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NBA draft: Why is Seattle a new hotbed for hoopsters?
Seattle Times staff reporter
Other than wondering what the Sonics were going to do, the NBA draft used to be something that happened to somebody else for those of us living in the state of Washington.
Occasionally there was a reason to care, such as a period from 1984-87 when four graduates of state high schools were taken in the first round.
But for years, such occurrences were an anomaly.
From 1947, when the first NBA draft was held, to 1992, only eight graduates of state high schools were selected in the first round. And two — Detlef Schrempf and Christian Welp — were imports from Germany, whose basketball maturation was credited more to their home country than their new state.
But since 1997, the number of first-round draft picks yielded by state high schools has almost equaled the number from the first 50 years. Starting with the selection of Kamiakin's Scot Pollard by Detroit in 1997 — granted, most of his basketball maturation occurred in California — there have been seven players from the state taken in the first round.
Chat with top prospects
ESPN.com is hosting a chat beginning at 3:15 today with five of this year's top draft prospects, including Marvin Williams of Bremerton.
In 2002, there were two state players taken in the first round for the only time other than 1985 (Schrempf and Blair Rasmussen).
That's a total that will almost certainly be matched this year with Marvin Williams (Bremerton) and Martell Webster (Seattle Prep) expected to each be lottery picks, and could be bested if Nate Robinson (Rainier Beach) crawls into the first round.
And it's not a trend that figures to drop off any time soon. There could be at least another two state grads taken in the first round next year — Washington's Brandon Roy (Garfield) and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison (Mead High in Spokane).
When: Tomorrow, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York.
Sonics' first pick: No. 25
Coming up in The Times: Tomorrow: What will the Sonics do with the 25th pick, and a mock first round by NBA reporter Percy Allen. Wednesday: What happened to the locals, the draft's winners and losers, and how the Sonics fared.
"It seems like every year we just keep getting better and better," said Roy of the status of basketball in Washington.
But what is it that has turned a state once best known for producing NFL players (remember when state grads Steve Emtman and Drew Bledsoe were the first players selected in consecutive drafts in 1992 and 1993) into hoops heaven?
Here are a few theories:
The population boom
This is an obvious factor, and one favored by UW coach Lorenzo Romar, who first came to the area in the late '70s to play at Washington.
"There's more to choose from, a bigger pool of players," Romar said, adding that's borne out in the increasing number of state players playing college ball and that "the next step is to have more pros."
Indeed, Washington has grown from a population of 3.4 million in 1970, when it was the 21st most populous state, to 6.1 million in 2003 (15th)
Still, it's not quite that simple. Arizona coach Lute Olson, who has made a habit of recruiting players out of this state, marveled at the class of high schoolers coming out of the Seattle area this year and said he thought the number was amazing.
"Right now, for its population, Seattle is turning out more good players than anywhere in the country," Olson said.
Better summer programs
Many coaches and observers say the improvement in basketball in the state can be credited to the improvement in the state's summer basketball programs.
"I think we've benefited from terrific high-school coaching and the summer time and select programs that reach down into the fourth and fifth grades and are becoming more competitive," said former NBA player Jim Marsh, a coach of AAU basketball in the area.
Ed Pepple, longtime Mercer Island High coach, who also has coached summer teams for years, remembers trying to form a summer team to play around Quin Snyder in 1985, when Snyder was regarded as one of the best players in the nation.
"There were only three other guys in the state who could compete and we ended up combining with a group from Oregon," Pepple said. "Now there are like 20-30 teams that are going out and playing in California, Las Vegas and Arizona."
Said Romar: "When I was an assistant at UCLA (from 1992-96) there was only one AAU team up here. Now there are several. There is just more basketball being played and more opportunity for kids to be seen."
Basketball is cool
This one's hard to quantify, but many in the area say more kids are gravitating to basketball than they did before.
"I just feel basketball is riding a wave of interest right now that is as high as it's been in my 25 years in the market," Marsh said.
Marsh admits his evidence is mostly anecdotal.
But there are some high-profile cases of kids who could have been good at a number of sports choosing to play basketball. None is more notable than Robinson, who was a starter on Washington's football team as a true freshman in 2002 but quit to devote all of his attention to basketball.
Roy made the same decision in the fifth grade, saying he was told by many that he had a better football future — he was a star running back for a champion youth league team.
"I told my dad, 'I just want to play basketball, it's the one I like the most,' " Roy said. "I was even better in football and people were like 'oh, you're making a mistake.' But I just kind of had a good feeling about basketball. It was indoor, it was warm. I didn't have to play in the freezing cold weather."
No doubt helping fuel basketball's renaissance has been the success of Gonzaga and Washington — three times since 1999 each school has made it to the NCAA tournament in the same year.
And it's likely at least a small factor that the Sonics have been the most consistently successful of the state's major professional teams.
Success breeding success
For years, kids in this state have no doubt been picking up a basketball and dreamt about making it to the NBA.
But lately, they haven't had to look far for an example of someone from the area — such as Jason Terry, Michael Dickerson, Jamal Crawford. Doug Christie or Dan Dickau — who actually made it to convince them to work that much harder and make them think it's more realistic.
"With guys you know going to the NBA and seeing them make it, that makes the dream that much more believable for you," Roy said. "I know Jamal and Jason Terry, and to know they can make it to the NBA makes you feel like, 'I can do it too.' "
Said Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd: "I think what's happened is the whole thing manifests upon itself. The young kids see guys like Jason Terry, Michael Dickerson, Luke Ridnour and Martell Webster that make it, so I think they believe that their dreams are achievable."
How about the future?
Considering the possibilities awaiting Roy and Morrison in the next year or two, as well as the rest of the Super Six class of Seattle-area prep stars from last winter, the state figures to be well represented in the draft for years to come.
Romar says knowing that upcoming basketball talent was abundant in this state was one of the reasons he came to UW in 2002.
Said Lloyd: "I don't see it stopping. I mean, it's hard to project. But why would it stop?"
Roy agrees, and figures one day he may be like one of the older players he sometimes runs into, who tell him that they "laid the foundation" and that it's now up to younger guys like him to keep representing the state well.
"I take a lot of pride in it," Roy said. "A lot of people try to compare guys in the state. But in the big picture, I look at it like we are all together, like we are all trying to accomplish the same goal. And now it seems like it's a more reachable goal than ever."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company