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The Start Something Big
Chris Ballard
October 28, 2002
Staking the future on two raw 7-footers—TYSON CHANDLER and EDDY CURRY—the Bulls hope the growing pains are brief and the payoff is huge
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October 28, 2002

The Start Something Big

Staking the future on two raw 7-footers—TYSON CHANDLER and EDDY CURRY—the Bulls hope the growing pains are brief and the payoff is huge

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Looming Large

Here's a shortlist of young giants--in addition to baby Bulls Curry and Chandler—who look poised to have breakout seasons.

Player

Age

Team

Hgt.

Wgt.

NBA season

Brendan Haywood

23

Wizards

7 feet

268

Second

Proved himself an able shot blocker and rebounder as a rookie but hit the wall in February, then had surgery to repair loose cartilage in his right knee. Spent the summer lifting weights. With added scoring threats in Washington's lineup he'll get easier buckets-and with Popeye Jones gone, he'll get more minutes.

Jerome James

26

SuperSonics

7'1"

285

Third

Immense yet athletic; dunked on an 11'4" rim while playing for the Harlem Globetrotters. Excellent shot blocker (4.48 rejections per game as a senior at Florida A&M) but undeveloped offensively. Prone to foul trouble and putting on pounds: His new three-year, $15 million contract includes a weight clause.

Rasho Nesterovic

26

Timberwolves

7 feet

250

Fifth

Slovenian began to come into his own in 2001-02, playing all 82 games and averaging 8.4 points and 6.5 rebounds. Has nice touch around the basket, effective hook shot. Confidence and consistency remain his biggest needs. Improvement could yield a huge payoff: Unrestricted free agency beckons next summer.

Zach Randolph

21

Trail Blazers

6'9"

253

Second

Destroyed the competition in the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league for second year in a row. Only averaged 6.0 minutes last season but led the league in offensive rebounds per 48 minutes (13.9). Will struggle for playing time in crowded Portland frontcourt but has NBA body, hands and instincts.

Jake Tsakalidis

23

Suns

7'2"

285

Third

Rap used to be that his defense was good but his offense was deplorable: tentative, bad hands, couldn't finish. After Stephon Marbury showed faith by using him in high pick-and-rolls late last season, Big Jake began racking up double doubles, cashing in on easier looks and taking it to the hole with more authority.

For Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, the Chicago Bulls' pair of underage 7-footers, NBA life offers educational opportunities every day. Last month, for instance, Chandler learned about the potential benefits of a home security system when, a little after 3 a.m., he was awakened by a strange noise downstairs in his North Shore apartment. "First thing I do is grab my pool stick in one hand and an iron in the other," he says, mimicking the stance he assumed with these unlikely weapons—a pose that made him look like a freakishly tall conquistador.

Chandler crept down the stairs cue-first. But instead of confronting the intruder—or a malfunctioning kitchen appliance—he made a break for the back door. Once outside, he did what any sensible person would do: He drove to the nearest hotel and checked in.

"And you never even called the cops?" asks strength and conditioning coach Erik Helland, who has been listening as Chandler tells the story at the team's practice facility, the Berto Center, in Deerfield, Ill.

"Uh, no," says Chandler, who still doesn't know what made the noise.

"What about your alarm?"

"I haven't figured out how to use it yet."

Helland walks away shaking his head. By now, though, after a season with Chandler, 20, and Curry, 19, he should be accustomed to such stories. Earlier in the summer it was Curry who was stopped outside the Berto Center by a policeman, who told him that his new all-terrain vehicle wasn't legal for city driving and that he'd have to get it off the street. Instead of pushing it a few blocks away to his condo, Curry left the truck in the Berto parking lot. "That was two months ago," says Helland. "It's still out there."

Ah, raising children. "Sometimes we forget that these are kids, and they're going to make the mistakes that kids make," says Chicago coach Bill Cartwright. He pauses and looks at his young charges, who are trying to do wheelies on their stationary bikes, then continues, "Our job is to make sure they aren't making the same mistakes five years from now."

If they are, it won't be because the Bulls didn't try. Ever since general manager Jerry Krause picked Chandler and Curry second and fourth, respectively, in the first round of the 2001 NBA draft—the first time a team selected two high school players in the same year-he has molded the team around them and assembled a crack squad of coaches, mentors and former NBA centers to instruct the duo on and off the court. Last February the Bulls acquired Ail-Star guard Jalen Rose to relieve the scoring pressure on Chandler and Curry; in June, Chicago drafted point guard Jay Williams of Duke to get them the ball. "They've done everything possible for us," says Chandler. "We can never look back in 10 years and say it's the team's fault if things don't work out. It's entirely on us."

There is a lot riding on those undeveloped shoulders. Mired in four seasons of post-Jordan malaise, Chicago (21-61 in 2001-02, last place in the Central Division) has asked fans to wait for the dawn of a new era of success—even if there is no timetable for it. Sure, teams have been built around players who arrived in the NBA straight from high school (most notably the Minnesota Timberwolves with Kevin Garnett) but never has one franchise bet so much on a pair of teenagers, let alone two big men, traditionally the slowest developers in the NBA.

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