Pro basketball draft flavored by helping of international talent
Has the Statue of Liberty's torch been replaced with a basketball, and the inscription on its based changed to read: ``Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to slam dunk''? One might think so after this week's draft of college players by the National Basketball Association, which has suddenly adopted a global outlook and might want to consider renaming itself the League of Nations.
In the first two rounds, when the best prospects are snatched up, players were selected from West Germany, Canada, Spain, Haiti, and Sudan. Even with little hope of ever signing him, the Atlanta Hawks went after the Soviet Union's Arvidas Sabonis in the fourth round. And lest anyone forget, Patrick Ewing, the top choice, was born in Jamaica, although he is an American in New York at this point, the athletic property of the Knicks, who actually won the right to draft him in a seven-team lottery of non-playoff teams last month.
The ``Made in America'' label obviously isn't as essential as it used to be now that the sport has achieved worldwide popularity. Akeem Olajuwon of Nigeria proved that last year, when the Houston Rockets made the seven-footer the NBA's top draft pick.
What the pro teams really like are players who have gone through basketball ``finishing school'' at American colleges.
A case in point were Dallas's three first-round picks, two of which were lassoed away from other clubs in trades. West Germany's Detlef Schrempf played at the University of Washington, his countryman Uwe Blab at Indiana, and Canada's Bill Wennington at St. John's.
Schrempf was one of the most intriguing players on the board, a versatile performer who can play forward as well as guard, despite being 6 ft. 10 in. Called ``a poor man's Larry Bird'' by scout Marty Blake, blond-haired Det the Jet is a superb passer and competitor.
So why didn't Seattle, with the fourth overall choice, take this local hero, who was eventually drafted ninth? Good question, since the Sonics went for a ``brand X'' player. But 6-6 Xavier McDaniel of Wichita State was no mystery man to pro scouts, who duly noted that he was the first major college player to win scoring and rebounding titles in the same year.
For NBA fans, this year's draft was one of the most eagerly anticipated in league history. For starters, it had Ewing, who many observers feel has the potential to be a dominating center. Then too, extensive TV coverage of college games has heightened public awareness of all the talent available in this year's draft, the first in eight years to include members of a gold medal-winning US Olympic team.
Seven-footers were plentiful, and six were first-round picks. San Diego, which reportedly may trade Bill Walton, took Benoit Benjamin of Creighton with the third choice, and soon to follow were Jon Koncak of Southern Methodist (Atlanta) Blair Rasmussen of Oregon (Denver), Wennington, and Blab. Less likely to scrape doorways, but not by much, were 6-11 Joe Kleine of Arkansas (Sacramento) and 6-10 Keith Lee of Memphis State (drafted by Chicago but traded to Cleveland).
Despite his height, one player passed up until the second round was 7-6 Manute Bol, the Sudanese shot swatter and the tallest player in the US this past season. The Washington Bullets may have gotten the biggest steal of the draft by making him the 31st pick. Bol is bedpost thin and under-seasoned, with just a year at the University of Bridgeport under his elevated belt, but his potential is enormous. Even as a backup he could be invaluable -- as a drawing card if nothing else.
Oklahoma's Wayman Tisdale, a 6-9 forward and the draft's second overall pick, is another player capable of putting fans in the seats. He'll do so for the Indiana Pacers with his considerable scoring and rebounding talents, plus a personality that could pump new life into this depressed franchise.
Chris Mullin of St. John's ought to be able to spark renewed interest in the Golden State Warriors, but don't expect him to turn the team around. A combination guard and forward, Mullin possesses a tremendous feel for the game, but at only 6-6, and without much speed, he isn't expected to make a major impact in the manner of Ewing, with whom he shared much of last season's national spotlight.