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NHL offers collegiate players better chances

BY BRIAN SCHICK: ON THE NHL DRAFT

Published July 6, 2003

As I was watching the NBA Draft, ESPN ran a series of promotional commercials for the draft - which I thought was odd since I was already watching it. The ad campaign featured players like LeBron James and Carmello Anthony, among others, boldly saying "I'm ready." When I saw these ads for the first time - and it wasn't the last, sadly - I was surprised because the NBA Draft has become such a crap shoot in recent years. Hardly anyone knows if a player is ready to make an immediate impact in the league anymore.

With an influx of foreign players and high school seniors constantly taking the top spots in the first round, NBA scouts are having a harder time making a solid decision on who is truly ready to play professionally. Anthony made a name for himself in just one year of college ball and James became the "King" by embarrassing high schoolers. But regardless of their experience - or lack thereof - Anthony and James were both taken in the first three picks. It is obvious scouts are now drafting on potential rather than actual impact.

Although few probably knew about it and even fewer watched it, the NHL Draft took place on June 21. The only conceivable reason to watch was to see what teams would draft Michigan players. Other than that, you're wasting your time. If you think Nedzad Sinanovic is an obscure NBA Draft pick (54th overall to Portland), try Marc-Andre Fluery in the NHL Draft (Never heard of him? He was picked first overall by Pittsburgh).

But what the NHL Draft lacks in TV appeal, it makes up in its ability to produce quality players in the future. The NBA Draft may have exponentially higher ratings, but the chances of the first 30 NBA picks being successful are no where near the chances of NHL picks. The reason is simple: once a NHL club calls the name of an underclassmen, he can still finish his collegiate career.

For some reason, the NCAA has two different policies towards amateur drafts in the NBA and the NHL. Once an underclassmen basketball player declares himself eligible for the NBA Draft and hires an agent, his remaining years of eligibility vanish like Georgia players from a classroom. But once a NCAA hockey player is drafted, he has the option to finish his collegiate career. While this may seem trivial, it makes a world of difference in player development.

For example, Michigan forward Jeff Tambellini was selected 25th overall by the Los Angeles Kings. All signs point to him returning for his sophomore season. Although he possesses great skills and led the Wolverines in scoring this season, the Kings wouldn't dream of him sitting on the bench at the Staples Center next fall. Why? Because they know he has up to three more years to fine-tune his skills and talents and prepare for competition against the world's best. Therefore, rather than spending the next five or so years in Manchester, N.Y. - L.A.'s minor league team - to work on his game, he can spend the next three at Yost competing for a national championship in front of 6,500 fans dying to spout profanity.

It's no secret that most of the basketball draft picks may never pan out into even role-players or 12th men on a NBA roster. ESPN's Jay Bilas, an expert on both NBA and NCAA basketball, bluntly stated that the majority of players taken in this year's draft, especially in the second round, will never see the inside of a NBA arena.

Take the hometown Pistons. Have you ever seen Darko Milicic play before, besides those grainly European scouting videos that look like the Zapruder film? And now that the Pistons have him, they think that one offseason will get him ready for an American style of hoops not seen on the playgrounds of Sarajevo. Wouldn't it make sense to have him play a season in the NBA Developmental League, just to get him ready for the American run-and-gun, "What's a jump shot?"-style of play?

How about Anthony? Everyone fell in love with his smile throughout the Big Dance, but remember he only played one season. Is it possible he could come right into Denver, suit up in those awful Carolina blue jerseys and make them a playoff contender? Of course. Is it possible he was just a flash in the pan, and throwing him into the starting lineup prematurely will cause him to collapse under the pressure and expectations? Of course. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, there's no guarantee on Anthony.