Michael Graham, whose controversial college basketball career included stops at Georgetown and the University of the District of Columbia, said yesterday he planned to forfeit the final two years of his eligibility and make himself available for the National Basketball Association draft.
Graham, whose last college appearance was in a Georgetown uniform in the NCAA title game in April 1984; junior all-America guard Dwayne (Pearl) Washington of Syracuse, and 7-foot sophomore center William Bedford of Memphis State were three underclassmen who announced yesterday they had decided to renounce their remaining college eligibility.
They join Virginia's Olden Polynice, North Carolina State's Chris Washburn and Louisiana State's John Williams as prominent underclassmen who will make themselves eligible for the June 17 NBA draft.
Polynice's decision to leave school, announced Thursday, apparently was prompted at least in part by a summons to appear in court on May 30, when he will face a misdemeanor charge of shoplifting a $16 stereo headset from Rose's department store in Charlottesville. Polynice was not available for comment yesterday.
It is possible -- if not probable -- that Washington, Polynice, Williams, Washburn and Bedford could be "lottery picks," among the top seven selections in the draft.
If Graham had stayed at Georgetown, he might well have been a lottery pick as well. But now, NBA scouts will have to examine just how big a risk Graham is, since he has been inactive for so long after such a brief fling with success.
Graham, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward, transferred to UDC but was declared academically ineligible to play basketball until September 1986. He said yesterday he began thinking about turning pro when he entered UDC in September 1985 but made up his mind only recently.
"I'm doing it mainly for financial reasons, and I do have family responsibilities," Graham said, referring to his young son. "I wasn't tired of school. I was going to class, and I still plan to get a degree.
"Since I can remember, I've been getting advice from everyone, and I'm tired of being under a magnifying glass. This way, I'm getting a lot of pressure off myself. I need to get out of D.C. for a while. I consider myself a pro and that's a job. I'm going to work now."
Ernest Faulkner, Graham's friend and guardian, said Graham's attempt to turn professional at this juncture was the right thing to do.
"Michael's not getting any younger [he is 22], and if he remained in school, he would be about 25 or 26 when he got his degree," Faulkner said. "He wants to be a professional player, and he should get started as early as possible to take advantage of his youth."
Although Graham averaged less than four points and four rebounds per game as a freshman at Georgetown in 1983-84, it was obvious he had the talent and presence to become a player of impact in subsequent years. But Graham experienced what Coach John Thompson called "academic inconsistencies" and left Georgetown midway through the 1984-85 academic year.
Of his long inactivity, Graham said, "I've played in a few local tournaments around town to stay in the game and I'm in good shape. I'm just hoping to get a good shot with a team. Until recently, very few good big men were coming out. I see a few others have declared hardship, but I'm still a good rebounder and can play the game.
"Maybe it makes a difference to the media or certain people whether I'm a first- or fourth-round pick, but I'm not thinking about that," he said. " . . . I've worked on my 12- to 16-foot jump shot and my defense. It would be nice to play in New York [with Patrick Ewing], but wherever I go, it'll be a job to me and I plan to work hard. I'm not thinking negative at all. This is important to me."
Washington announced his intentions yesterday at a news conference in Syracuse, N.Y., attended by his mother Jane, 20-month-old son Dwayne Jr., and Coach Jim Boeheim. "I have always wanted to play in the NBA, and for me the time has come to realize this life-long goal," Washington said.
Boeheim said, "I'd like to thank Dwayne for the three years he has given here at Syracuse. I don't think that any player in my time here has had the impact that Dwayne has had on the program."
In the last 10 years, 80 college underclassmen have entered the draft early, but only 37 are still playing in the NBA, according to the Associated Press. Only six of the 12 players who forfeited eligibility last year made an NBA team.
Bedford, an all-Metro Conference choice last season who will finish his two-year Memphis State career with 1,224 points, said he made up his mind Thursday night, "but it's something I thought about seriously for a week. It was a hard decision to make, but I don't believe there is any way I won't make it in the pros."