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From SLEEPERS to KEEPERS
Jack McCallum
March 09, 1992
There are many schools of thought on why so many small-school players are making it in the NBA these days
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March 09, 1992

From Sleepers To Keepers

There are many schools of thought on why so many small-school players are making it in the NBA these days

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Some prospects, though, take longer to develop than others. The Knicks' John Starks played only one season at a Division I school, Oklahoma State, after fleeting stops at three Oklahoma junior colleges as well as at Safeway supermarkets, where he stocked shelves for a while out of financial necessity. But Starks, like Elie, ultimately made it to the bigs via the CBA, and perhaps the same thing will happen to Myron Brown (Slippery Rock) and Bobby Phills (Southern), two other Men from Nowhere, who were drafted in the second round in 1991 and are currently toiling in the CBA.

The most compelling reason that so many Men from Nowhere make it to Somewhere, however, is that most of them share a gritty, ultracompetitive, I've-got-something-to-prove attitude. "It's often a two-sided coin with these guys from small schools," says Portland vice-president of basketball operations Bucky Buckwalter, who rarely drafts well-known college players and prefers to scour the rural rough for his diamonds. "Most of the time they haven't played against great competition, and that can be a factor. But on the other hand they haven't been pampered or spoiled by success and attention. They just seem to want it more than other players."

That feeling of wanting it starts early. "You know that you're an underdog," says Stockton. "And when you start to achieve some good results, you still keep that underdog attitude. That can be very, very potent."

Kersey, whose alma mater was an all-women's school until 1972, agrees. "I think the people in my situation always have something to prove," he says. "A lot of us were talented but just never got the chance. I always felt you have to show you are willing to work harder than the next guy. I still do. I figure every time I go out on the court, I have to prove myself all over again."

And Rodman is almost messianic in his belief that small schools make big men. "I didn't get glory, I didn't get praises, I didn't get money, I didn't get people giving me anything," says the Worm. "I was just one of the crowd in college, and that gave me a work ethic like nobody else's. And I'll tell you, when I did succeed, when I did come out ahead of a lot of those other guys who were better known, it felt so-o-o-o good."

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