak for themselves. He was player of the year coming out of high school. You know, Bob Gibbons...

Monter - He was the best high school player according to Bob Gibbons, a recruiting expert who I really respect. Michael Jordan was his top player, so were others. But I brought up the fact that Jeff Lebo, who's now a head coach at Tennessee Tech, and played at North Carolina was also a Bob Gibbons Player of the Year. It doesn't really mean that you are even going to be a great college player, let alone a great pro player, despite what your accolades are in high school.

Rob Daniels, "Greensboro News and Record" - Damien Wilkins is probably the most heralded and acclaimed recruit to commit and sign with NC State since David Thompson.

Ley - But that recruiting hype died hard, in the reality of the ACC.

Daniels - He did not have the touch or perimeter skills most commonly associated with a swing man. So he wasn't the same player they thought they were getting.

Ley - Damien's situation worsened in February, when his father and his uncle each publicly criticized NC State coach Herb Sendek.

Dominique said - "They run nothing for Damien. It's obvious Sendek is not an offensive coach."

Gerald said - "There's no go-to-guy. They recruited Damien to be that, but Sendek hasn't shown he wants him to be that."

Daniels - It became public, it became rancorous. And it became destructive.

Ley - And it becomes part of the NBA book on Damien Wilkins, which closes for the moment when he turns an ankle.

Damien's tryout ends after only minutes on the court.

G. Wilkins - (Unintelligible) think he got a little sprain, just turned it a little bit.

Oh man, is he going to get up? You know, the first thing I'm thinking, I mean, get up please. But he'll be fine.

Ley - Damien Wilkins withdrew from the NBA draft. But this weekend he finds himself not only out of the NBA picture, but without a place to play in college. NC State coach Herb Sendek, citing what he said were demands by Gerald Wilkins, last week threw Damien off the team.

D. Wilkins - It just happened so fast. You know, one minute I was there playing, loving my teammates, loving my coaches, loving the environment. And the next minute, now I'm looking for somewhere else to go.

But that phone call, I don't think Coach Sendek knows how bad it hurt me. Like I said, I'm just trying to find a way to kind of just put it all behind me and relax my mind, and just move forward.

Ley - Still Damien, out of the NBA draft and looking for a new college, acknowledges some differences with his father.

D. Wilkins - All parents want the best for their kids. And as a parent he felt that NC State wasn't the best situation for me. I felt differently. So it was like, you know, almost like a duel that we had to go through with each other where, you know, at times we wouldn't even really speak to each other about it.

Ley - Despite his experience at the NBA draft camp, and several team tryouts, he dismisses those who doubt his abilities.

D. Wilkins - For me not to be one of the players that they consider ready for the draft -- what is ready? What does ready mean? There's guys, I feel like that are in the NBA that don't need to be there. Are they ready for the NBA?

Ley - Joining us live this morning from Atlanta, Damien's father, and a veteran of 13 NBA seasons, Gerald Wilkins.

Good morning, Gerald.

G. Wilkins - Good morning.

Ley - Outside of your family, you have a great deal of NBA experience. Your brother as well. Who else did you speak to in assessing and making the decision this was the time that your son should try the NBA camp?

G. Wilkins - Well you know, I look at it like this. Because I played for so long, and my brother played for so long, and I looked at the situation that was going on down at NC State. And looking at my son's future, we decided that we wanted to test and see what he can't do, and see what he needs to do. And that's what we came up with.

I didn't really have to go all out and try to find a support group to decide whether or not Damien should go into the NBA Draft. Because the number one thing is this, the league and the NCAA decided that if kids wanted to test their ability and get a firm statement on their abilities, that they can go into the draft and not hire an agent. And if you don't hire an agent, you can go back at the end of it and go back to school.

Ley - Which you guys have done.

G. Wilkins - Which we've done.

Ley - Yeah, now you played with Paul Silas, on the Knicks, and of course, with the Hornets. Paul said something recently. He said, you know, all parents have rose-colored glasses about their kids. And he was referring to you, saying I wish I could have helped Gerald and given him more, better information about his son -- that he wasn't ready.

G. Wilkins - Well, you know, maybe that's what Paul told you. Paul didn't tell me that. Paul just told me, bottom line, that if you look at the situation. No. 1, the league is a business, and a lot of people don't understand that. The league -- first-rounders are guaranteed support, guaranteed that they will work with them and give them three years to develop.

Our goal was to get Damien to the first round. If Damien wasn't a first-round pick, then he was actually going to be a second-round pick. And being a second-round pick, you don't get the guarantees as first-rounders.

And when we realized that Damien wasn't going to be a first-round pick, you know, to get the guarantees that he needed, we decided to go back to school.

Ley - When did you realize that that the first round was going to be out of the picture? Was it after he turned his ankle, was it before?

G. Wilkins - Well pretty much -- the No. 1 -- like I said, the thing is, you get an assessment. And when you go to Chicago, you get three days to get that assessment. And because he turned his ankle in the second day, then we wouldn't get a full assessment of his skills, and what he needed to do and what he could do.

Then we went on to visit a couple teams, Orlando, Miami and Charlotte to get even closer assessment, to let Damien feel what it was like. And he got that opportunity to see, and I got that opportunity to see, and it was a no-brainer. The bottom line is, they told me exactly what I needed to do for Damien to make him a better player. He needed to work on his perimeter skills. Go back to school, and come back and try it again. No problem, and that's what we decided to do.

Ley - And your family has the means to be able to do this without hiring an agent. You've got the funds to fly around and do these tryouts...

G. Wilkins - Absolutely.

Ley - ... but do you think, do you sense -- yes it is a business -- but do you sense any, maybe guilt? You took a spot there in the pre-draft cap, with that invitation that could have gone to someone else who really is coming out this year.

G. Wilkins - Well that's a funny thing, because, you know, my job is for my son. I can't worry about what everybody else is doing. You're asking me not to give my son a chance. And my job is to put him in a position to succeed. And getting him a spot in Chicago put him in a position to succeed.

Ley - Is it fair to say that you got that -- that he got that shot in Chicago because you're an ex-NBA player, you've got the contacts?

Ley - That a player of comparable skills without a veteran father from the NBA wouldn't have gotten that invite?

G. Wilkins - Well that's just the way the world is. Sometimes that happens, you know, and sometimes it don't. I mean, you and I both know that -- you look at his credentials, too. I didn't take Damien off the couch, you know, who never played college basketball, and never played high school basketball. At the level that he has played, and say, let's go to the NBA draft.

And I'm going to get you in because you're my son. That's ridiculous. I think the league knows better than anybody because they picked him. And all I wanted the league to tell me is what Damien needed to work on, and what he is already good at. And I got a fair assessment of that.

So I am hiring the people who are going to continue to work with him. Just like sending kids to the Military School of Tennis, you know, right now I'm trying to get Damien into a school of basketball. Where he can become a better player and do the things that he wants to do. Because the bottom line, Damien wants to be in the NBA. And if he doesn't, look around, he can come right back here at home with his family, and enjoy, you know, the things we have provided for him since he was a child.

Ley - In one quick sentence, is Illinois the leading contender for his transfer now?

G. Wilkins - Right now, Illinois is the leading contender. There's also other schools. Georgia is also in that arena right now. And bottom-line, we're just looking to move on from this situation. I think the situation with State didn't have to end this way. Because it's just about basketball, you know.

And when I look at basketball from a standpoint of where I've come from, and look at State and what they were trying to do with their program, it just didn't work for Damien. And the bottom-line is, no one's mad at NC State, and no one's mad at the school. And no one's mad at the student body. But bottom-line it was basketball.

Ley - OK, we should note that we did invite the representatives from NC State to appear or comment for this morning's program, but they declined to appear. Gerald Wilkins thank you very much for being with us this morning. And when we continue on Outside The Lines, we'll be talking about the strategy for information with an NBA general manager and a player agent.

Ley - In the past five NBA drafts, 150 underclassmen and high schoolers from the U.S. entered the draft. And of that number, 43 percent -- over 64 of them -- were never even drafted by an NBA team. And of all those early entry players, fully 48 percent never played a minute in the NBA.

Some draft selections and career choices made on the basis of information -- joining us now, the General Manager of the Boston Celtics, Chris Wallace. He is at the club's practice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts. Mark Cornstein is a player agent, the founder and president of Pinnacle Management. He is in New York City.

Chris, you have told me that you need to make quick decisions, and you've got three first round picks. How can you be sure you have the quick decisions on the, quote, "upside" of an increasingly younger player base here?

Chris Wallace, Celtics general manager - Well Bob, we get to go out and see these players play regular season games. And we have a final catch basin with the workout process, which we are in now, bringing players into our team headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts. So I think we have ample time and ample tools to get the accurate information on these players, even though they are basically a younger group then ever before.

Ley - And how much misinformation, how much of a buzz, how much are people trying to stir the pot out there? And you must hear some of it?

Wallace - Well there's pot stirrers out there, no question. There's agents, people that have a vested interest, trying to promote their players. We understand that, that's part of the process. But at the end, we get the players in front of us. And I think we have more than enough information in time to make these decisions.

Ley - All right Mark, agents are a convenient battering doll here in this entire argument. Disabuse me of the notion, of the idea that you can change a player's draft status. Can an agent actually inject himself into this process, and change where a guy's going to be drafted?

Mark Cornstein, agent - To a degree, but not really. I think that Chris and the other general managers and personnel in the NBA, they're seeing these guys. They're doing this 365 days a year. They have so much information on these players. I'd love to be able to tell someone that I'm talented enough to convince Chris to pick one of my clients with his three first-round picks. But at the end of the day it is going to be his, and the rest of the personnel of the Celtics -- or whatever NBA team that it is -- to make that decision.

Ley - But you're saying something to general managers. What do you say in this process? I mean, people will say, what do you need an agent for? You've got a salary scale?

Cornstein - Well, no, I think an agent is very important in this process. What an agent does, prior to the draft, is really set up opportunity. It is very important for the players, before the draft process, to get seen as much as possible, to be as visible as possible. To make sure that the teams in the league know where they are, know what they can provide, know what they can do. I think that judgment is extremely important. I think the experience of knowing how to deal with the NBA personnel is very important in that process.

Ley - Well let me throw this up to who ever wants to answer it. We've heard so many people say these kids are misinformed, who is misinforming them?

Cornstein - I don't know what Chris would answer with that, but I think it totally depends on the individual case. I think in a lot of cases, they are not misinformed. I think when you see more underclassmen in the draft, then there are draft picks, they are obviously very misinformed. But I have a client that is an underclassmen in this year's draft, Samuel Dalembert from Seton Hall. Now some people might argue whether he is ready for the draft, whether he is not ready for the draft. What most people don't know is his background.

That he has a grandmother who raised him from Haiti, who had a stroke a couple of years ago. And unfortunately, due to the situations in Haiti, she'll probably pass away this year. So his decision was really a simple one. I think it had more to do with family situation than basketball. I think he is ready. I think he will be a first round pick. Chris and the other guys in the league are going to make that decision, not me. But I think you really need to know -- I think information goes both ways. You need to know an entire story before you can really pass judgment.

Ley - And Chris, are there some agents -- Mark, of course we'll take out of the equation, he's here with us -- that are misinforming players? That are just telling them, yeah, you're ready. Let's go.

Wallace - Well I think it is more than age and community, Bob. There are so many players, and people, that are in these players ears every year. Giving them all sorts of information, ejecting opinions, telling them, "you're the man." Your college coach isn't featuring you enough, all these sort of things. So that, I think, is really more of a problem, necessarily, then just the agents themselves. It's just this cadre of people that attach themselves to talented young basketball players in this country.

Cornstein - Bob, you just ran a segment that, I don't remember the gentleman's name, but he was talking about a scouting service that ran the top sixth graders in the country. What's that going to do to a young person's ego, or that family in where they think that person is? So, I think there's a lot of reasons why these kids come up believing that they are ready, whether it is premature or not.

Ley - And now you have got the phenomenon where nobody stays four years. Obviously people do, but four-year players, people around the league tell us, they are basically scorned, laughed at and really looked at like 'you stayed too long.'

Wallace - Well I think that is overstated, Bob. We don't scorn players that have been in school for four years. We would love to see players stay in school for four years. A Grant Hill for example, is more valuable to us in the NBA, not just in basketball terms but as a possible box office attraction, then a player who is coming out of high school with no real reputation. But we're in an age where players are coming out earlier than ever before. The genie is out of the bottle. I don't think there is anything we can do to reverse that trend. And those of us on this side of the table, the ones that have to make a decision, just have to deal with it.

Ley - All right, gentlemen thank you...

Ley - ... I wish we had more time, I wish we did. But unfortunately the time is our master here. Thanks to Chris Wallace and to Mark Cornstein. I appreciate it.

Wallace - Thank you.

Ley - Coming up, Tiger Woods, the one and the only, and a check of our E-mail inbox.

Ley - Rain may be bedeviling Tiger Woods' attempt to reestablish momentum on the tour, but his stature as a social catalyst in the game, our topic last week, a lightning rod for our e-mails and opinions in our in-box. We will click it open, next.

Lee Elder, The First Tee - With the advent of the caddies going away, there was no consistent way for kids to get on the golf course, to be exposed to the game. And to be exposed to the men and women who they are caddying for that inspired them to take it to the next level. I think that's where The First Tee, and other such programs are going to be able to have a consistent level of opportunity. By providing these kids with affordable access and consistent affordable access to be able to nurture their interest.

Ley - Our look at Tiger Woods, the one and only African American on the PGA Tour. And the impact that programs to bring minority kids to golf, provoked a response, much of it negative, to our e-mail inbox.

From Germantown, Pennsylvania - "Bad show, poor argument. There are too many families in the inner cities that are headed by single moms and grandmas, not dads. A program never offered to teach my child. His father and grandfather play golf. With all that said, who needs a program."

From Athens, Tennessee - "Does the NBA go door-to-door and give white kids basketballs and hoops? Why do we have to push any one race over another? Sport is one of the last areas where race should not matter. But yet programs like yours continue to push race issues. There is no issue. May the best man win."

From Indianapolis - "Lee Elder said that getting rid of the caddies was one of the biggest reasons African Americans were not as involved in golf anymore. Do any of us truly believe that the African American community would not be outraged if black caddies were still supplying the muscle for all those affluent white males?"

We're online at Where you can reach the OTL site with a keyword, OTLWEEKLY, and type the address We have links for more on today's topics and a library of streaming video and transcripts. And a place to address your e-mail, our address -

Ley - Tonight after "Baseball Tonight," settle back for the man with the record and the man who would own it. It is Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. We've got the Cardinals and the Giants, our Sunday night Major League Baseball game at 8 p.m. Eastern right after "Baseball Tonight."

Coming up - a conversation with Barry Bonds, and another with Mike Tyson. Chris McKendry and Rece Davis are set with a complete 90-minute edition of "SportsCenter."

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 Are NBA hopefuls rushing to judgment? ESPN's Bob Ley examines the topic.
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