Toronto -- It's a scene that Joe Smith already has played out in his mind dozens of times: draft night at SkyDome, with NBA commissioner David Stern addressing the crowd to announce the top pick of the draft.
"A lot of people want to be the first pick, so when that moment comes I'm sure my heart will drop," Smith, wearing NBA-issued T-shirt and shorts, said yesterday. "It will be nerve-racking when he goes to the podium and says 'the Golden State Warriors' -- and then that slight pause."
Many expect that pause to be followed by the name of Smith, the consensus collegiate Player of the Year at Maryland. Smith leads a stellar crop of sophomores, with Jerry Stackhouse, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace the others expected to make up the first four picks of tonight's draft.
In a draft that's loaded with power forwards and short on backcourt players, there's a possibility that for the first time the first four picks will enter the league with two years or less collegiate experience. The only threat to the chain of order at the top is 19-year-old Kevin Garnett, a recent high school graduate who is bypassing college for the riches of the NBA.
And so yesterday's get-acquainted session was dominated by players who, when their rookie season starts in November, won't even be old enough to go out to most nightclubs. Yet despite their youth, they're extremely confident in their playing ability.
"I think we're ready," said Wallace, who figures to go third to the Philadelphia 76ers or fourth to the Washington Bullets, barring last-minute trades. "A whole lot of people doubt us. They say we're too young. But if we didn't think we were ready, we'd have stayed in school."
And perhaps they would have stayed in school had a rookie salary cap been in place before their decisions. A labor deal that was agreed upon in principle Friday would implement a rookie cap for this year's class, with the top pick making $2.061 million in his first year of a maximum three-year deal, after which players would become unrestricted free agents.
It's a far cry from the long-term, multimillion-dollar deals rookies have signed in recent years, including the 10-year, $68 million contract of last year's top pick, Glenn Robinson.
"It's going to be hard to deal with, because the main reason why a lot of [underclassmen] came out when they did was to beat the cap," Smith said. "All of the other players had the chance to break the bank. I feel we should have the opportunity."
Stackhouse had a different way of looking at the rookie salary cap.
"I don't think I love it as much right now," Stackhouse said. "But I hope I love it in three years."
Stackhouse, who has been compared to another North Carolina alumnus, Michael Jordan, is expected to be selected by the Los Angeles Clippers with the third pick. But he is not thrilled at the prospect of playing in Los Angeles, which makes being a restricted free agent after three years attractive.
"I'm not crazy about L.A., not because of the Clippers," Stackhouse said. "I've just heard stories about things that go on in Los Angeles from a social standpoint."
But what about playing for the Clippers?
"I've heard the Clippers will mess your career up; everybody who goes there has a horrible time; you'll get hurt," Stackhouse said, after some prodding. "I've heard everything about the team. I'm ready to deal with whatever happens."
McDyess, on the other hand, is overwhelmed about being a possible top four pick. His 13.9-point average his sophomore season was modest, but McDyess dominated in his two NCAA tournament games at the Baltimore Arena against Penn and Oklahoma State. Over his final five games, McDyess averaged 21.4 points and 16.2 rebounds.
"It was just a situation where the guards started getting me the ball, but it was a total surprise to me being that I didn't score a lot during the season," McDyess said. "To not have a great regular season, and then to burst out like that, that's how [fellow Alabama alums] Latrell Sprewell and Robert Horry were. When they went to the NBA they had great careers. I'm hoping I can do the same."
Teams that have seen McDyess play believe he has that potential.
"He probably has as much talent as anyone out there," Boston Celtics coach and general manager M. L. Carr said. "He has the quickness and the strength to be a bona fide forward in this league."
Which is why McDyess said he doesn't believe he would "fit in well" with the Bullets, who have two players capable of playing the position in Chris Webber and Juwan Howard.
"They have so many power forwards," McDyess said. "It would be tough to go down there and get a chance to play."
Wallace, whose on-court temper has drawn some criticism, said he doesn't care where he plays, although he would welcome the opportunity to return home and play with the 76ers.
"I can't say 'I want to go there,' " Wallace said. "But I would like to play at home. I grew up watching the Sixers with Dr. J and Maurice Cheeks. Plus I wouldn't have to travel far to get a home-cooked meal from my mom."
If Smith has a preference on where he'd like to end up, he's not saying. He does say that he'd like to be the No. 1 pick and would be content to wind up with the Warriors.
"It would mean a lot, because to be the top pick would be like having bragging rights," Smith said. "But to make the NBA is a dream come true. And whether I'm No. 1 or No. 5, just so that I'm playing in the NBA is more than enough for me."
NOTES: If Smith, Stackhouse and Wallace are selected 1-2-3, it will mark the first time that a conference had the top three picks since 1986. That year the ACC placed Brad Daugherty (North Carolina), Len Bias (Maryland) and Chris Washburn (North Carolina State) in the top three. . . . Seventeen players, including Garnett, are expected at SkyDome tonight.