'93 rookie crop looks pretty weak unless bulked by underclassmen

The NBA's 1992 rookie crop has been justly hailed as one of the best freshman classes in league history, with special praise reserved for Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner, Tom Gugliotta, Walt Williams, Clarence Weatherspoon and LaPhonso Ellis, who are all posting impressive statistics.

But pro talent scouts already are assessing the top candidates for June's draft, and their early reports have been dour at best.


If the 1993 draft, in fact, were restricted to seniors, it would be almost bereft of high-profile players except Indiana forward Calbert Cheaney and Tennessee shooting guard Allan Houston, both certified lottery picks.

Even though Duke's Bobby Hurley has the solid endorsement of Magic Johnson, a number of NBA evaluators wonder whether his play-making skills will carry over to the pros.


Seton Hall's fluid Terry Dehere, UNLV's explosive small forward J. R. Rider, promising Hartford center Vin Baker, clever Kansas guard Adonis Jordan, and shot-blocking Iowa cornstalk Acie Earl appear first-round selections. But then the pickings get extremely thin.

Forgotten, however, is that the Class of '93 would have included O'Neal, New Jersey Nets point guard Kenny Anderson and Dallas Mavericks holdout Jim Jackson, had they not opted to turn pro before fulfilling their college eligibility.

And the same will hold true this year when at least a half-dozen highly prized underclassmen are expected to become instant millionaires.

This group includes expected lottery picks Jamal Mashburn of Kentucky and Rodney Rogers of Wake Forest, a pair of all-purpose forwards, and gifted guard Anfernee Hardaway of Memphis State, who has been called "the next Magic."

There are also strong rumors that several members of Michigan's "Fab Five" will quit the Wolverines after their sophomore seasons. Power forward Chris Webber, who could very well be the first player chosen, is considered certain to do that, and teammates Jalen Rose and Juwan Howard could follow.

"If all these kids come out," said Washington Bullets general manager John Nash, "then, all of a sudden, it looks like a pretty good draft."

Dirty laundry?

It has become popular in the NBA to classify the New York Knicks as unreformed thugs on a mission to destroy all weak-kneed rivals. But Knicks coach Pat Riley won't apologize for an intimidating style that has resulted in repeated fines for muscular forwards Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason.


Said Riley: "We don't feel like we're teaching anything other than hard, aggressive defense. But we take pride in stepping up and challenging, taking charges, giving our bodies up. We're not going to let people drive down the lane uncontested, but we're not going to flagrantly foul anybody."

After he was recently roughed up by the Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers 300-pounder Stanley Roberts said, "They cross the line of being dirty when it's not necessary."

But the Knicks have a strong defender in Miami coach Kevin Loughery, who would like to see his struggling Heat flex more muscle.

"I love the way New York plays," said Loughery. "They foul you on every play, and the referees can only call so many."

Appeal-ing Suns

The Phoenix Suns have protested their overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs last week that ended their 14-game winning streak.


As those who watched the nationally televised game observed, the Spurs had six men on the floor with four-tenths of a second left in regulation. But none of the officials spotted the infraction, which should have drawn an automatic technical.

An appeal ruling is due this week, but the Suns' chances of winning are all but nil. The league has not recognized a game protest since 1982, when the Spurs won an appeal against the Los Angeles Lakers.