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Is Bryant, 17, Ready for This?

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The NBA draft got even younger Monday when Marcus Camby, a college junior, and Kobe Bryant, a high school senior, joined those declaring early.

Bryant, a 6-foot-6 swingman at Lower Merion High in the Philadelphia suburbs, becomes the fourth prep player to make himself available for the draft, the second in two years and, at 17, the youngest.

Kevin Garnett made the jump last spring and was chosen fifth by Minnesota. His success has inspired or inflamed the imaginations of high school players across the country. Several others--notably 6-11 Jermaine O’Neal of Columbia, S.C., and 6-10 Tim Thomas of Paterson, N.J.--are considering turning pro too.

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An Eastern Conference official rates the 6-11 Camby “pretty clearly the best of the big guys who have come out.” Of the centers in college, only Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan, a 6-10 junior who hasn’t announced his intentions, is considered better.

As a player, Camby’s only question mark concerns his 220-pound frame. He led UMass to its first Final Four this season, averaging 21 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. The Minutemen, ranked No. 1 most of the season, lost to eventual champion Kentucky in the semifinals, 81-74, as Camby scored 25 points, with eight rebounds and six blocked shots.

However, Camby missed several games because of an unexplained collapse at midseason before he got medical clearance to resume playing. He finished the season without further problems.

Bryant, the son of former NBA player Joe, grew up in Italy, where his father finished his career, speaks Italian as well as English and scored 1,080 on the Scholastic Assessment Test, qualifying him to play at Duke and North Carolina, both of which recruited him.

However, Kobe and Joe were intrigued by the interest of pro scouts.

When Lower Merion played in the Beach Ball Classic, a Christmas tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Miami’s Dave Wohl and Orlando’s John Gabriel were spotted in the stands.

Gabriel said later that Bryant had been “borderline sensational.”

Bryant has been hyped in the feverish world of high school scouting services as “Grant Hill with a jump shot.” NBA team officials have been more skeptical, noting that he isn’t a Garnett-caliber prospect.

“He’s kidding himself,” said NBA scouting director Marty Blake. “Sure he’d like to come out. I’d like to be a movie star. He’s not ready.”

At 6-6, Bryant is shorter than the other high school players who went through the NBA draft--6-11 Darryl Dawkins, 6-11 Garnett and 6-8 Bill Willoughby. Moses Malone did not go to college but came to the NBA from the old American Basketball Assn., and Shawn Kemp came from a junior college.

A year ago, however, Garnett was considered a long-term project and expected to go midway through the first round.

He moved into the top 10 amid speculation that Toronto’s Isiah Thomas, who had an expansion team and nothing to lose, would take him.

Then Garnett held a workout for pro scouts and dazzled them. On draft day, the Timberwolves took him with the No. 5 pick, turning down deals offered by other teams--notably Portland--for the pick.

Bryant has yet to work out for NBA scouts, most of whom have only heard of him, and a similar move is possible, especially in a draft this thin. Orlando’s Gabriel rates him “the bottom of the lottery.”

But, said Washington Bullet General Manager John Nash, “You could put him in the NBA right now and he’s not going to hurt you. In two or three years, with maturity, he could be a legitimate star.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Coming Out Party

THIS YEAR’S UNDERGRADUATES

Undergraduates who have applied for the NBA draft on June 26th.

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Player Pos. College Ray Allen Guard Connecticut Marcus Camby Center Massachusetts Ronnie Henderson Guard Louisiana St. Dontae’ Jones Forward Mississippi St. Stephon Marbury Guard Georgia Tech Vitaly Potapenko Center Wright St. Darnell Robinson Center Arkansas Samaki Walker Center Louisville Lorenzen Wright Center Memphis

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FROM PREPS TO PROS

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Player Seasons Team Tony Kappen 1946-47 Pittsburgh Joe Graboski 1948-52 Chicago Reggie Harding 1963-68 Detroit Moses Malone* 1974-95 Utah Bill Willoughby 1975-84 Atlanta Darryl Dawkins 1975-89 Philadelphia Kevin Garnett 1995 Minnesota Thomas Hamilton 1995 Boston

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*-Started in American Basketball Association


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