-- Tasmin Mitchell stands 6 feet 7. He has a solid torso, the kind of body that gives him an advantage against most of the other teenagers he faces on the basketball court. At least one scouting service considers him the best player in the nation among those preparing to enter their senior year of high school and, Mitchell said, he constantly is asked about his future plans and whether he will join the trend of going from preps to pros, as some of those he considers good friends did this past spring.
"Everybody would love to be in that position," said Mitchell, who is from Denham Springs, La., just east of Baton Rouge, and will turn 18 on Friday. "But right now, I'm not really thinking about it."
It seemed to be a popular thing to say at the Virginia Commonwealth's Siegel Center, where many of the nation's top high school players, mostly seniors, are attending the National Basketball Players Association Top 100 Camp, which concludes today."That's just the way the world goes," agreed forward O.J. Mayo, a rising sophomore from Cincinnati, who seems intrigued with the possibility of becoming the first player to skip his senior year of high school to head for the NBA. "Anything is possible."
The camp, now in its 10th year, is funded by money set aside from the NBA players' share of league revenues. Campers have their transportation paid for and live in dorms on VCU's campus, with their time split between games, practices and seminars on a variety of topics, including community service, education and substance abuse.
The list of players who have attended the camp and gone on to the NBA totals more than 40 and includes Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neal, Baron Davis and Richard Jefferson. That number is expected to grow Thursday, when six of last season's campers are expected to be selected in the first round of this year's draft. And though Bob Gibbons, the recruiting analyst in charge of procuring players for the camp, thinks the class of 2005 will not be as strong, both he and the players believe at least a handful of the players in attendance this week will try to make the jump.
"That sounds about right . . . probably four or five," said Brandon Rush, a 6-foot-5 forward whose older brother, Kareem, plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nobody, though, is making bold statements that they are ready to join the league. Rush, Mitchell, rising junior Greg Oden (a 7-foot center from Indianapolis whom Gibbons projects as a top pick in 2006) and others said they think only about college, though when pressed many players acknowledged they would love to be able to skip that step and head straight for the pros.
"You have to crawl before you walk," Mitchell said. "If I think I'm ready for it, I'm ready for it. But right now, at the point I am, I'm not ready for it. If I have a pretty good summer [at all-star camps and traveling team tournaments], I think I'll have second thoughts about it."
It seems like a natural instinct, especially when players Mitchell considers his friends and peers are making the move this summer.
"I pay a lot of attention because I'm cool with all of them -- Dwight [Howard], Bassie [Sebastian Telfair], J.R. [Smith], Shaun [Livingston]," Mitchell said. "I played with them, played against them. I talk to them on the phone. They tell me about it, how they feel. That might be the same way I feel one day. . . . It's strange because it seems like just yesterday we were all at this camp together talking about college and all of a sudden they pop up and say they're going to the NBA."
Said Players Association President Michael Curry, a guard-forward for the Toronto Raptors: "I call it the microwave society. Everyone wants everything quick. No one wants to wait. No one wants to pay their dues. You can get it quick, but it's not about how quick you get it. It's about how long you make it."