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Signs say NBA draft going back to college


Amid all the late posturing and trade proposals that will inevitably take place in the final hours before Tuesday's NBA draft, there appears to be one certainty.

Shortly after NBA commissioner David Stern announces the first overall selection, he'll be joined on the Madison Square Garden stage by a player who honed his game in college basketball last season.

With the top pick, the Milwaukee Bucks will likely select either North Carolina forward Marvin Williams or Utah center Andrew Bogut. One of those two is expected to become the first collegian since Cincinnati's Kenyon Martin - whom the New Jersey Nets tabbed in 2000 - to be drafted No. 1 overall.

Either selection will be an appropriate start to a draft that, for the first time in several years, will likely be dominated by collegians - not foreign players and certainly not high school stars trying to make the jump straight to the NBA.

"I'd say you are going to have more college players in the first round this year," said NBA director of scouting Marty Blake. "You just have a lot of quality guys out there."

Blake estimated that as many as 23 of the 30 first-round selections could be college players. Last year, only 15 college players were taken in the first round of a draft that was ultimately defined by the eight high school players selected in the first 19 picks.

In 2003, 17 college players were first-round picks, two fewer than in 2002.

"In recent drafts, I think this one will probably set a record" for the number of college players selected, said Chris Monter, editor and publisher of Monter Draft News and College Basketball News.

Bogut is a 7-foot Australian armed with international experience and a smaller man's set of skills. Williams, an athletic 19-year-old, didn't start as a freshman this season for national champion North Carolina, but is heralded by scouts as having the most upside of any player in the draft.

There are a host of other players who caught the NBA's attention after stellar college seasons and will probably be off the board by the midway point of the first round. That list includes Williams' teammates, Raymond Felton and Sean May, Wake Forest guard Chris Paul and Illinois guard Deron Williams

Three of the draft's fastest-rising players - New Mexico's Danny Granger, Syracuse's Hakim Warrick and Arizona's Channing Frye - all have four years of college experience on their resumes.

"This is a little different year," said ESPN college basketball analyst Andy Katz. "It's not as strong of a high school class, and the international pool is also not as strong as it has been."

Katz said the draft being top heavy with college players is a cyclical phenomenon, rather than a trend. Kenny Williamson, director of scouting for the Charlotte Bobcats, agreed.

"I don't know if the scholastic draft is as good as it's been the past few years," he said. "These type of things tend to balance themselves out after a while."

Monter, however, said he thinks some teams will probably learn from their mistakes after being burned by taking international players, especially early in recent drafts.

In 2003, the Detroit Pistons selected Darko Milicic with the second pick in the draft, ahead of established college stars Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade. Anthony and Wade have become superstars in the league, while Milicic has averaged just 1.6 points a game over two seasons and is a fixture on the Pistons' bench.

The Denver Nuggets picked Nikoloz Tskitishvili of the Republic of Georgia at No. 5 in 2002, four picks before the Phoenix Suns grabbed future All-Star Amare Stoudemire. Tskitishvili has averaged just three points per game in his career.

Since 2002, 20 international players have been drafted in the first round. Only Yao Ming, the first overall selection in 2002 by the Houston Rockets, Nene Hilario, who went seventh to the Nuggets in 2002, and Nenad Krstic, the 24th pick in 2002 by the Nets, have averaged at least 10 points per game in their careers.

"I think there is more of a fear factor with the international kids," Monter said. "Too many teams are taking them when not seeing enough of them. But a guy like Hakim Warrick has probably played about 130 college games. More people have seen what he can do and, because he has played four years in college, he's going to be able to step in quicker."

Sun staff writer Don Markus contributed to this article.

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