For Walter Berry, it is No. 1 or nothing.
That is the premium he placed yesterday on cutting short his college education to join the NBA next season.
Berry, the 6-foot-8 center for St. John's, indicated he would like to return for his senior year and earn his degree in athletic administration unless he was guaranteed being leadoff selection in the NBA draft.
"If that's the case, I'll really have to think about it hard," Berry said as he was announced as the Eastman college basketball player of the year, chosen by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, one day after he was similarly honored by UPI. "Otherwise I want to stay in school, take my team back to the Final Four and hopefully win the Wooden Award as top collegiate player again."
Underclassmen wishing to enter the June 17 NBA draft must send a letter to the league office postmarked no later than May 3. Berry said he will get together a week or two before the deadline and discuss the possibilities with his coach, Lou Carnesecca, and his family.
"We'll sit down and evaluate his situation," Carnesecca said. " . . . and then make an educated decision. He's in a great situation. He has the option of staying or going."
The lottery among seven NBA teams to determine who gets first pick won't be held until after the May 3 filing deadline (tentatively, May 11).
"I'm sure there will be rumors," Berry said of how high he might be drafted. "I'll hear something."
Berry -- also cited yesterday as The Sporting News player of the year -- joins Ralph Sampson of Virginia and Michael Jordan of North Carolina as the only juniors to earn the Eastman Award, sponsored by Eastman Kodak since 1975.