19 years old. Too young. Has the skill set, but needs to mature more. NBA ready, but chip on his shoulder. Brash…
Sound familiar? All these words can be echoed in all the news coverage following two specific prospects in the NBA Draft. Guess who it is? (Quit now if you think its Jesus Shuttlesworth). I’ll give you hint: He’s really, really good.
Give up? The answer: Kobe Bryant. (We’ll get to that other guy in a second)
The year was 1996 and the NBA was on the up and up. After a 1995 draft, in which now superstar Kevin Garnett took the unthinkable at that time “leap of faith” from high school right to pros, many in the NBA feared that there would be many like him to follow. And boy were they right. Loaded with some what consider might be one the most historical and valuable drafts in league history, college stars such as Marcus Camby (eventual 2nd overall pick) out of the University of Massachusetts, Stephon Marbury from Cal (4rd), UConn’s Ray Allen (5th), Antoine Walker (6th) from Kentucky, Greece sharp shooter Peja Stojakovic (14th), March Madness hero Steve Nash (15th) of Santa Clara, and a guy who has combined with Kobe to play more playoff games than other guard combo in NBA history (179)- Derek Fisher who taken 24th all lined up to see which city they could home in the near future (See the link below for a full listing of the full draft lineup). And I don’t think I have to remind Philadelphia fans of who the number one overall pick was that year…*cough Allen Iverson *cough. But one name that was synonymous with the game of basketball was one that people once again in Philadelphia were becoming all too well accustomed with: “Bryant”. No not Joe “Jellybean” Bryant. But a name that came from a restaurant menu and now can heard by most children all over when they drain that paper ball in the class trashcan: Kobe.
After watching Game 3 of the 2010 NBA Finals and following a great lead from one of my biggest supporters (my dad), I can’t help but only try to remember back to the day when Kobe Bryant wasn’t taking last minute jumpshots but rather young music stars to his senior prom. Labeled as one of the most highly touted and promising young high school stars in the country, “Jellybean” Bryant’s son, who had found himself spending most of his younger life learning Italian and Spanish, while mixing in a pick-up game with his dad hear and there, was seen by some scouts as the most ready to make the “jump” and begin his career of chasing after his dream of playing in the NBA.
The other scouts however took it upon themselves to find every flaw in the 190 lb., 19 year old’s “fragile frame”. He was deemed as “brash” due to his already iconic and almost pompous way of carrying himself. He was smart, but almost too smart for his own good. He wasn’t polished enough, and unlike the previous year’s first overall pick, Garnett, incapable of handling the pressures of a “grown man’s” league. He should have gone to college, continued his education. And then maybe, just maybe after a few years of leading either his fathers LaSalle University, hometown Temple, or powerhouses Kansas or Michigan to a deep run in March, he might be ready. But just as many thought he would, Bryant declared for the draft and took his 30.8 point, 12 rebound, 6.5 assist, 3.8 block average to the highest level it could go. To this day, with the exception of that slip up (no pun intended) in that Colorado hotel room, he has lived up this hype…and so much more.
Fast forward nearly 14 years, add in a dumb “one-year rule” (another blog on this topic to come in the near future), and we come to that “other” young, yet questionable character prospect I mentioned earlier: Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins. I will begin this section with a very strong disclaimer that I, Brandon Jacobs, am by no means on this green Earth comparing or suggesting that DeMarcus Cousins is or ever will be as good as Kobe Bryant. With that out of the way, there are some striking comparisons. Both were young, enormously talented, and God-gifted athletes who carry with them not only potential that not only scouts or Dick Vitale himself can predict, but also baggage that could have them hearing their named called lower then they should on draft night. Many scouts, including some of the best out there, believe that Cousins, given the right coaching could be a contributor to many NBA teams, and perhaps a star in the league for years to come. He combines size, (listed at 6’9’’, 239 lbs.) long frame (off the charts 7-6 wingspan), great feet and hands, and an improving outside game to boot. And that’s just to name a few. His ceiling is unlimited. The question is like many of the the high lottery picks that commissioner David Stern greets with a cap and jersey every June: is he worth it?
While time can only tell the answer to this question, I’ll go out on a limb and play Philadelphia 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski for a minute by simply saying this: Yes. With new head coach (one of my favorite guys in all of the NBA) in former high 76ers draft pick Doug Collins back on the Philadelphia sideline where he belongs, I believe the youthfulness of this team is potent and dangerous especially in a somewhat eye-soar they call the Eastern Conference. As evidenced by the last few years, 40 wins will get you in the playoffs, and who knows what will happen there. A young nucleus of talent has been built by this team over the past year’s drafts including guards Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams along with forwards Thaddeus Young, Marreese Speights and Jason Smith. Start with a class act coach, trade away some dead weight (*cough again Andre “I’ll-Dunk-As Long-as-You-Pay-Me” Iguodala, Samuel “I’ve-Been-in-the-League-Seven-Years-and-Still-Don’t-Know-How-to-Play-Basketball” Dalembert, and Elton “Don’t-Even-Get-Me-Started” Brand*), then toss in a young talent like Cousins and Philadelphians might not have to shudder each time they hear the words “basketball” and “good” in the same sentence.
A much-trusted basketball great once told me, “To be successful in this game you have to have a good point guard and a good big man”. The 76ers already have a budding start in my opinion that fits the first description. And if they heed my word in the upcoming NBA Draft (June 24, 7 P.M. on ESPN) they just might have found the second.
A lot of people have passed rumors that the 76ers might take Ohio State All-American Evan Turner with the 2nd overall pick. While you really can’t go wrong with Turner playing besides the before mentioned youth either, I think you can do nothing but right by giving Cousins something he needs the most to be good: a chance. Hopefully, just like a kid who many questioned before him a long time ago, he might actually prove you wrong.
Once again, I reiterate, I do not and would have to forfeit my hopeful sports journalism future if I were to compare DeMarcus Cousins and Kobe Bryant to each other. However, I say all this to really say, why not? Critics have been wrong before and I don’t see why they can’t be wrong again. Don’t take my word for it. Remember what Boston Celtics’ former director of basketball development, Jon Jennings once said about a young stars future, “Kevin Garnett was the best high school player I ever saw, and I wouldn’t have advised him to jump to the NBA. And Kobe is no Kevin Garnett”. Irony never hurt so good. Take a chance, and he might be worth it.
1996 NBA Draft Results: http://www.nba.com/draft2002/history/history_96draft.html