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Trying to Avoid the Draft

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mike Penberthy can do The Master’s College and his NAIA brethren proud by being picked in the NBA draft, which will be held today in Charlotte, N.C.

But, truth be told, the 6-foot-2 guard doesn’t want to be drafted if it means being picked late in the second round--which is where his name figures to come up if he is selected.

“It’s pretty special to myself just to be considered,” said Penberthy, who averaged 27.5 points for The Master’s last season. “But I think I’ll have a better chance of making a team by going to the free-agent camps than if I’m taken late in the draft.”

The free-agent route would give Penberthy a chance to pick the clubs he wants to try out for, based on their needs and his chances of making the squad.

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NBA scouting experts say Penberthy could well become the first Master’s player to make the jump to the NBA--but probably not this year.

“I think he’s one of the better point-guard prospects in the country,” said Marty Blake, the NBA’s director of scouting. “But at the two camps I saw him at . . . he had trouble getting his own shot.

“He needs to get stronger. He has a great feel for the game, but he needs to play somewhere other than the NBA for a while.”

Penberthy, an NAIA All-American the past two years, played well enough in an early April NBA scouting camp in Portsmouth, Va., to earn one of 10 invitations to an all-senior, 59-player camp in Phoenix a week later.

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But after averaging 8.7 points, 4.7 assists and hitting six of 19 shots from three-point range in three games in Portsmouth, Penberthy averaged only five points and three assists and made one of 10 three-pointers in Phoenix.

“I think he impressed enough people at Portsmouth that he was going to be drafted,” scout Chris Monter said. “But then when he struggled at Phoenix and [40 underclassmen] entered the draft, his chances dropped.”

In the second camp, stronger guards such as Jacque Vaughn of Kansas pushed Penberthy around and took him out of his game.

Since then, Penberthy has been working out six hours a day in his hometown of Fresno in an effort to improve his game.

Weight training has helped Penberthy gain 15 pounds to 190. Daily drills with Fresno State assistant coach John Welch have improved his point-guard skills.

“I couldn’t penetrate that well or create my own shots before,” Penberthy said. “A lot of the guards in [the Phoenix camp] would just push me off the pick and roll because of my size. But now I’m bigger and I also feel like I can break people down off the dribble.”

Penberthy’s improvement probably comes too late for him to get picked in the draft. He wasn’t invited to the pre-draft combine in Chicago on June 3-7. But he should get plenty of chances to show off in upcoming free-agent camps.

If he doesn’t make an NBA team, he said he will probably play in Europe. Teams in France and Italy have contacted his agent. “That would still be a positive,” Penberthy said. “My whole goal has always been to play overseas as a way of getting to the NBA.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Mike Penberthy File

Age: 22

Height: 6-2

Weight: 190

Hometown: Fresno

High School: Fresno Hoover

College: The Master’s

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Career Averages: 19.7 points, 4.4 assists, 48.2% field-goal shooting, 43.7% three-point shooting, 87.8% free-throw shooting.

1996-97 Averages: 27.5 points, 3.8 assists, 49.1% field-goal shooting, 42.7% three-point shooting, 88% free-throw shooting.


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