By Bill Simmons
Page 2

Editor's note: This column appears in the March 28 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

I'm about to spoil the 2005 NCAA Tournament for you: you'll see some "wacky" upsets; wonder why college players can't move without the ball or run fast breaks; try out Billy Packer in SAP at least once; hear the letters CSI every 9.34 seconds; mutter the words, "I knew I shouldn't have thrown them in that parlay" at least six times; and wonder why Clark Kellogg never looks directly into the camera. Also, you may get dumped or divorced.

And someone's kid will win your office pool.

So what's left, you ask? Well, my favorite part of March Madness is projecting potential NBA players. There's a science to distinguishing the Glen Rices from the Trajan Langdons. My system combines Malcolm Gladwell's thin-slicing concept -- in other words, I trust my first impression -- with a checklist of strengths. Sometimes I'm wrong, but I will never stop plugging away.

Last year was a roaring success. I projected Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon as future All-Stars, called Devin Harris and Josh Childress overrated, gave my approval to Andre Iguodala, Tony Allen and Luol Deng, and said Delonte West was the sleeper of the draft. Of course, the previous year, I devoted an entire column to Luke Walton, trashing every team that didn't draft him.

I don't know why I care, but I remember everyone who betrayed me, especially the great Bo Kimble, who crashed and burned so badly with the Clips, he deserved his own Behind the Music episode. The guy averaged almost 36 a game in 1990! He made poignant lefthanded free throws in the Tournament! He won that pay-per-view one-on-one tournament! How and why did the wheels come off? I still haven't gotten over it. After Miles Simon bombed in 1999 -- who didn't love Simon? -- I finally realized certain types of players rarely succeed: gunners who can't guard (see Kimble and Fennis Dembo); the tweeners (Simon, Joe Forte); smallish, shoot-first point guards (Scoonie Penn, Khalid El-Amin); heady floor generals who can't make a jumper (Mateen Cleaves, Rumeal Robinson); and skinny low-post guys (Ed O'Bannon, Walter Berry). Big men are easier to figure: stay away from semiathletic white guys (Cherokee Parks, Hanno Mottola) and power forwards who don't rebound (Mo Taylor, Alaa Abdelnaby). And finally, when in doubt, avoid anyone who makes you say, "Wow, that guy looks like a future Trail Blazer" (John Wallace, Todd Day).

What strengths do I look for? The guy needs to remind me of someone who has already made the jump -- like New Mexico's Danny Granger, a dead ringer for Josh Howard. He needs to have one NBA-ready skill -- like UNC's superb rebounder Sean May. If he's a scorer, he needs to be able to create his own shot (like Gordon did last spring). He can't lay an egg in the Tournament -- if he shoots 3-for-130 like Blake Stepp did against Nevada, there's a good chance it will happen again at the next level. He can't provoke an announcer to say anything resembling, "He's got all the talent. He just needs to get it done every night." (Call it the Jerome Moiso Syndrome: if you can't get it up when you're gunning for an NBA contract, you aren't going to when you're getting a guaranteed paycheck.)

Most important, he has to pass the Look Test. Does he look like a successful NBA player? Take Utah's Andrew Bogut, whom everyone seems to like. I mean, has a center with a cheesy mustache ever made it big?

Heading into this year's Tournament, I'm leaning toward six guys: May and Granger; Washington's Nate Robinson (a little guy who finishes); Duke's J.J. Redick (there's always a place in a rotation for someone with 25-foot range); Syracuse's Hakim Warrick (unbelievable athlete and rebounder, Shawn Marionesque); and Illinois' Dee Brown (who brings a lot to the table, much like West did a year ago). Only May is a lottery pick now, but that could change over the next couple of weeks. You know these guys will bring it.

Then again, maybe they'll fool you. My dad once decided Billy Curley was the next Dave Cowens. I still tease him about it. Of course, I thought Kimble was the next Mark Aguirre. I like to think I've learned my lesson. But there's always a Salim Stoudamire lurking, a tortured star who carries himself like Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged. Can you succeed in the NBA with a black cloud hanging over you? Probably not. But have you seen Salim launch those threes? He looks unstoppable.

(Uh-oh. Here I go again ... )

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.


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