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Saturday, April 20, 2002

No ifs, ands or buts, Gooden made right decision

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Not too long ago I saw a comment from Don Chaney, head coach of the New York Knicks, one of the NBA's below-water teams.

Chaney was talking about potential NBA draft choices for a long time that's all Knicks' fans have had to talk about and Chaney allowed how he didn't think any of the players available for the 2002 draft qualified as an impact player.

"And that," Chaney said, "includes Drew Gooden."

What is an impact player, anyway? Shaq was an impact player. Chamberlain was an impact player. Abdul-Jabbar was an impact player.

Impact players come to the NBA about as often as the Cleveland Cavaliers appear on national television. So what if Gooden isn't an impact player. He's still a helluva specimen. He can run, he can jump, he can shoot. If he stood seven feet or taller he'd be like a meteorite striking the earth and leaving a crater as big as Eudora.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Gooden could not improve his draft status by staying in college, and that it was time to go. Rarely have I ever received so many e-mails. The majority agreed, but the ones who did not were vehement and, in some cases, rude.

"He's still a kid," someone wrote. "He really likes school."

He does? School would be great, all right, if you didn't have to go to class and do all that homework. School is a means to an end. That's why people go to school. And, in essence, Gooden has gone to school while he has acquired the means to his end.

Still, Gooden stressed he will not drop out of school as Paul Pierce, the last KU player to turn pro after his junior year, did. "I WILL get my degree," Gooden vowed. Pierce didn't say that.

To tell the truth, the people who thought Gooden would stay were the ones who had either seen him in class or had heard he was going to class. Someone called Friday morning and said he had heard Gooden had attended an extra-credit lecture and wondered if that sounded like someone who wasn't planning to come back to school.

As it turns out, Gooden will come back to Kansas University. He just didn't say when.

If Gooden remains healthy, he should have a long career in the NBA. I'll be interested to see if he can hit the NBA three-point shot. If he can, he'll be around for a long time because big men who can shoot from long range discombobulate NBA defenses.

Right now, Raef LaFrentz and Pierce are the two best former Jayhawks in the NBA. To me, Gooden projects as a LaFrentz with athleticism. And if he works on the weights to improve his upper-body strength he could become a Pierce with size.

When Pierce played for the Jayhawks, his main weakness, it seemed to me, was a penchant for being whistled for charging. Then Pierce went to the NBA and blossomed, in large part, because nobody takes a charge. It's like an unwritten law.

In basketball, each position has a number. The center is No. 5, the power forward is No. 4, the small forward is No. 3, the shooting guard is No. 2 and the point guard is No. 1. In the NBA, Gooden projects as a No. 3 1/2. He won't be strong enough at least right away to muscle with stronger veterans, but has the offensive skills of a small forward right now.

Another aspect that needs work is ball-handling. He isn't a bad dribbler, particularly for a man his size, but he had a tendency to dribble too much with his back to the basket. He'll learn not to do that probably the hard way in the NBA. As a passer, Gooden is, uh, inconsistent. All in all, he has to be classified as turnover-prone.

Nevertheless, the pros love his other basketball skills, and don't think for a moment they haven't noted his competitiveness. Unfortunately, Gooden will probably have to learn how to lose because he'll be drafted by a poor team. Sooner or later, all pro athletes have to learn to lose. The ones who survive are the ones who learn never to like it.

Drew Gooden did the right thing Friday. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

Eventually, of course, they all leave and it's sad you'll never have a chance to see Gooden, LaFrentz, Pierce et al. play in person again unless you drive eight hours to Denver or Dallas, or fly to Chicago.

Few mourned when the Kings moved from Kansas City to Sacramento back in the '80s, but it sure would be nice to have a franchise in Kemper Arena now.

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