Many players trying to make the jump from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the NBA are proving themselves for the first time in their basketball careers, having been stars throughout high school and college.
And then there is Evers Burns.
"It's the story of my life," Burns said last week.
It happened when Burns left Woodlawn High School for the University of Maryland four years ago. Highly recruited as a tight end in football, Burns was virtually ignored by upper-echelon Division I schools in basketball.
It happened when the burly, 6-foot-8 forward went from bench player as a freshman to role player as a sophomore to the team's second-leading scorer behind Walt Williams as a junior to its top scorer and rebounder last season.
And now it is happening again. After putting himself in position to get drafted with impressive performances at a couple of postseason invitational tournaments, after being made the second-round pick of the Sacramento Kings and then having a good rookie camp, Burns must prove himself at training camp, which opened yesterday.
"It's another step I'm going to take," Burns said last week from Sacramento, where he was working out informally with the Kings, including Williams, the team's No. 1 pick a year ago. "I'm not going to think it's a big step. I've done it for 22 years. I can do it another time."
It appears that Burns will complete what amounts to a hard-to-believe journey, a beat-the-odds saga up there with anybody's in the NBA. Though his hopes to get a guaranteed contract before training camp were delayed by the team's contract negotiations with No. 1 pick Bobby Hurley of Duke, Burns signed a one-year contract Tuesday and likely will make the Kings.
Kings general manager Jerry Reynolds said last week that Burns is expected to take the spot of Anthony Bonner, one of two players not re-signed so that the team could stay under the salary cap after signing Hurley to a six-year, $16.5 million contract. Burns signed for the league-minimum $150,000.
"It's really a bad situation due to lottery picks getting all the money, so the second-round guys have to adjust," Reynolds said of Burns, the 31st pick in the draft. "It's really unfair to some of them. In Evers' case, he certainly got caught in the system. But I think there are minutes for him here, and he could benefit if he does well. I'd be very surprised if he doesn't make this team."
The Kings foresee Burns as sort of an Anthony Mason-type player -- minus the nasty attitude the Knicks forward carries with him on the court. They would like Burns to be able to play big and small forwards, but his defensive deficiencies might limit him to the power position for the time being.
The only concern they have about Burns is his fluctuating weight, something that has followed him throughout his career. Burns got into great shape for the postseason tryout tournaments -- his performances at the Portsmouth Invitational and Desert Classic were perhaps the single biggest factors for him being drafted -- and admittedly has slacked off a bit since.
"What kind of career he has depends on what kind of shape he's in, and whether he maintains an NBA body," said Reynolds. "Certainly it's not a major problem. He might have to lose about 10 pounds right now. His chest and stomach are in similar proportion to mine -- except in a larger body. But he's an intelligent young man and he knows what he has to do."
Said Burns: "I'm glad I came out here two weeks before camp started, so I could start working out again. I need to get into NBA shape. I want to get down to 250-255 [from 265]."
The subject of weight long has been a topic of conversation between Burns and his second cousin, Len Elmore. A former Maryland star who played a decade in the NBA before becoming an attorney, Elmore has gone from being Burns' unofficial adviser to his agent.
It came up again this summer.
"I read the riot act to him," said Elmore, who also represents Williams and former Dunbar star Sam Cassell, among others in his growing NBA clientele. "I kept asking him if he was working out, and he said he was. The fact is that he didn't work as hard as he should have been and he paid the price when he went out there for rookie camp. And there's a big difference between that and what he's going to face in the NBA."
Burns said he is ready for camp, and for taking that next step. While his weight is nearly as high as it has ever been, his confidence is even higher. It was bolstered not only in the postseason invitationals, but in the workouts he was part of at Georgetown this summer, with players such as Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning.
pTC "I think I proved I could hold my own," said Burns.
And here he goes again, trying to write another unlikely chapter to this never-ending story. The one that began in Woodlawn and could wind up in the NBA.