July 6, 2007


Undrafted players can make an NBA roster

McClatchy Newspapers

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Ben Wallace's Afro. That's a sign.

He was not drafted out of Virginia Union in 1996 but eventually made it to the Detroit Pistons and became a Detroit favorite, dominating the inside as a defensive specialist as fans showed up to home games in wigs -- mad-scientist style -- in tribute to their working-class hero.

Bruce Bowen's hand. That's a sign.

He was not drafted out of Cal State Fullerton in 1993 but eventually found his way to San Antonio and started a championship ring collection, with three fingers filled in five seasons while he became one of the best perimeter defenders in the league.

They epitomize the hope of all the players who did not have their names called on June 28. The Kings' Brad Miller had a silent draft night in 1998 and will be making eight figures each of the next three seasons. Philadelphia's Kevin Ollie was left for the discard pile in 1995 and is still going. And Jorge Garbajosa was not picked during his years in Europe, but he signed with Toronto last summer and immediately made first-team All-Rookie. All signs of what is possible.

"I looked up to Chris Childs and John Starks and Darrell Armstrong, all those guys that came before me and paved the way," said Ollie, a 76ers guard. "If it wasn't for those guys and their sticking with it, I wouldn't be here. I look to those guys for confidence that I can do it also. You look at the guys, and you always root for those guys. You know what they've been through, you know what they've endured, and you know how tough it is to get there. So I always like to see the Anthony Johnsons and all those guys do well and go out there and accomplish something. That makes me feel proud that I have some part of that, too."

The short answer on the long shots is that few make it to the NBA, let alone last long enough to become familiar. But it is possible.

It is so possible to turn a sliver of hope into a career, in fact, that Avery Johnson went from being passed over 75 times in the 1988 draft to playing 16 seasons. Then he became the Dallas Mavericks' coach. Underdogs, rise up.

The Kings had three undrafted players by the end of the 2006-07 season: Miller, Ronnie Price and Justin Williams. Chicago, at times, had two in the starting lineup, Wallace and Andres Nocioni. Minnesota had two at the same position, point guards Mike James and Troy Hudson.

For the true beacon, though, there are the Spurs. They just won the title while starting one undrafted player the entire time, Bowen, and another one, Fabricio Oberto, part of the time.

And who was a guest on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" on June 19? Bruce Bowen. The guy who couldn't get anyone to take him among the 54 picks in '93, the guy who couldn't even get a workout with a team leading up to the draft was doing "Leno."

Bowen first had to play in France and the Continental Basketball Association before sticking in the NBA, only to become a defensive star and a one-time three-point champion after being passed over and over and over. Miller did a season in Italy. Starks lasted 13 seasons before retiring in 2002, but only after first working in the CBA and the World Basketball League.

Each became an All-Star except Bowen, and all he has done in parts of 11 seasons is start for three championship teams and be voted first-team All-Defense the past four years and second-team the three years before that.

"It's all about hype in this league. It's all about newspaper clippings and how many people want you coming out of college and, even now, high school," said James, now with Houston. "When you go underneath the radar and so many people don't know you but you have the talent without the hype, it's hard to get into this elite group. It's really like a fraternity. Everybody only knows the people that are written about and talked about.

"(Drafted players) get more chances. They get more chances with mistakes. Their rope is a little bit longer than a person that really doesn't have a name. You're not really going to get the opportunities to make the same mistakes as a person that's a lottery pick."

Many of those who spent draft night without a congratulatory telephone call will get a chance in summer league, and some will even get a partial guarantee to come to training camp. Kyle Visser from Wake Forest, Quinton Hosley from Fresno State and Bobby Brown from Cal State Fullerton are among the obvious candidates. They will be the new long shots trying to join the fraternity, and not just of playing in the NBA.