To skip college for NBA is giant leap

Carmelo Anthony started hearing the whispers a few months ago – on the Internet, on the radio talk shows, in the local newspapers.

"It was just gossip," he said recently, "but they were saying I was ready for the NBA. I could be a lottery pick."

Somewhere in the back of his head, Anthony knew better. He was only in high school, after all, and his game, basketball, still needed some improvement before he would be ready for the big time.

But then again, there was the temptation of money. Lots of money. If he were drafted into the NBA as a "lottery pick" – in the top 13 selections – he could expect to receive a contract worth several million dollars.

"I thought about it," said Anthony, a 6-ft., 7-in., 210-lb. senior forward at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, who is probably among the five best high school players in the country.

In the end, however, he decided to go to college next year at Syracuse University. At least, that's what he says for now.

"I'll be the first person in my family to go [to college]," he said. "We're a middle-class family, and we've gotten along all these years without too much money – so I figure we can wait a few more years."

While Anthony says he has made his decision, others are less sure. It is a difficult choice for a kid with mountainous talent, often boiling down to money versus education, riding the bench in the NBA or being a star in college. The deadline for declaring for the draft is this Sunday, May 12.

This year, for sure, high school players will play a less predominant role than they did in 2001, when four were picked in the first round, including Kwame Brown, who was chosen first by the Washington Wizards.

Brown and his fellow NBA teenagers struggled their first year, spending most of the season as reserves and looking lost on the court when they played.

Tyson Chandler was the first to break into a starting lineup, but for the lowly Chicago Bulls.

That lack of production, however, is unlikely to deter NBA general managers from picking talented high school players in the future, analysts say. If anything, their tendency to choose potential over experience has only been cemented.

According to Jeff Lenchiner, the editor of InsideHoops.com, a website covering the NBA, nearly every high school player taken in the NBA draft has been a success, including three of the world's best players: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and Tracy McGrady.

And each has taken time to develop, which makes most NBA general managers more patient with them than they are with other players. One notable exception to that tenet was the Portland Trailblazers, who picked Jermaine O'Neal in 1996. They gave up on him after four years only to have him emerge as a star for the Indiana Pacers.

"The number of high school players is down this year from last year, but I don't believe anyone in the NBA is shying away," Lenchiner says. "It's because there is less talent this year than there was last year. If they saw someone they thought could be the next Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett, they would take the chance without hesitation."

If there's anyone who's considered a high school lottery pick this year, it's Amare Stoudamire, a 6-ft., 10-in. center who runs the court, shoots from long range, and blocks shots with a vengeance.

Although Stoudamire has a bad reputation in some circles – he's already bounced around six different high schools – he has a tremendous upside, and could sneak into the top seven picks. If he goes to the NBA, he says he will not repeat the mistakes made by last year's class of early entrants.

"I heard their work ethic has been kind of low right now," he said. "I know my first year could be a learning process.... There's nothing wrong with getting a few splinters in your butt from the bench."

But, he added, showing his confidence, "I don't want to go to the NBA and just be average. I really want to go in and make a statement for myself."

In all likelihood, however, Stoudamire would enter the NBA as a work in progress. In recent years, the only players who have been able to turn pro and make an immediate impact have had either three or four years of college or played in a European professional league.

In the process, he would miss the value of a college education and never have the fun of participating in an NCAA tournament – an experience most NBA players say they cherish.

But, the money is hard to turn down, and most of the people who would advocate going to college probably come from families of at least moderate means.

"A lot of it depends on how high [in the draft] you'll be taken," says DeAngelo Collins, a 6-ft., 10-in. power forward from Inglewood, Calif., who decided to go pro.

Eddy Curry, who came into the NBA directly from high school and just finished a rough rookie year playing for the Bulls, recently offered some advice to high school players thinking of entering the draft.

"I would tell [high school players] to take their time," he told a Chicago newspaper. "Nobody's words can really express how hard this is."

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