With the First Pick in this Year's NBA Draft....

Monday, June 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Now there's a reason for local hoops fans to stay tuned after that traditional phrase.

For the first time in recent years the NBA draft should hold the interest of area college basketball fans. The last time a “Big Four” player was taken in the first round was 1995, Bryant Reeves by Vancouver and Corliss Williamson by Sacramento. This year, however, offers the potential of three first-rounders, and five overall draft picks, with state ties.

The recent NCAA Tournament successes of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa signaled this potential boom of local draftees. Those teams were filled with talent and the NBA has taken note of that talent.

OSU’s Desmond Mason and OU’s Eduardo Najera are virtual locks to be snatched by a pro franchise Wednesday evening at Minneapolis’ Target Center. TU products Eric Coley and Brandon Kurtz could both go in the second round. But the first player with area ties to be taken could be a man that left the state to pursue his college career.

Etan Thomas- Syracuse (Booker T. Washington HS)
Sr. 6’9” Power Forward

There are two very badly kept secrets of this year’s draft. The first is that New Jersey wants Cincinnati’s Kenyon Martin. The second is that Milwaukee would love to take Tulsa-native Etan Thomas if he’s available as the 15th pick.

Bucks general manager Ernie Grunfeld doesn’t deny his interest in Thomas, but does warn reporters that other big men, expected to be gone by the time he drafts, could still be around. That would bump Thomas from the top of Milwaukee’s draft board.

Grunfeld is like a lot of other scouts in his assessment of Thomas’ potential, saying he should have a very productive pro career. Others are more complimentary.

"He has an Antonio Davis-type game where he gets those shoulders squared and rebounds and blocks shots,” said Orlando Magic GM John Gabriel. “He has a decent drop step move with his left and right hand, which he needs to develop further."

Those who coached against Thomas are even more adamant about his abilities.

"I love Etan Thomas and if you are looking for a guy that is going to be a real player for you and be a rebounder and a defender, he's the guy, ” said St. John’s Head Coach Mike Jarvis

“He's the kind of guy that could be in the NBA for a long time playing a powerful position,” Jarvis added. “Not only is he a great team player, but he also has great character and he'll add something to any team. It's so important to have really good people on your team as well as great players."

Most draft analysts assume that Thomas will indeed end up with Milwaukee, but as most NBA fans know nothing is certain.

What Might Happen
Boston is looking for a rebounder at No. 11. They’d like a true center, but Thomas could fit the bill. Dallas wants a center at No. 12, as well. However, they are looking at UCLA forward Jerome Moiso who’s considered a small step above Thomas on most boards. If Milwaukee gets Moiso or one of the foreign-born big men they also covet, Thomas could drop to late in the first round. Philadelphia likes him at No. 20 and Indiana would love for him to fall in their lap at No. 27.

Best Guess
It’s hard to go against all of the buzz. Thomas was the only player Grunfeld was asked about at his recent teleconference and live on-line chat. Thomas could thrive in Coach George Karl’s system at Milwaukee.
Editors note: Since Monday’s publish date of this article several trades have taken place among NBA teams. Most notably, Dallas acquired the 13th pick from Orlando and has expressed a desire to select Etan Thomas with one of their two lottery picks.

Desmond Mason- Oklahoma State
Sr. 6’6” Shooting Guard

NBA teams are always looking to improve on their collective athleticism. Mason is the type of guy who could do that for just about anybody. Add to his leaping ability and defensive strengths the fact that he showed good shooting range his senior year, and you have a sure first-rounder.

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas calls Mason a good shooter when left open, but can improve that part of his game. However, recent showings in different workouts have some scouts speculating that a team may take a chance and draft Mason with a lottery pick.

"He had a wonderful career at Oklahoma State, said New York Knicks GM Scott Layden. “He got better each year, and has great ability to shoot and play defense. I think he is going to have success right away as a pro."

Mason’s biggest asset in the eyes of pro scouts may be his ability to defend. At 6’6”, he has the quickness to check shooting guards and the strength to play small forwards on the wing or in the post.

"He's a terrific athlete and a big defender. I have always been very impressed with his ability to defend and rebound and run the floor,” said Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt.

What Might Happen
Which team might take that aforementioned gamble and go with Mason in the lottery is anybody’s guess. He most likely fits the bill for several teams from mid-first round down. Sacramento and Seattle, at numbers 16 and 17 respectively, could use backups at shooting guard and small forward. Philadelphia picks 20th and would like a sub for Allen Iverson and Toni Kukoc. Toronto loves athletic shooting guards, see Vince Carter, but probably takes a point guard at No. 21. If he’s on the board when Utah picks at No. 23, they’ll probably take him. Denver and Indiana wouldn’t mind if Mason’s available at the end of the first round.

Best Guess
Charlotte needs a shooting guard and their choice should be between Mason and Duke product Chris Carawell. Carawell would be a local favorite, but most draft analysts expect to hear the former Cowboy’s name called with the Hornets pick at No. 19.
Editor’s Note: A trade involving Milwaukee has created a need for them to draft a shooting guard. The Bucks have publicly speculated on the possible selection of Desmond Mason with the 15th pick.

Eduardo Najera- University of Oklahoma
Sr. 6’6” Small Forward

By Najera’s own admission, he was not ready for the first pre-draft camp in Phoenix. He said he wasn’t in shape and most scouts agreed. After that camp, most analysts left Najera off of their mock drafts.

The former Sooner showed up at the second camp in Chicago twelve pounds lighter and played his way back into the draft. ESPN.com basketball writer Andy Katz believes Najera was one of the two players who left the Chicago camp having helped himself the most, the other being Fresno State forward Terrance Roberson.

“Playing lighter, Najera seemed to move quicker on the court and was more active around the basket,” Katz noted. “He’s a must get for training camp out of the second round.”

Helping Najera’s cause of late has been the return to college of two high profile underclassmen. UCLA’s Jason Kapono and SMU’s Jeryl Sasser were both expected to be taken before Najera. Their returns can only improve Najera’s potential to be the first Mexican-born player ever drafted into the NBA.

What Might Happen
CBS Sportsline recently released their mock draft and seem to know something everyone else doesn’t. They claim Najera will be the last pick of the first round by the world champion Los Angeles Lakers. Other analysts aren’t so high on him. Chicago has picks 32, 33 and 34. They are looking to add depth and Najera could be a solid back-up forward. Denver could take Najera at No. 37 if Ohio State guard Michael Redd is gone. Najera has worked out for Houston who has the 38th pick. San Antonio at No. 41 is looking for an insurance policy against Sean Elliot. Sacramento would like a sub for Nick Anderson with the 45th pick.

Best Guess
Historically, teams don’t draft players after the top ten for marketing purposes. This year could be different. Detroit is rumored to want Michigan legend Mateen Cleaves to appease its’ fan base. Maybe Dallas should do the same with Najera. The Mavericks pick at No. 31. They need a back-up for both Michael Finley and Cedric Ceballos and Najera has the talent to fill the bill. He could also attract some of the large hispanic population living in the metroplex and therefore boost ticket sales. He fits as both a player and an attraction.

Eric Coley- University of Tulsa
Sr. 6’4” Shooting Guard

Coley’s leadership skills may get him a look in the second round from several teams. Scouts say he has good athleticism and better than average shooting ability. If he doesn’t get drafted, he’ll surely be signed as a free agent and given a chance to compete at somebody’s camp.

The former Golden Hurricane forward got a lot of attention from Tulsa’s run through this year’s NCAA Tournament. Like Najera, he’ll benefit from the withdrawal of Kapono and Sasser.

What Might Happen
Who doesn’t need an athletic shooting guard who can defend the perimeter? Several teams could use a good reserve, but there are a lot of them on the radar. Philadelphia and Milwaukee need to give rest to star guards, Iverson and Ray Allen respectively. Philly picks at 48, the Bucks are next at 49. Minnesota needs a shooting guard after the death of starter Malik Sealy. They draft No. 51. Miami’s nucleus is getting older and some question the potential of Bruce Bowen as the two-guard of the future. The Heat select 52nd. Dallas has the last pick in the draft and could take Coley if they haven’t already grabbed a back-court player.

Best Guess
Who knows? FANSonly.com is the only mock draft on the internet to include Coley anywhere in the second round. I’ll defer to them and say Coley will go to Portland at No. 57.

Brandon Kurtz- University of Tulsa
Sr. 6’10” Power Forward

Kurtz possesses one of the most valued commodities in basketball, size. He can bang inside, rebound well and hit jumpers from outside ten-feet. He showed off those skills well this past year with the Golden Hurricane.

Historically, big men drop like flies late in the second round. Kurtz has all the tools to be one of those guys who get drafted as team’s clammer for anybody to clog-up the lane.

What Might Happen
Philly is such an unknown in the second round. They could take Kurtz with that all-purpose 48th pick. The Sporting News thinks Utah is the taker at No.50. Their power forwards are looking into Social Security. Minnesota is a possibility at No. 51.

Best Guess
Golden State’s only pick this year is at the end of the second round, 55th overall. They should take the best available center or power forward. Centers should be gone well before then, leaving Kurtz. They may also take Brian Cardinal at this spot, but Kurtz has the same skills with more size.