|Next Jordan? Next to Jordan, maybe|
By Chris McKendry
Page 2 columnist
I took in a bit of the NBDL (National Basketball Development League) over the Christmas holiday. The NBDL is the new eight-team league that is supposed to serve as a "feeder" league for all 29 NBA teams.
The games were on ESPN2 in the afternoon. I anchored one halftime a day for three days before my usual 6 p.m. SportsCenter shift.
My NBDL experience was similar to other impromptu holiday reunions. At least, I felt the same when it was over -- happy to learn what old acquaintances were up to, but even happier to know we're not hanging out on a regular basis.
The league's intended purpose is to provide players to the NBA. "The NBA Dream Starts Here" is its motto.
Are you kidding? Dream? What a nightmare! After watching a handful of games, I have come to the conclusion that this league's most useful function will be to keep underclassman in school and scare the tar out of Kobe-in-their-eyes high schoolers. Most elite players have never seen crowds so small or praise so faint. Some may have never seen money so tight. The starting salary is $27,500 and the highest anyone is paid is $40,000.
The play is a bit sloppy, which I guess should be expected. Since everyone is looking to get "called up," most everyone is looking out for "No. 1" ... even if No. 15 is open. But what interested me ... in that train wreck sort of way ... were the stories of these players' lives. (If these stories are any guide, "Down Low, Life in the D-League," premiering Jan. 20 at 8 p.m. on ESPN, should be a good watch.)
I had heard and likely announced most of these players' names from time to time when they were in college. To my surprise -- and likely yours -- the players who make up this league are not bottom of the barrel. Many even had their names called on draft night! Yeah, second-rounders are fine tuning -- at least, they hope that's all -- in the NBDL.
Here's a sampling:
Chris Carrawell, a second-round pick in the 2000 draft. He played four years at Duke and in his final season was the ACC Player of the Year. Best player in one of the best conferences doesn't have a place in the NBA.
Think if you finish in the Top 20 in career scoring at Kansas you would make the NBA? Not Eric Chenowith, who was drafted in the second round last June. He's in the NBDL, along with former teammate Kenny Gregory. Gregory was Ohio's player of the year in high school. Undrafted by the NBA.
Dwayne Schintzius was a first-round pick in 1990. (Unfair example, though. Everyone, except for the Spurs, saw this coming.)
Wake Forest's Rusty LaRue helped kick off the Tim Floyd era in Chicago. Now, they're both out. LaRue's just a dozen or so games short of qualifying for a pension. He was a candidate for NBDL Player of the Month for December. Maybe a 10-day contract is next? That's what he must believe.
Saul Smith ranked third in career games played at Kentucky. He's planning to use his NBDL money to pay for law school.
The Fab Five's Jimmy King was drafted in the second round by Toronto in 1995. He's LaRue's teammate in Asheville, N.C.
Why only Hamilton? Surely each guy was likely told he'd be "Just Like Mike"?
Forget being the next Jordan. How about just sitting next to Jordan?
Former NBA head coach Darrell Walker is the Wizards' head scout and special assistant. When I reached him, he was in New Orleans for a tournament and was planning to see DaJuan Wagner at Memphis this week. Wagner's not likely headed to the NBDL. But ... never say never.
Walker bluntly explains the fate of the NBDL player: "There are only 350 or so jobs in the NBA, and there's not much turnover."
So if there's a limited chance of getting called up, why are the guys not in Europe, where the pay is much greater?
Walker says it's all about getting in the NBA. He says he coached in the CBA for less money for the same reason. "You can't tell kids what to do with their dreams, Chris. Hey, Jimmy King! I coached him in Toronto, and he's still hanging in there." (Yes, I saw.)
But the Wizards picked Kwame Brown with the first overall pick last June. Why are they so sure? The rest of us aren't. Walker laughs. "How many Kwame Browns do you think are in the world?"
After my chat with Walker, I worked on SportsCenter. It was the Friday night before the Kentucky-Louisville game. We talked about Kentucky's leadership in Tayshaun Prince and Keith Bogans, a junior, compared with the freshman and sophomore contingent from Louisville.
I've kept an eye on Keith Bogans ever since his high school coach, Hall of Famer Morgan Wootten, told me that Bogans was more like Jordan than any other player he had coached. Coach Wootten isn't the type to brag about his players ... and he's had great ones. But at the time, Bogans was just a freshman at DeMatha High School, and so Wootten's comments surprised me. Bogans lettered all four years under Wootten, a rarity accomplished only by Bogans and former NBA star Adrian Dantley.
Despite two good years -- though not great ones -- at Kentucky, Bogans threw his hat in the NBA ring last spring. And then he wisely withdrew his name from the draft before it was too late. A learning experience, is how Kentucky coach Tubby Smith explains Bogans' choices in the Wildcats media guide. Further down in Bogan's printed bio, he's asked a series of questions, including this one: Who's the toughest guy you've ever played against? Bogans' answer (a good one) -- Michael Jordan.
I wonder which learning experience came first?
And if Bogans forgets those lessons, I'll send him a tape of another one, the NBDL.
SportsCenter anchor Chris McKendry is a regular columnist for Page 2.