There is absolutely no question that Georgetown University's Patrick Ewing will be the first player chosen in next month's pro basketball draft. The suspense comes in determining which of seven depressed teams gets to pick this potential franchise maker. Will it be Indiana, Seattle, San Diego, New York, Atlanta, Golden State, or Sacramento (formerly Kansas City)? The envelope, please.
Make that envelopes, please, since one bearing the identity of each team will be plucked from a plexiglass container in Sunday's nationally televised National Basketball Association draft lottery. The envelopes, drawn by league commissioner David Stern, will be placed under the numbers 1 through 7, then opened beginning with No. 7. This way the tension can build in beauty pageant fashion as the runners-up are named.
The site for this showy drawing, to be conducted at halftime of an Eastern Conference playoff game, will be the Starlight Roof of New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
The league obviously expects the lottery to generate a lot more excitement than the coin flip, which it used for many years but which involved only the worst team in each conference. The old method, critics felt, could encourage teams to ``tank'' games if it meant a 50-50 chance at the nation's best college player. Holding a drawing for the NBA's seven non-playoff teams, on the other hand, greatly lessons whatever incentives may exist for losing intentionally or pursuing victory only half-heartedly.
The theory in any sports draft, of course, is to allow teams to pick in the reverse order of their finish in the standings. That way the worst teams can improve their lot.
Under the old system, the Indiana Pacers and Golden State Warriors would have flipped a coin for the right to draft Ewing, since they were conference cellar dwellers with identical 22-60 records. The Warriors stumbled along without center Joe Barry Carroll, who fled the team to play in Europe. The Pacers have tried to get by with seven-foot Steve Stipanovich in the pivot, but he hasn't filled the bill the way 7 ft. 4 in. Ralph Sampson might have. Indiana lost a coin flip to Houston two years ago for the rights to Sampson, who has become a star with the Rockets.
Even those teams that lose out in the Ewing sweepstakes shouldn't be too disheartened. There will be quite a few quality seven-footers available in the June 18 draft, including Benoit Benjamin, who is forgoing his final year at Creighton, where he schooled under former NBA great Willis Reed. Also on the board are four Olympians: Joe Kleine of Arkansas and Jon Koncak of Southern Methodist, who were teammates on the US squad; Uwe Blab of Indiana who played for West Germany; and Bill Wennington of St. John's who suited up for Canada.
Besides Benjamin, the other early-entry player expected to improve the draft is 6-9 forward Wayman Tisdale, a first-team All-America in his three seasons at Oklahoma.
I can never understand why some coaches are reluctant to let their quarterbacks scramble. What, after all, can be more dangerous than taking the full brunt of a tackle, often from the blind side, while standing in the pocket? Scrambling is a natural self-preservation instinct, and today's quarterbacks are generally quite adept at stepping out of bounds or sliding at the end of open-field runs to prevent contact. The National Football League has even adopted a rule for the 1985 season designed to protect the quarterback when he has the ball. The rule declares play dead at the spot where the ball-carrier slides to the ground feet first, eliminating the requirement that an oppponent touch the runner to end play.
There were so many outstanding little men in college basketball this past season that the sport's Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., has decided to honor a whole team of them, rather than simply the single best player in the country. Texas Tech's 5 ft. 10 in. Bubba Jennings will receive the 17th annunal Frances Pomeroy Naismith-Basketball Hall of Fame Award as the most outstanding senior male collegian under six feet. Joining him on the first Little Man All-America Team are 5-11 Phil Cox of Vanderbilt; 5-9 Steve Reid of Purdue; 5-11 Mike Moses of St. John's; and 5-10 Michael Adams of Boston College. These undersized overachievers are still the exception rather than the rule in major college basketball, where height and might often go hand in hand. Though a radical idea, perhaps separate teams could be formed at these schools for players, let's say, under 6-2. The top little men could continue to play on regular varsity teams, but many excellent players lacking the height for the big time could earn spots on height-restricted teams.
This concept, incidentally, is not really foreign to college athletics. For many years schools like Princeton and Army have fielded lightweight football teams.