Originally created 06/29/01

Experts can't see the light



The most proven basketball big man in Georgia waited deep into the night to discover his fate.

Long after high school prodigy Kwame Brown of Brunswick, Ga., was feted by Michael Jordan as the history-making No. 1 selection in the 2001 NBA Draft, Georgia Tech's Alvin Jones sat with his glossy resume in hand. His 6 feet, 11 inches apparently didn't measure up as well as Brown's.

Not until the 57th selection - one pick before everybody went home and Madison Square Garden turned out the lights - did Jones finally get chosen by the Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia 76ers.

Can anybody see what's wrong with this picture? How can a kid fresh out of Glynn Academy be that much better than a first-team all-ACC center? Is somebody blind?

Actually ... yes. Jones, it seems, was poked in his left eye during a high school game his sophomore season at Kathleen High School in Lakeland, Fla. The result of that ancient injury is apparently a little blurred vision. During a pre-draft physical with the Toronto Raptors, the vision thing suddenly became a major issue. The diagnosis: Jones is partially blind in his left eye.

That kind of assessment adds a lot of weight to the 265 pounds Jones already carries. As word spread among the general managers, Jones' stock dropped from a projected late first-round pick. The consensus: He must be hiding something.

"That's something we knew about, but we didn't think it was a big issue because it's something he's played with since 1995," said Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech's basketball coach. "We didn't make a big deal about it. Apparently (NBA general managers) felt that was good enough reason to shy away from him. It's very fair to say I'm disappointed in the process."

I don't know about the NBA folks, but I think I could work with a player who can score more than 1,000 points, grab more than 1,000 rebounds and block more than 400 shots while BLIND in one eye. Sounds like a player to me.

Experts didn't seem to care about Jones' commanding defense or that he almost single-handedly elevated the Yellow Jackets to respectability and an NCAA berth last season.

Jones, who tested his game the past four years against the likes of Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer and Brendan Haywood, didn't grouse about being taken so late and being denied the guaranteed contract that only first-rounders receive.

"I think I'm more disappointed than he is," Hewitt said. "He knows he can play in the NBA and he will play in the NBA. I was disappointed in where he went. I expect Alvin to have a better NBA career than many of the kids who were drafted ahead of him."

Jones is not the only college player who must be wondering what the last few developmental years have meant. Draftable college seniors are becoming a rarity these days.

Brown didn't just make history - he started a run. Three of the first four picks were high school players, and the fourth was a 20-year-old from Spain. Of the 28 first-round picks, nine never played major-college ball. That's almost one of every three players picked.

"I'm just surprised at the direction of the draft," Hewitt said. "There was a time when kids who had proven how to win were commodities. The NBA has become such a league based on potential that they're really sending a different message now. Instead of proving that you can win and have the mental toughness to persevere through tough times, now it's all about potential."

As a result, the NBA turns a blind eye to proven winners. Pity.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.