When Bryce Drew, Indiana's Mr. Basketball of 1994, decided to attend Valparaiso instead of Notre Dame four years ago, conventional wisdom had it that Drew, a 6'3" guard, would disappear from the nations radar screen, untelevised and therefore uncelebrated. While it's true that Drew sacrificed major air time to play for his father, Homer, at a basketball backwater—he has been on national TV just five times in four years at Valparaiso—his labors have not gone completely unnoticed. The most prodigious three-point shooter in Mid-Continent Conference history, Drew is considered to be "one of the best guards in the country," according to NBA director of scouting Marty Blake. "Bryce is a good pro prospect and one of the few players who handles the point and scoring guard positions well."
Is Drew a hidden gem on the level of the Chicago Bulls' Ron Harper ( Miami of Ohio), Scottie Pippen (Central Arkansas) or Dennis Rodman (Southeastern Oklahoma State)? Only time—and a scouting combine or two—will tell. Meanwhile, here are some other underexposed pro prospects emerging from college basketball's less publicized precincts.
?Center Brian Skinner, 6'10", 245, Baylor. After resisting the urging of his mother, Gladys, to quit basketball during high school because of the pain caused by a growth spurt, Skinner was averaging 18.3 points, 9.6 boards and 3.3 blocks a game through Sunday. Kansas center Raef LaFrentz calls Skinner "the toughest defender in the Big 12," and NBA scouts are calling him a top 15 pick. "He's active, and he can rebound and block shots," says Mavericks director of player personnel Keith Grant. "Those guys make it in our league."
? Forward Bonzi Wells, 6'5", 210, Ball State. Wells (SI, Jan. 12, 1998) had 2,382 points through Sunday, five more than the MidAmerican Conference career record set by Harper in 1986, and his 335 steals were also a league mark. Says Darrell Hedric, the Cavaliers' head scout, "I think he'll be a high first-round draft choice."
?Guard Saddi Washington, 6'3", 180, Western Michigan. Lightly recruited coming out of Lansing (Mich.) Sexton High, Washington picked Western Michigan for its business program but has expanded his career options by battling back from surgery on both knees. He was scoring 22.0 points a game and can turn it on against the big boys: He had 33 points against Michigan and 25 against Indiana this season, and he was named MVP of the Hoosier Classic, the first non-Indiana player to win the award in the tournament's 16-year history.
? Forward Shawn Marion, 6'7", 210, Vincennes ( Ind.) junior college. Recruited by Tennessee and Vanderbilt as a senior at Clarksville ( Tenn.) High, he landed at Vincennes when he didn't qualify academically. Though Marion, who was averaging 23.4 points and 11.9 rebounds a game for the Trailblazers, has signed a letter of intent with UNLV, he says there is "a big chance" he'll jump to the pros next year. A Pippen type who can pass, run the floor and "get in two jumps in the time most people take for one," according to his coach, Dan Sparks, Marion has been getting a hard look from just about everyone, including Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, who may soon be Pippen-less. "He's one of those guys who's ultra-quick in everything he does," says Courtney Witte, a former scout for the Indiana Pacers. "He's definitely a prospect. You can see where he really projects as a player."
Well, right at the moment you can't, given Vincennes's nonexistent TV schedule. But if this scouting report holds true, the TV blackout on these players will end soon enough.
The Volunteers Are Set Free
All you have to do is look at the cover of this magazine to get an idea of how tough it has been to play on the Tennessee men's team the last few years. While the Lady Vols were winning two national titles in the last two years, the men were looking for their first NCAA bid since 1989. And if there was any fun to be had, it was lost laboring in a walk-it-up, work-it-ill offense under former coach Kevin O'Neill.
But suddenly the Tennessee men are winning and having fun doing it, which is almost as star-ding a sight as the new orange-topped billiards table in the Vols' locker room. The winning and the pool table are both upgrades that can be traced to new coach Jerry Green, a former Roy Williams assistant at Kansas who spent the last five years rebuilding Oregon's program. Though Green is working with O'Neill's players, he has gotten rid of O'Neill's offensive shackles. "The only rule about shooting now is that you have to be off the bus," says junior guard Brandon Wharton. Indeed, Green has promised to levy a $50 fine against any assistant who utters the words "bad shot," and already the Vols have taken 136 more three-pointers than they did all last season.