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.


Russ Bengtson

Issue 44 Francis