High-Profile Teens In NBA Draft

On the day after his 18th birthday, Sofoklis Schortsanitis put his hulking body on display for the New York Knicks in a tryout that wouldn't have been possible a year ago.

Schortsanitis is the youngest beneficiary of a deal struck in February between the league and the players' union that loosened the eligibility requirement for foreign teenagers entering the draft.

The change affects only two players in Thursday's NBA draft, Schortsanitis and fellow European player Darko Milicic, but it is part of a trend in which a growing number of teenagers are making the jump from high school to the riches of the NBA.

"The change in the rules was something that gave me an advantage, but it doesn't mean that it's right," said Schortsanitis, whose tryout was Monday and who was dubbed "Baby Shaq" last season while playing in the Greek League. "I think they want kids to go to college."

The first pick in the draft is certain to be Lebron James, the 18-year-old phenom from Ohio who recently signed a $90 million shoe contract with Nike.

The likely second pick will be Milicic, a Serbian 7-footer who turned 18 last week. The third pick is expected to be Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony, who turned 19 less than a month ago.

"I don't think we've ever felt as much excitement about a crop of new players coming in," deputy NBA commissioner Russ Granik said.

Despite the buzz being created by the impending arrival of the three teens, the NBA's public stance is that it would prefer a minimum age requirement of 20.

Granik and commissioner David Stern reiterated that position during the NBA Finals, saying they feel a moral compulsion to deter youngsters from believing basketball is the easy way to fame and fortune.

"It's really about ... those preteens who think that the road to the NBA is a road to riches, and a certainty, when in fact it may be the least certain thing in their lives," Stern said Monday in a telephone interview.

Before the rule was changed in February, foreign players who turned 18 in the 45 days preceding the draft were restricted from being eligible. There is no age requirement for U.S. players, but they must graduate from high school before being drafted.

Schortsanitis, a muscular 255 pounds, measured 6-foot-8@1/4 without sneakers as the Knicks brought him in for a second workout. When the half-Greek, half-Cameroonian teenager first emerged on the international basketball radar last fall, he was said to be 6-11.

He hopes to be chosen in the first round of the draft because it guarantees him a three-year deal. There were six international players taken in the first round a year ago, 11 more in the second round.

Another 17 international players are eligible this year, along with 29 high school players and college underclassmen.

In the NBA, the historical trend of drafting players seasoned by several seasons of college basketball has changed in the past few years as several of the league's best young stars — including Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett — successfully made the jump directly from high school.

With the recent emergence of talented foreigners Dirk Nowitzki from Germany, and Pau Gasol and Yao Ming from China, the emphasis of many NBA teams is shifting toward finding the best young international prospects.

"What's happened is that over the past 20 years the European game has caught up, and it has caught up because of they have concentrated on fundamentals. Those guys come over here much more skilled in terms of the basics," said Knicks coach Don Chaney.