February 21, 2006
RALEIGH -- N.C. State is in the middle of a very good season, and this may wind up going down as the best State team in the past 20 years.
But this is not a roster filled with NBA-caliber talent. Duke has J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts. Carolina has Tyler Hansbrough. Boston College has Craig Smith and Jared Dudley. State has ... whom?
Heck, thanks in part to some of the players listed above, it will be a huge surprise if the Wolfpack (21-5, 10-3 ACC) can place anyone on the all-conference first team, regardless of how high it climbs in the league standings. Nobody is a lock for the second team, either. That's not exactly a sign of star power.
Coach Herb Sendek has found excellent chemistry by blending a group of experienced veterans with young talent. But if you examine the professional futures of the players individually, only one looks to have an NBA career in his future.
Here's a look at the professional potential of State's top players, based on conversations with a variety of scouts, general managers and others in the industry:
Cedric Simmons: Simmons falls into a category that many young, athletic big men fall into regarding the NBA. He clearly would benefit from more seasoning at the college level, and yet it may behoove him to go ahead and test the NBA waters anyway, either this summer or definitely after his junior season.
On his merits alone, Simmons currently would not project as a first-round pick.
He has the long arms and athleticism that scouts drool over, and some see visions of Theo Ratliff when they watch him. Simmons has come a long way in the past year, which underscores how much raw talent and untapped potential he may still have.
However, he doesn't rebound like Ratliff, or like most other NBA power forwards. Simmons' 6.6-board average this season is a red flag to scouts, especially since there are so many rebounds to be had with State holding opponents to 40 percent shooting, and especially since the Wolfpack has no other bullish rebounder. A really good glass-cleaner would average in double figures with no problems at all on this team.
Simmons' rebounding issues go much further than the fact that he drifts outside a lot and goes for blocks. He simply isn't fundamentally sound yet, and even when he has good position, there's often a disconnect with him actually going and securing the ball. Some rebounds come straight at him, and he still lets opponents beat him to the ball or out-fight him for it.
His offensive skills have improved significantly this season, but he still doesn't have a legitimate outside shot that he will be able to count on in the NBA. So that makes him an inside player who doesn't rebound and must get his points on the block, or by running the court, which he does well.
That said, the NBA is a league that likes to gamble on big men with athleticism and untapped potential. The 2006 draft will be the weakest in years, because there are no high school players jumping straight to the pros, and the young European projects are off-limits, too. That alone could raise Simmons' stock, should he come out.
There's something to be said about having the "potential" tag, since NBA teams do gamble. Sometimes it's better to get a three-year guaranteed contract as a player with potential than to hang around college and not realize that potential.
Then again, if a player stays in school and continues to improve, he'll move up the draft board significantly in the future. That's where he can find the really big money.
Ilian Evtimov: Evtimov doesn't have NBA skills, but he is a natural to play professionally somewhere in Europe. Born in Bulgaria and raised in France, he would qualify as a native European and would not count against the limit of two American players allowed on European rosters. European players with American college backgrounds are worth their weight in gold to European teams.
Evtimov would fit into a European League setting well for several reasons. He has the solid, all-around game that would mesh with most European systems. He also has the background and personality to do well in Europe, since he speaks four languages and has moved around and adjusted to new cultures throughout his life. Some American players have struggled with that part of European basketball, but it shouldn't faze him. In fact, an enterprising European team might look to reunite Evtimov with his brother Vasco.
One would think Ilian could have a long and prosperous career in Europe, if he can ever get over the string of injuries that have plagued him throughout his career at State.
EVERYONE WILL PLAY SOMEWHERE
Engin Atsur: See Evtimov above.
Atsur, who grew up in Turkey, fits the bill of a player who could have a long and prosperous career in Europe. He doesn't have an NBA game, but he has a Turkish passport and can shoot the heck out of the three-pointer. That will make him highly attractive to many European teams.
Cameron Bennerman: Bennerman does not project to be drafted at this point, but he no doubt will be invited to the Portsmouth pre-draft camp and likely would be a candidate to wind up at the Chicago pre-draft camp. Bennerman actually has the athleticism and the assertiveness to draw the attention of pro scouts, and if he plays well in those camps he might be able to sneak into the second round.
Bennerman might be wise to consider a different route to the NBA, however. With his offensive explosiveness and big-play ability, and with his desire to be a scorer, he might be best off going to Europe for a couple of years and then trying to test the NBA waters.
European teams are limited to two American players, so they demand that their Americans provide offense, and preferably highlight-film material. That's Bennerman's game. He could make some good money, continue to work on all facets of his game, and maybe even raise his NBA stock with some success.
He wouldn't be the first player to build his resume up that way. And, if it played out, he actually could position himself better than if he was drafted by an NBA team in the second round. He would be a free agent, totally free to cut a deal with whatever team he wanted, instead of being bound to signing with the team that drafted him and retained his rights.
Tony Bethel: Bethel won't be drafted. But he has NBDL written all over him, if that's what he chooses to do. And that might not be a bad route for him.
He would have to play point guard if he ever made it to the NBA. The league is filled with backup point guards who bounced around for three or four years and continued to work on their games and then finally figured out what NBA teams are looking for in a backup point guard. Somewhere along the line, he would have to improve his ball-handling skills and continue to develop a point guard's mentality.
Andrew Brackman: Brackman has a great professional future ahead of him, with a seven-figure contract looming. It's just not in the NBA. It's in baseball, where he's a bona fide major league prospect as a right-handed pitcher.
The notion that Brackman could turn out to be a Dave DeBusschere type who played both sports is fading quickly. Brackman has not taken the step up in basketball that many hoped for. He's looking more like Tim Stoddard now. He has size, he's versatile, he can play on the perimeter, and he has good shooting range, but he's just not productive enough often enough.
Since that's the case, one must wonder if he will reassess his future goals at the end of this season. He'll be eligible for the major league draft in the summer of 2007, after his junior season. He still loves basketball, and next season he could have a huge role with Evtimov, Bethel, Bennerman and perhaps Simmons gone. But at some point, he's probably going to have to make the commitment to baseball.
His professional future depends on it.