Olowokandi's Stock is Rising

Olowokandi's Stock is Rising

June 21, 1998

He is rapidly becoming the "must have" of the 1998 NBA draft. Considering that many hoop fans never even heard of him a year ago, well, it says that Michael Olowokandi has come a very long way in a very short time. He's testament to two NBA articles of faith: (1) You can't coach height and (2) centers are hard to find. NBA scouts are ignoring Olowokandi's limited college career (77 games) and lack of tough competition (he went to Pacific) and are spinning things to the upside: He didn't start playing seriously until college, and the unvarnished prospect (he played recreationally in Europe) has not gotten spoiled by hangers-on and anti-fundamentalists. He has excellent footwork and agility, thanks in part to years of playing soccer.

Olowokandi was born in Nigeria and attended high school in England, at Newlands Manor, which we don't think is the St. Anthony's of the British Isles. His one year in college in England was spent at an institution - Brunel University in Uxbridge, Middlesex - that did not have an athletic program. He decided on the University of the Pacific by choosing it out of a phone directory. He wanted a school by the ocean. Pacific is about as close as UNLV is to the Pacific Ocean. It's like Humphrey Bogart's great line from "Casablanca" after he tells Claude Rains that he came to Casablanca for the water. Told that Casablanca is in the desert, Bogart says, "I was misinformed."

In three years at Pacific, Olowokandi has gone from rudimentary to stiff to certified 20-10 guy in the NBA. He won't go lower than second and it's another testament to his size, ability, and potential that Vancouver, picking second, doesn't feel it can let him pass even though the Grizzlies have $ 65 million committed to Bryant "Big Country" Reeves. They would have to move Olowokandi (or Reeves), but they realize his inherent value and can't let him go by.

Olowokandi has size (7 feet 1 inch), strength (265 pounds), speed (4.5 in the 40), and is still young to the game. That means he still finds it fun, still has room to grow, and doesn't think a cell phone is as important as a jump shot. He averaged 22.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks for Pacific last season and has thoroughly impressed everyone with his workouts and interviews.

"He's a heck of a prospect," said Grizzlies coach Brian Hill. "He may not do it right away, but in two or three years, he may be pretty good." Added Golden State general manager Garry St. Jean, whose team has no shot at Olowokandi unless it trades up, "We didn't really work him out. We played H-O-R-S-E with him and talked to him. He's also a great kid." The only unknown is whether the Clippers, picking first, will pass on Olowokandi, which would be true to their history. The Grizzlies won't. As Hill put it, "If we're sitting at 2 and Olowokandi is available, I think a lot of people are going to be knocking at our door. If it's Mike Bibby, I don't think we'll get as many people knocking."

Olowokandi and Bibby (whom David Falk apparently is not allowing to work out anywhere but Los Angeles) are 1-2 or 2-1 or 1-1A on everyone's list. After that is where the fun starts. The next six players are almost certain to be Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, Robert Traylor, Larry Hughes, Raef LaFrentz, and Antawn Jamison. They could go anywhere. After that, it's a guessing game. The Bucks, who draft ninth and 19th, had 38 players in for workouts. There are two high school kids, Rashard Lewis and Al Harrington, who could go in the first round. There are no UCLA kids who could go in the first round.

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