Head of the Class
Shaquille O'Neal's announcement last week that he will forgo his final year at LSU gives the NBA draft its biggest jackpot since Georgetown's Patrick Ewing fell into the New York Knicks' lap in 1985. O'Neal is certain to be the No. 1 pick, but the question remains: Who will be No. 2, Duke's Christian Laettner or Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning?
During the Final Four weekend SI asked 14 scouts and player personnel specialists representing 12 NBA teams whom they would choose if they had the second selection of the draft. Laettner received 12 of the 14 votes, and one Western Conference scout said he would seriously consider choosing Laettner ahead of O'Neal.
Laettner was preferred because of his versatility, the fact that a traditional center like Mourning is no longer seen as essential to winning a championship and, as one scout put it, "whatever it is inside Laettner that makes him such a winner. He's made the big shots and the big plays year after year."
The two votes that went to Mourning were based largely on his defensive ability. "There's always a place in the NBA for a shot blocker," said a scout. "Even if Mourning never gets any better offensively—and he probably will—he'll be a force in the NBA."
Indiana coach Bob Knight, deemed racially insensitive by some critics for his playful use of a bullwhip on Hoosier forward Calbert Cheaney, who is black, during the West Regional in Albuquerque, defended himself in part by saying that 15 of the 18 black players who had completed four years in his program had earned their degrees. According to Indiana media guides and the university's registrar, Knight's math is off: Eight of 11 black players who have played four years for him have graduated. And since Knight brought up the subject, there are other points worth mentioning.
Knight just finished his 21st season at Indiana, and 11 black players staying four years during that time is not exactly a huge number. Knight's record is even less impressive in light of the fact that those 11 are less than half of the 24 black players who entered Indiana as freshmen under Knight (he has had four black junior college transfers).
That's not to say that race was a factor in all or any of the departures—Knight has had his share of white players, including Larry Bird, leave early as well. Knight made his record with black players look better than it really is by forgetting about a lot of them. We just wanted to jog his memory.