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  •   Grizzlies Take Terps' Francis With No. 2 Pick

    "They [the Bulls] took a big gamble by not picking me," Steve Francis said. (AP)
    By Ken Denlinger
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, July 1, 1999; Page D1

    The Chicago Bulls teased nearly everyone in the NBA for weeks about what they would do with the first pick in last night's draft, then used it to build their future around Duke power forward Elton Brand.

    The 6-foot-8 Brand won college player-of-the-year honors last season as a sophomore and was a highly rated rebounder in a draft class generally seen as lacking an obvious can't-miss force.

    The cheering for Brand at MCI Center was largely drowned out by boos from a crowd hopeful that Takoma Park native and University of Maryland star Steve Francis would be chosen No. 1.

    "I couldn't believe it," Brand said. "I had to sit there a second to make sure it was true. ... Those Maryland fans are out there. But that's all right."

    Within five minutes, the allotted time between picks, Francis was snapped up by the Vancouver Grizzlies. That was somewhat surprising and seemed to indicate the Grizzlies would play Francis at the off-guard position with Mike Bibby at point guard. Scouts had questioned Francis's skills as a point guard.

    Francis seemed angry at first, holding his arms aloft when he walked onto the stage to join NBA Commissioner David Stern but not smiling.

    "They [the Bulls] took a big gamble by not picking me," Francis said. "I'm happy just to be selected. I feel relieved now, glad this is over. Hopefully, when I wake up tomorrow I'll be happy."

    Only the deepest basketball insiders knew about 6-11 Mississippi high schooler Jonathan Bender until he broke Michael Jordan's scoring record at the McDonald's All-Star Game three months ago. His reputation exploded and the Toronto Raptors chose him with the fifth pick.

    Another high school player, 6-10 Leon Smith of Chicago, the Illinois player of the year, was chosen by the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs with the last pick in the first round and then traded to the Dallas Mavericks. Smith had gained little notice after Bender began to blossom so quickly.

    With the exception of Smith, there were few surprises, mainly because none of the late pre-draft trade rumors involving the top picks materialized as of late last night. The Atlanta Hawks had acquired the 10th pick in the draft from the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday and used it to select point guard Jason Terry of Arizona. Bender, however, reportedly might be dealt to Indiana.

    With the third pick, the Charlotte Hornets selected UCLA point guard Baron Davis – and once more caused the Los Angeles Clippers at least mild disappointment on draft night. California native Davis was that rare draftee who actually wanted to play for the Clippers.

    The Clippers then took controversial forward Lamar Odom, generally regarded as the most talented player in the draft but one whose career has been filled with off-the-court problems. He tried to pull out of the draft. But Rhode Island, for whom he played just one season, would not take him back – and Odom also missed several pre-draft appointments.

    "I'll make the most of this," Odom said. "This is the NBA. We have a great new arena and I'm playing in Los Angeles. If you ask for more than that, you're greedy. When the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan, they weren't the best team in the NBA [but won six NBA titles during an eight-year stretch in the 1990s]."

    Wally Szczerbiak fell about as far as imagined, to the Minnesota Timberwolves at No. 6. He called the selection "a match made in heaven" and added: "I'm ready to complement Kevin Garnett, one of the greatest players in the NBA right now."

    As expected, the draft was so guard-heavy that Stern could come close to eye level with most of the top picks. Six of the first 11 choices, including shooters Richard Hamilton (Washington Wizards at No. 7) and Trajan Langdon (Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 11), were guards.

    No player among the top 15 fell much farther than anticipated. In fact, the most eyebrows were raised at the selection of Langdon, who went higher than expected. Earlier, the Cavaliers used the eighth pick on Utah point guard Andre Miller.

    With Brand, Langdon, Corey Maggette (Seattle at No. 13) and point guard William Avery (Minnesota at No. 14), Duke had four players chosen among the top 14. Only Langdon stayed all four years.

    Maggette didn't last long with the Supersonics. He was traded to Orlando for veteran forward Horace Grant.

    Maggette left Duke after his freshman season, while Brand and Avery had played two seasons, but Maggette is thought by some to have the most potential.

    "Potential is scary," Orlando Coach Doc Rivers said, according to the Associated Press. "It's just potential, but we like that potential."

    The first center taken was the obvious one, 7-3 Aleksandar Radojevic of Montenegro. The Toronto Raptors grabbed him at No. 12.

    The New York Knicks could have taken local star Ron Artest of St. John's but opted for little-known 7-2 Frederic Weis of France, who has improved steadily the last four years in his country's top league. Artest gave a why-not-me gesture to the Knicks' table after being taken by the Bulls with the 16th pick.

    Staff writer Tara Finnegan contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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