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NBA testing minor league in Southeast

BOSTON -- If the NBA draft convinced more high school players to
forgo their college eligibility, the NBA's National Basketball Development
League might convince high-profile junior college players not to sign with
Division I programs, coaches say.

LSU head basketball coach John Brady isn't happy about the NBA's eight-team
league, whose team names and coaches were formally announced Tuesday
night at Shaw's Pro Summer League.

Brady said the NBA, with the new league set to debut in mid-November,
might create more of an incentive for potential recruits to resist his
pitch.

"I'm used to recruiting against North Carolina, Kentucky and Duke," said
Brady, who is overwhelmed by the NBA scouts he now sees at the ABCD and Nike
camps. "Now, I'm up against the NBA teams, too. I can't win that battle. The
NBA will win every time."

Brady isn't talking about blue chip high school recruiting only. He's
actually talking about the potential high-profile junior college transfers, who --
given their advanced age and struggle with the books -- might try their luck
in the draft and have a fallback in the NBDL, if things don't work out.

With the 20-and-over age requirement for the new league, and with the
$27,000 to $30,000 paycheck for the four-month season, a player who is
offered a scholarship to a mid- to high-major university is probably better off trying
to prove his skills in college. That's because the true prize is the
guaranteed contract and sizeable signing bonus that comes with being a
first-round pick.

The best fallback for the NBA's undrafted and released used to be the
financially unstable landscape of minor league basketball known as the CBA,
IBL, ABA2000 and the USBL. But the NBA's formal attachment to the new minor
league might make the safety net more attractive.

Some college coaches say it is hypocritical for NBA Commissioner David Stern to say the league is not encouraging younger players to turn pro but then call the names of four high school players among the top eight picks in the 2001 NBA Draft.

Responding to that charge, Rob Levine, senior vice president of new league development for the
NBA, said the league always has been consistent in its approach toward players with college eligibility remaining.

"For any player that comes to (the NBDL), we'll advise him to stay in school,"
Levine said. "With the salary we are paying, we don't believe that it will
provide an incentive for a young man to give up a college education. In
fact, the age limit and what we're paying is a disincentive."

With more early entries each year, college basketball programs -- especially
in the Big 12 and the SEC -- have dipped into the JUCO talent pool.

Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson is bringing in three JUCO recruits -
Quannis White, Jason Detrick and Ebi Ere -- this season. Sampson said junior
college players in future years definitely will know about the NBDL "because
it will be one more avenue for them to play for pay."

But Bruce Stewart, head coach of Okaloosa-Walton Community College (Fla.)
who coached Celtics first round draft pick Kedrick Brown, doesn't believe
the NBDL will have any impact on the college recruiting process.

"I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that it's going to impact junior
college recruiting," Stewart said. "Certainly the NBDL is going to be a lot
more sound than the CBA, the IBL, the IBA and all other leagues were, but I
really believe that that type of safety net, whether strong or weak, has
always been there in the past." Stewart was a head coach for the Grand
Rapids (Mich.) Hoops of the CBA from 1991-1993.

Former DePaul and ABA2000 coach Joey Meyer, who will coach the NBDL's
Asheville Altitude, said the new league probably will be a factor only to the
junior college player who doesn't have the option transfer to a bigger
Division I program.

"Every year the number of people who are coming out early is growing no matter
what," said Meyer. "If these junior college players are coming out because
they haven't done it academically and they really can't go to college right
away, well -- at that point -- this league gives them another choice."

Many players at the summer league said it was too early to tell if the NBDL
will make players more comfortable with jumping from school.

Auburn point guard Jamison Brewer, who left the school after his sophomore
season and was drafted in the second round (41st overall) by Indiana, said
he didn't even know about the NBDL until two and a half weeks before the
draft. Ed Cota, who was in Boston trying to make the Pacers roster, didn't
know the league name when asked hours before the NBDL's press conference was
being held.

Last year, the former North Carolina point guard wound up stranded on the Gary (Ind.) Steelheads when the CBA folded.

"Guys grow up wishing for the NBA if they have a chance, and this league is
the closest thing to it," Cota said. While European teams might pay 10 times
the NBDL salary, the dream of a call-up across the ocean is nearly
impossible, and Cota said the appeal of NBDL games on ESPN2 can't be
underestimated.

"I never saw a CBA game on TV, so that's a big advantage right there," Cota
said.

Khalid El-Amin left the University of Connecticut after his junior year
but was cut by the Bulls after being their second-round draft pick in 2000.
He said junior college players "obviously have their right to leave" and
that the new league -- providing the player is talented enough to make one
of the 88 total spots available -- "could ensure that someone won't fall by
the wayside."

When Missouri couldn't land a prize center to replace departed senior Tajudeen Soyoye -- a Nigerian who was a junior college transfer -- it turned to JUCO
power College of Southern Idaho to nab 6-foot-11 Uche Okafor, also a Nigerian.

"We needed a center and we hadn't been able to get one in the high school
ranks, but getting a player like him in junior college might change with the
new league," said Lane Odom, an assistant coach at Missouri who also
recruited junior college players at Charlotte. "Some guys might be more
likely to just bail (out) and go."

Lane said if it's preparation a player wants, a mid-major and high-major
collegiate program might be more competitive than the NBDL.

"The NBA obviously wants to get as many quality players in the draft as
possible," said Texas coach Rick Barnes, who lost undrafted junior
Maurice Evans this year, but signed JUCO standout Terrell Ross from
Allegany College (Md.) in May. "The more players they can
bring out, the more players they will have."

Although there are no direct plans to have 29 NBDL affiliates -- or one for each NBA
team -- Levine said that the minor league affiliate program is not out of the
question down the road.

"If it works well (in the southeast) and we expect it will, we'll probably
roll out in a national footprint," Levine said.

Perhaps that's when college coaches should really start to worry.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at
Darren.rovell@espn.com.