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Small School Players Reach Biggest Show

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Longwood College and Wisconsin-Stevens Point don’t have a lot in common with Notre Dame and Indiana, except for having former students in the starting lineups of NBA finalists.

In fact, five of the 10 starters for the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers played for small colleges not known as basketball powerhouses.

Represented along with Longwood and Stevens Points are McNeese State, Eastern Illinois and Southeastern Oklahoma.

Joe Dumars of the Pistons went to McNeese in Lake Charles, La., and teammate Dennis Rodman went to Southeastern Oklahoma in Durant, Okla.

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For the Trail Blazers, Kevin Duckworth is from Eastern Illinois at Charleston, Ill.; Jerome Kersey is from Longwood College, a former girls school in Farmville, Va.; and Terry Porter went to Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

“All those guys had a lot to prove coming out of college, and they did it,” said Portland’s Clyde Drexler, who came from a high-profile program at Houston. “Without a doubt, they are all big-time players. But going into college, they probably didn’t have a realistic hope to play in the NBA.”

Drexler said players coming from small colleges “tend to get a lot of flak from the veterans. We still tease Jerome about playing against girls in college.”

The long arm of scouting and pre-draft rookie camps, however, found all five players. Porter and Dumars were taken in the first round in 1985, and the other three small college grads were second-rounders.

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Duckworth, a 7-foot, 280-pounder clearly benefitted from the NBA’s obsession with big men, but he also scored 19.5 points and nine rebounds as a senior.

“I found out that no matter where you are, you have to make the most of it,” said Duckworth, the 33rd pick, by San Antonio, in the 1986 draft. “You should put yourself in a situation to grow.”

Duckworth was traded to Portland by the Spurs on Dec. 18, 1986, and was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player the following season after averaging 15.8 points. He averaged 18.1 points in 1988-89 and 16.2 this season.

The most successful of the five small college players in the finals is Dumars, who made the All-Star team this season and was the Most Valuable Player in the championship series last year.

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Dumars also was the most confident of the five during his college days, when he became the NCAA’s 10th-leading scorer, averaging 26.4 and 25.8 points his last two years at McNeese.

“I always felt I could play; I never doubted myself,” Dumars said. “As I played in college, I could tell just by looking that I was good enough.”

McNeese played a game at Oklahoma in Dumars’ junior season, and he scored 38 points against the Sooners, an opponents’ record at Norman.

“By my junior year, I knew scouts were watching me, and I knew I wouldn’t be overlooked,” Dumars said.

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Dumars was the 18th pick in the first round by the Pistons in 1985, while Porter was 24th by the Trail Blazers.

“I was told by scouts I might go in the first 15, but coming out of a small college, the feeling by the teams might be that guys from big schools might product more,” Porter said. “I really wanted to be in the first round because they are usually given guaranteed contracts and get a longer chance to show what they can do.”

Porter said he started believing he could play in the NBA when he did well in the 1984 Olympic Trials.

“I was playing against the best college players in the country, so I knew I could do it,” Porter said.

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Three pre-draft rookie camps -- at Portsmouth, Va., Chicago and Hawaii -- also give small college players a chance to compete against their more-publicized peers.

Porter did well at Portsmouth and Hawaii and Kersey showed his rebounding skills at Portsmouth and Chicago.

Kersey was probably the longest shot of the five to make it in the NBA since Longwood is a Division II school. He was the 46th pick in 1984.

“After my junior year, my coach (Cal Luther) asked me if I wanted to play in the NBA,” Kersey said. “He knew I would have to blossom as a senior to be noticed. He told me I had to do extra things to improve my game, like ball-handling.”

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Kersey, played center at Longwood although he’s only 6-foot-7, had 270 rebounds in 25 games and averaged 14.6 points as a junior. He averaged 19.6 points and 14.2 rebounds in his senior year.

“I fared well at Portsmouth and Chicago, leading everyone in rebounds,” Kersey said. “I had doubts until then that I could play with the big boys. But these were Division I players.”

Rodman, who is 29 years old but in only his fourth NBA season, also traveled a rocky road to the Pistons. He never played high school basketball and played at Cooke County Junior College in Gainesville, Texas, for one year before moving on to Southeastern Oklahoma.

As a senior, he attracted attention by averaging 24.4 points and a whopping 17.9 rebounds in 34 games.

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“I had doubts I would ever play in the NBA because I was playing in the backwaters of Oklahoma,” Rodman said. “But I thought I was good enough to be a top 10 draft pick.”

But Detroit coach Chuck Daly said that no NBA prospects are going to be overlooked, regardless of where they go to school.

“No one is going to go unnoticed if he’s good enough,” Daly said. “There are too many scouts and too many teams who need good players.”


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