Originally published in SLAM 44
The 6th Man: To be honest, Mario Austin was the last straw. Advised against turning pro by his sneaker company, his AAU coach and NBA scouts, the 6-9 Austin decided they were all wrong. Citing his mother’s advice to do what’s best for him, the McDonald’s All-American decided to forego his freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years at Mississippi State for a year of strange hotel rooms and a front-row seat at 82 NBA games. Perhaps Austin-who averaged 16 points per and was runner-up for Alabama’s Mr. Basketball-should have spoken to Jonathan Bender, another Mississippi State signee who instead spent this past year losing to Larry Bird at H-O-R-S-E and carrying Sam Perkins’ bags. Maybe he should have spoken to Rashard Lewis, who will deservedly earn a big payday this year, but spent a long, tearful time by himself on Draft Day. Heck, maybe he should have talked to Steve Lavin’s psychic. A long shot for the first round, Austin will most likely spend his first year in the NBA trying to learn the game and earn a guaranteed payday at the same time. Maybe one day he’ll be an outstanding pro. But it’s gonna be a tough road.
Not an impossible one, however, which is why, inspired by Austin’s decision, I have chosen to forego my own four remaining years of eligibility and enter the draft. As a 29-year-old, six-foot shooting guard with limited range and questionable ups, I figure the lottery’s out of reach, but later in the round-maybe 19 or 20-seems like a lock. The sheer number of early-entry candidates bothered me, and almost made me withdraw my name. But that was when I received an e-mail from Jason, a high-school friend and Miami-based attorney who will represent me when the endorsers come knocking: “Quite honestly, I don’t think that this mass defection of college basketball talent will alter your draft position one iota. You can take that however you want.” Reassured, I saw no need to panic. Even Austin’s last-second change of change of heart-he will be a Bulldog, after all-didn’t deter me.
I will not be attending any of the pre-draft camps or holding workouts, as I feel they can only hurt my chances. But to anyone who questions my talent, I refer you to the above photo. Note the tough man-to-man defense, the positioning, the footwork. None of that has changed. Through a vigorous workout regimen (and, uh, not being 10 years old anymore), I’ve since added eight inches and almost 80 pounds. In short, I’m ready. Thanks, Mario.