NBA TEAMS wagered heavily on proven players at last week's draft, selecting far more college upperclassmen in the first round (18) than players from high school (three) and international clubs (four). In addition to favoring collegians, the Charlotte Bobcats picked a pair of winners, using lottery choices on point guard Raymond Felton (No. 5) and power forward Sean May (No. 13) from NCAA champion North Carolina. They join power forward Emeka Okafor, the reigning Rookie of the Year, who led UConn to the 2004 title. "We're trying to build a culture of winning," says Bobcats president Ed Tapscott. "Players from prime-time programs are used to winning and understand what it takes."
Although G.M. and coach Bernie Bickerstaff prefers big guards, he was won over by the 6-foot Felton, the fastest playmaker in the draft. NBA scouts knocked him on two counts: as a spotty shooter with inconsistent form (even though he hit 44.0% of his threes last year) and as a point who's only comfortable playing at breakneck speed. The Bobcats believe that he will be able to adjust the tempo as needed, a notion that Felton emphasized in a call to Bickerstaff on the eve of the draft. Said Tar Heels coach Roy Williams at the draft in New York, "Last year Ray Felton's coach told him to push the ball as hard as he could from foul line to foul line because that was best for his team, and Ray Felton did what his coach asked him to do. If his new coach wants him to do something different, then that's what he's going to do."
The New Jersey Nets (15th) and the Boston Celtics (18th) were among the teams hoping to steal May, an undersized 6'81/2" power forward who compensates with a variety of old-school post-up moves and a nose for the boards. The Bobcats now have a power rotation of May, Okafor and center Primoz Brezec. "People say that we must have drafted these guys for marketing," says Tapscott, "but we addressed one basic need--talent."
Not that the team doesn't appreciate the link to Chapel Hill: Tapscott hopes that when fans in Charlotte think about the NBA, they forget about the Hornets, who ran off to New Orleans, and instead focus on the new association with the Tar Heels. With an 18,500-seat arena scheduled to open next season, the Bobcats need a bump in attendance after ranking 29th (14,431 per game) in their inaugural campaign--during which they won only 18 games. "The fact that they're Carolina guys adds a whole new element to what we're trying to do," says Tapscott. "But whatever we do, success is the key." --I.T.