St. John's all-America Walter Berry, who recently said he wouldn't turn pro early unless he was certain of being the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, said yesterday he will skip his senior year to enter the draft even though he almost certainly will not be the first player selected.
By forfeiting his senior year, Berry, the 6-foot-8 forward who was voted college basketball's player of the year in most quarters, will help make the June 17 draft one of the deepest in recent years. Tom Newell, basketball coordinator for the Indiana Pacers, yesterday called it "one of the top three drafts in modern basketball."
And Marty Blake, the league's director of scouting, said, "It's very deep. I'd even say extraordinary."
Berry joined Chris Washburn of North Carolina State, William Bedford of Memphis State, John Williams of LSU and Dwayne Washington of Syracuse as underclassmen who renounced their remaining college eligibility. The presence of Washburn, Bedford and Williams (plus other top quality forwards such as Len Bias and Kenny Walker) may mean that Berry won't even be one of the top seven "lottery picks."
Jerry West, general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, said that he doesn't expect Berry to be among the top four players selected, and that Berry could be selected as low as ninth. West said he thought the draft "was thin, for awhile. But now with the addition of the five underclassmen plus former Georgia star Cedric Henderson, who played one year overseas it's a very good draft."
Even so, Berry decided to leave a team he led to the Big East tournament title and a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA tournament this past season. He said he mailed the letter to the NBA before Saturday's midnight deadline but did not tell school officials until yesterday.
Berry, a left-handed power forward with an unorthodox game, averaged 23 points and 11 rebounds per game as a junior and could have led the Redmen at least as far again next year. In recent weeks Berry had indicated he would return to school. But he said yesterday, "I decided this was the time to come out. My dream has always been to become a professional basketball player."
Several NBA scouts said yesterday that despite the push of the underclassmen, 6-11 North Carolina center Brad Daugherty will be the first player chosen, regardless of which team wins next week's lottery. "He would be the logical choice," West said.
The depth of the draft apparently will not hurt Maryland all-America Bias. Bob Ferry, general manager of the Washington Bullets, said he still thinks Bias is one of the top five players. And one scout who did not want to be identified said Bias almost certainly will be the second player chosen, behind Daugherty.
The depth could, however, push down several other highly regarded players. Ferry and West agreed that Georgetown's David Wingate, among others, will likely get moved to the second round.
Because the draft is so deep, Ferry and the Bullets are faced with getting a much better player than in most other years. There is every reason to think that there will be several potential NBA starters available even if the Bullets stay in the No. 12 position.
If Daugherty, Bias and the 6-11 Washburn are locks to be among the first seven chosen -- as several scouts have indicated -- then at least nine others are lottery possibilities: 7-foot Bedford, 7-foot John Salley of Georgia Tech, 7-foot Brad Sellers of Ohio State, 6-11 Roy Tarpley of Michigan, 6-8 Chuck Person of Auburn, 6-8 Walker of Kentucky, 6-7 Williams, plus guards Johnny Dawkins of Duke and Washington.