April 11, 2005
TALLAHASSEE More than a few people were astonished when Florida State sophomore guard Von Wafer announced he will make himself eligible for the NBA draft this year. FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, however, wasn't one of them.
"I anticipated this, but I could have been wrong," Hamilton said, when the official word came out while he was attending the Final Four in St. Louis. "I've always thought that Von has demonstrated that he has tremendous potential. I think it's a matter of time before he develops and realizes his full potential."
The truth is, Wafer's timetable for getting to the NBA always has been well ahead of his development as a consistent collegiate performer, one who averaged 12.5 points and 2.5 rebounds as a sophomore. According to one FSU source, Wafer and his family seriously considered declaring for the draft after his up-and-down freshman season.
"This opportunity for our family is a long-time dream that we hope comes true," said Ray P. Johnson, Wafer's father and clearly the person calling the shots for the one-time McDonald's All-American.
Based on his comments, released through the FSU sports information office, Wafer truly believes he's ready for the professional ranks.
"This has always been a dream of mine," Wafer said. "I feel this is the closest I have been, so I wanted to go ahead and grab the chance. I believe in myself and believe I can make it happen."
Short of his athletic ability, there's very little empirical evidence to support the 6-5 guard's assertion. One pro scout, who asked not to be identified because of NBA rules that prevent league personnel from discussing underclassmen, offered this analysis of Wafer, whom he called "very gifted athletically."
"If he wants to, he can get into the seam of a defense, and he could be a decent defender," the scout said. "He shoots real well, but he's a streak shooter, and I've seen him when the streak is over keep shooting. His shot-making sometimes dictates how hard he plays. He has not played to his potential to this point."
After averaging nearly 10 points a game as a freshman, while playing in the shadow of All-ACC standout Tim Pickett, Wafer endured a sophomore season of highs and lows.
The highlight was a career-high 30 points, including seven three-pointers, in an upset of Wake Forest. Wafer also sat out two single-game suspensions for disciplinary reasons and had just one field goal over the last three games, when his playing time was more than cut in half, in part because of his defensive lapses.
Hamilton has refused to publicly discuss Wafer's shortcomings or the details behind his reduced playing time. But several people familiar with the guard confirmed that he had serious class attendance problems. There also were persistent rumors that Wafer was not well-liked by his teammates, many of whom had grown weary of his extreme emotional swings, which clearly affected his play on the floor.
Many who know Wafer well cite a lack of maturity. That easily could be documented by anyone who has watched Wafer's body language after missing his first couple of shots, which usually leads to head-hanging, slumping shoulders and an apparent lack of confidence.
In a late-season game against Georgia Tech, Wafer was nearly run over when Yellow Jackets guard Will Bynum sped up the court while Wafer was on his knees, after pounding the floor in frustration when he missed an uncontested three-point attempt.
With NBA teams such as Detroit, Phoenix and Seattle flourishing with better chemistry, pro personnel managers have become even more interested in how a prospect gets along with his teammates and accepts coaching. That likely will lead to closer scrutiny of a player who has been disciplined over the course of his career.
"All of those questions," the scout said, "will have to be answered (by Wafer) now."
Even if Wafer can sufficiently answer those questions, there are on-floor issues he also must address. For example, how can a gifted athlete manage just four offensive rebounds in an entire season? Why does he struggle to play with consistent intensity, both on the defensive end and offensively, where he tends to stand around without the ball?
Beyond anything else, simple mathematics would indicate that Wafer is a longshot to even earn an invitation to the Chicago pre-draft camp, which is critical to any underclassman hoping to be selected in the two-round draft. With the NBA's trends in favor of international and high school players not to mention matriculating college seniors there's a lot of competition for those coveted camp spots.
NBA director of scouting Marty Blake has a hand in determining the invitees to the league-run camp. When asked what chance Wafer had of earning an invitation, Blake dead-panned: "To do what?"
So what happens to Wafer if he decides not to take the step to the professional ranks? At this point, he and his father have said they will not sign with an agent, theoretically leaving the door cracked for a possible return to Florida State.
Publicly, Hamilton has said that Wafer would be welcome to return to the Seminoles, but some aren't so sure. Meanwhile, FSU recently has been hot and heavy on the recruiting trail, and one of its top priorities is uncovering a scoring guard to sign in the late period.
Will there be a spot left open for Wafer should he opt to pull his name from the draft? Will the Seminoles be better (addition by subtraction) without Wafer?
The first question could lead to a landmark moment in FSU athletics. The school has maintained an impeccable reputation when it comes to renewing scholarships. In short, the Seminoles don't run off players in any sport.
Wafer's decision to test the NBA draft waters may not lead only to a lukewarm reception by talent evaluators and front office executives. It also may test the school's resolve when it comes to deciding what's best for a program that's desperately trying to become competitive in the ACC.
Lee Making QB Race Interesting
While it's still hard to imagine FSU football coach Bobby Bowden siding with a freshman over redshirt junior Wyatt Sexton as the starting quarterback for the season opener against Miami, Xavier Lee is making a compelling case.
With his third strong scrimmage performance in a week in mid-April, Lee got Bowden's full attention heading into the annual spring game.
"He's really coming along," Bowden said, after Lee closed out the third week of practice with three touchdown passes. "He's getting them in the end zone. A couple of them were scrambles, but that's just like a golf ball (that) hits a tree and goes into the hole; it's still a (par). He's moving (the offense). I want to see more of him with the (first team) the next time we scrimmage, to see what he looks like with them."
The heralded redshirt, who came into the spring trailing both Sexton and classmate Drew Weatherford on the depth chart, completed 17 of 25 passing attempts for 281 yards with five touchdown passes and two interceptions in three scrimmages.
Comparatively, Sexton (14 of 27, 121 yards. one interception) and Weatherford (10 of 26, 100 yards, one touchdown, one interception) were light years behind. In fact, through two full scrimmages and four mini-scrimmages (half-practices), Sexton had yet to throw a TD pass.
Though Bowden initially said the quarterback competition would be wide open in the spring, he later clarified that the two youngsters would have to beat out Sexton for the job. Given FSU's history, and Sexton's seven starts last season, the odds seemed long for either Weatherford or Lee.
Midway through the third week of spring drills, though, Bowden acknowledged that Sexton's working margin had been narrowed.
"I do think that they are closing the gap a little bit. I keep seeing them improve," Bowden said. "Of course, they are younger, so they have more room to improve. They need exactly what we did today. What you would like to do is go out there and scrimmage and have one of them get the whole day. That's what you would like."
Until Chris Rix came along, the Seminoles had flourished under the leadership of veteran starters during their 14-year run of top-five poll finishes.
"We are back to that now," Bowden said. "Now we'll just see if he (Sexton) can hang on. Wyatt is now a redshirt junior, and that's kind of the way it's been in the past. Last year was a little too early for him, but he did a pretty good job under the circumstances."
Before the coaches can seriously consider a change in the pecking order, they must first evaluate whether Sexton's work exclusively against a dominant first-team defense, and with a makeshift offensive line is truly inferior to the efforts Lee and Weatherford are putting up against a makeshift second-team defense. That's not an easy task, which is why Bowden is eager to give Lee a longer look with the starters before the end of spring drills.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, who long has favored the shotgun offense with multiple receivers, is among those who are excited by Lee's progress.
"What I'm seeing is that when he (Lee) gets flushed, he's looking to go downfield with the ball," Jeff Bowden said. "That's a quarterback. Just like Coach (Bobby) Bowden mentioned to them in the locker room, he don't care how the quarterbacks get the offense into the end zone, it's the point of getting them into the end zone. (Lee) finds a way to do that each scrimmage."