Nearly every day, on the bus after practice or at the team hotel, Magic guard Corey Maggette takes out his cell phone and calls Bulls forward Elton Brand, his pal and former Duke teammate. The two rookies chat about NBA life, the latest movies or maybe the fortunes of the Blue Devils. "Sometimes we'll talk three or four times a day," says Maggette, who last season used to crash on the sofa at the apartment Brand shared with Duke point guard William Avery.
Brand, who left Durham after his sophomore season and was the No. I pick in last June's draft, has become a Rookie of the Year candidate, but Maggette, who turned pro as a freshman, has had a broader range of NBA experience. In eight months Maggette, a 6'6" sky walker who was selected 13th, has been traded (on draft day, from Seattle to Orlando), missed a game to freak injury (a twisted ankle when he stepped on a ball during warmups), lost his spot in the rotation (to third-year guard Anthony Parker), missed two more games with an infected toe, regained his spot in the rotation (sorry, Anthony) and had his name surface in trade rumors. Oh, yeah, at week's end he was also averaging 8.8 points—on 48.6% shooting—and 4.1 rebounds in 18.9 minutes a game off the bench. Says Brand, "Corey's like a veteran already."
Maggette's ascension and Brand's precocious play (he was averaging 18.2 points and 9.8 boards) have stood in sharp contrast to the performances of Avery and Cavaliers guard Trajan Langdon, the other Duke players taken among the first 14 picks in last summer's draft. A 6'3" shooting guard chosen No. II as a senior, Langdon averaged 4.9 points (hitting eight of 19 three-pointers) and 14.5 minutes in Cleveland's first 10 games before suffering bruised cartilage in his right knee; last week he underwent surgery and will miss the rest of the season. While healthy, the 6'2" Avery, who was picked 14th by the Timberwolves, has also been MIA, averaging just 2.1 points and 7.3 minutes.
When Avery announced he was going pro after his sophomore season, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski publicly questioned the decision, saying he felt Avery—and Maggette—needed more seasoning. But Avery's biggest problem is that he's stuck behind Terrell Brandon and Bobby Jackson, two experienced point guards on a team fighting for playoff position. "I don't regret [leaving Duke] at all," says Avery. "You can learn just as much by watching as you can by playing."
On the court Avery, Langdon and Maggette have a way to go before they catch up with Brand, a 6'8", 260-pound banger. Off the court Brand has even had some fun at Maggette's expense. When reports surfaced in November that a pedicure had caused Maggette's toe infection (a story he denies), Brand called Maggette "a pretty boy" in a Chicago newspaper. When reminded of it recently, Brand laughed, then asked, "Corey doesn't know I said that, does he?"
If he didn't, Elton, he just found out. You might want to turn off your cell phone.