This was to be a banner year for ''early entries'' into the National Basketball Association draft, slated for June 28. But the deadline for non-seniors to announce their pro intentions passed rather quietly last week.
The biggest news involved two University of Houston players, Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon. The pair called a news conference last Thursday, but never appeared. When their decisions were made public, Cougar fans were both heartened and disheartened. Olajuwon, a seven-foot sophomore center from Nigeria, will stay in school; Drexler, a 6 ft. 7 in. junior forward, will not. Phi Slama Jama, then, will still bear some resemblance to the dunk-happy team that advanced to this year's NCAA finals, only not as much.
Drexler is one of six players to declare himself an ''early entry,'' compared to 11 last year. The others are guards Byron Scott of Arizona State, Derek Harper of Illinois, Glenn Rivers of Marquette, and Ennis Whatley of Alabama (the only sophomore), plus center Russell Cross of Purdue. Notably absent from this group are such pro prospects as Michael Jordan, Keith Lee, and Pat Ewing.
Many observers thought the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement, which puts a $75,000 ceiling on rookie salaries a year from now, would force these players to go for the big money before it ran out. The contract, however, has been widely misinterpreted. In fact, rookies will still get what's coming to them in future years. The salary ceilings only apply to teams that have reached a predetermined payroll cap, which will be $3.6 million per team next season. Only five teams are at that point now - Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle. But even these teams can ''free up'' money to go after a top rookie or free agent.
Americans (et al.) in Paris
Among the questions swirling about before this year's French Open tennis tournament, which begins next week, are these:
* Can Chris Evert Lloyd keep her Grand Slam hopes alive?
* Will an American male ever win the singles crown again?
The International Tennis Federation, with its ruling on what constitutes a ''Slam,'' has made the first question possible. The ITF has stipulated that the honor goes to any player who wins the Slam's four legs consecutively and not necessarily in the same year. Evert Lloyd won the US and Australian Opens last year, and would now need victories in Paris and at Wimbledon to achieve her first Slam.
Chris owns four French titles (1974, '75, '79, and '80), but realizes No. 5 won't come easily, particularly not with defending champion Martina Navratilova in the field. They haven't competed in the same tournament since March, when Navratilova, who's undefeated this year, crushed her rival in straight sets. Martina's last defeat, however, was to Evert Lloyd in Australia.
Over in the men's draw, some experts have has chosen Vitas Gerulaitis as the American with the best chance of breaking a long drought. Tony Trabert, 28 years ago, was the last American male to triumph in Paris. Europeans and South Americans have found the slow clay courts more to their liking. John McEnroe may have bolstered his confidence, though, by beating Gerulaitis two weeks ago at the Tournament of Champions. It was his first title on clay in four years. NBA's uneven playoffs
If the pro basketball playoffs seem disjointed, blame awkward scheduling. Sometimes games are played back-to-back, other times they follow two days or more of inactivity. Television coverage also throws things off, especially in the East, where only night owls stay up to watch midweek games from the West Coast. The gap between viewing opportunities also tends to destroy the continuity enjoyed by baseball playoff and World Series games, which have become regular prime-time fare.
Baseball, however, has two advantages. It is a more popular spectator attraction than pro basketball, and, therefore, receives better treatment from ratings-conscious network executives. Baseball also can count on stadium availability, while basketball can't.