Top picks from high school

PORTLAND, Ore. – High school hoops phenom Austin Rivers can’t go a day without someone telling him that they’re looking forward to seeing him play in the NBA. He’s already getting harassed for tickets.

With the next NBA collective bargaining agreement up in the air, it’s also up in the air when the 18-year-old son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers will be eligible to go pro.

Several high-ranking NBA team executives told Yahoo! Sports they wouldn’t be surprised if the age limit in the new CBA is pushed to two years in college and 20 years old by the end of that calendar year. One NBA general manager says about two-thirds of teams are in favor of that change. The current CBA states that an American must be out of high school for at least one year and be 19 years old by the end of that calendar year before entering the draft.

Rivers, a Duke-bound shooting guard, says he is in no rush to leave for the NBA, but is disappointed about potentially losing the opportunity to make a choice.

“I don’t think it’s fair to a lot of guys who are ready to go,” Rivers said Thursday after practice at the Nike Hoop Summit. “We’re going to have guys in our class that are going to be ready to play after one year. There are certain people that are able to make that jump and you’re trying to tell them they can’t make that jump and they have to wait another year, risk another injury or something like that? At the end of the day it should be up to the player. It’s his life. It’s his choice. …

“You got baseball kids coming out of high school. [Basketball players] at least have to go to college, which we should. High school kids should go to college and get an education. But from there you should let them decide whether they are one or not.”

The 2005 NBA draft was the last year American players could arrive straight from high school. That draft included Andrew Bynum(notes), Martell Webster(notes), Gerald Green(notes), Monta Ellis(notes) and Louis Williams(notes). Current NBA stars Kobe Bryant(notes), LeBron James(notes), Kevin Garnett(notes), Dwight Howard(notes) and Amar’e Stoudemire(notes) all came straight from high school.

Rivers would be a top-10 prospect if eligible for this year’s draft and the No. 1 prospect next year, said two NBA general managers. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound guard averaged 30 points as a senior for Winter Park High (Fla.) this season. Rivals.com’s top-ranked player in the Class of 2011 is playing Saturday for Team USA in the Hoop Summit, which pits the top American high school seniors against the top international teens.

Doc Rivers has coached high school-to-pro players such as Green, Kendrick Perkins(notes) and Sebastian Telfair(notes). He calls their journey to the NBA a “tough life.” But if the old rules were in place and Austin was eligible to go pro now, what would he suggest to his son? Rivers sounded conflicted.

“I do think college is important and basketball is important,” Doc Rivers said. “But growing up and maturing is really important for a kid. And guys [that] come out miss that part of it. For me, that would be a tough one. Having said that, if they’re good enough and they want to come out and go through with the draft, it’s hard to tell them no. In any other walk of life, the government, you get to go at whatever age you are accepted. But for us, there is an age limit.

Skipping school

A look at top 10 NBA draft picks who went from American high schools straight to the pros between 2000-2005.
Year Pick/Player Team
2005 No. 6 Martell Webster (Seattle Prep) Blazers
2005 No. 10 Andrew Bynum (St. Joseph, N.J.) Lakers
2004 No. 1 Dwight Howard (S.W. Atlanta Christian) Magic
2004 No. 4 Shaun Livingston (Peoria, Ill.) Clippers
2003 No. 1 LeBron James (St. Vin.-St. Mary, Ohio.) Cavaliers
2002 No. 9 Amar’e Stoudemire (Cy. Creek, Fla.) Suns
2001 No. 1 Kwame Brown (Glynn Academy, Ga.) Wizards
2001 No. 2 Tyson Chandler (Dominguez, Calif.) Clippers
2001 No. 4 Eddy Curry (Thornwood, Ill.) Bulls
2001 No. 8 DeSagana Diop (Oak Hill Academy, Va.) Cavaliers
2000 No. 3 Darius Miles (East St. Louis, Mo.) Clippers

“I agree with the limit and I think it’s good for the kid to mature. College is important for the simple fact that for the first time in your life you’re alone with no money and you got to figure it out. I always thought it will help me and help all these kids. But if you’re good enough and someone wants them now, it’s tough to argue against that as well. I can see both sides.”

Austin Rivers played pickup ball against such young NBA starting guards as Tyreke Evans(notes), Brandon Jennings(notes), John Wall(notes) and DeMar DeRozan(notes) last summer in Los Angeles while preparing for a high school all-star game. That experience gave Rivers confidence that he has what it takes to compete in the NBA now.

“I really do feel like I can play against anybody,” Rivers said. “I’m not saying it in a cocky way. I’m not saying I can beat anybody. … I feel like I can go up against anybody and I’m not scared to go up against anybody. That is how my father raised me to be.”


Ellis, Curry to stay

Golden State Warriors general manager Larry Riley expects the strong scoring but small backcourt of 6-foot-3 guards Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry(notes) to be in tact when next season begins, he told Yahoo! Sports

Under new ownership, there has been speculation that the Warriors could trade either Ellis or Curry in the offseason. Ellis is averaging a team-best 24.3 points and 5.7 assists while Curry is averaging 18.3 points and a team-best 5.8 assists. Riley says his focus is finding an impact center, not a backcourt change, which likely means the end is near for injury-plagued and disappointing center Andris Biedrins(notes).

“I never felt uncomfortable with Monta and Steph in the backcourt together,” Riley said. “They’ve shown what they can do together. If we go into next season with both of them together still I’d be happy. I don’t see a change there. In time, I think you will see more of the two small-guard lineups on the floor.”


Shaq back soon

Doc Rivers said Celtics center Shaquille O’Neal(notes) should be back by the postseason and might play one of the remaining four regular-season contests. After returning from an Achilles injury that had him sidelined since Feb. 1, O’Neal lasted just five minutes against Detroit last Sunday before being sidelined again with a calf injury.

“It’s been a trying year with all the injuries,” Rivers said. “But come playoff time we will be ready. I do think Shaq will be ready. I’ve been wrong. But I do think he will be ready.”


Intriguing international figures

Once relatively unknown, Turkish forward-center Enes Kanter made a name for himself at last year’s Nike Hoop Summit. Bismack Biyombo, a forward-center from the Congo, could follow suit this year.

Several NBA scouts say Biyombo, a 6-foot-9, 243-pounder with a 7-foot-7 wingspan, is the top international prospect to keep an eye on at the summit. He’s currently at odds with his Spanish club Baloncesto Fuenlabrada after leaving without permission to play in this week’s events in Portland. Biyombo’s performance Saturday will likely play a key role in whether he enters the draft, where some expect him to be a first-round pick if he enters.

Brazilian Lucas Riva Nogueira is another prospect who has first-round potential. The slender 7-foot center has a $1.5 million buyout with Spain Estudiantes. If he’s confident he’ll land in the first round, he’ll enter the draft, sources close to him say.

Latvian forward Davis Bertans also is getting strong draft consideration, but would probably need a strong performance Saturday to solidify his stock.

A potential sleeper: Dario Saric, a 6-foot-10 small forward for Croatia KK Zagreb. He has a strong jump shot and is just 16 years old.


Tip-ins

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski expected point guard Kyrie Irving to be a one-and-done player since last summer, when he saw Irving score 17 points in one quarter during a scrimmaging for USA Basketball’s under-18 national team, a source said. Irving entered the draft Wednesday. “He’s got an overall feel for the game,” an NBA general manager said. “He’s ahead of the curve seeing the flow of the game and getting to the basket and can hit a jump shot. A lot of players don’t have that package.” … Although reports have Ricky Rubio(notes) close to coming to the NBA for next season, it appears the Timberwolves’ draft pick has a strong financial incentive to stay in Europe next season. Rubio is making $1.14 million with FC Barcelona this year, and the club will double his pay if he stays in Spain, according to a source. The NBA’s murky labor situation also gives Rubio reason to stay overseas. … Charlotte Bobcats center Joel Przybilla(notes) said he will have surgery Friday to remove the wires in his immobile right knee that were inserted last season to repair a ruptured patella tendon while with the Portland Trail Blazers. The 11-year veteran, in the final season of his contract, said he plans to rehabilitate for about four weeks at home in Milwaukee. He hopes to continue his NBA career. … Regardless of the pending lockout, Dallas Mavericks veteran Peja Stojakovic(notes) prefers to finish his pro career in the NBA and not overseas, he told Yahoo! Sports. The 13-year forward is a free agent this summer. … Doc Rivers’ eldest son, Jeremiah, is playing in the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational, where some of the nation’s top college seniors get scouted by NBA teams. One scout viewed the defensive standout from Indiana as an overseas prospect. … Potential lottery teams are nervously awaiting Harrison Barnes’ decision on whether he’ll enter the NBA draft. Some executives believe the loss of the North Carolina guard would further water down this year’s crop of draft talent, which is lean on potential stars. … Ex-NBA player Allan Houston(notes), now a New York Knicks executive, turns 40 in a couple of weeks, but that isn’t stopping his wife from throwing an old-school birthday party Friday in New York City . Rappers Doug E. Fresh and Chubb Rock are expected to perform at the bash.


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Updated Friday, Apr 8, 2011