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Friday, December 13, 2002
Updated: July 22, 5:58 PM ET
Don't praise King James just yet

By Charley Rosen
Special to Page 2

Editor's Note: Page 2 asked Charley Rosen, a longtime coach and scout in professional basketball, to watch LeBron James on Thursday night and give us a scouting report on the 17-year-old phenom. He filed the following report.

I don't know which aggravates me more: our crass, soulless, sporting-life culture, or the airhead kids who are at the same time its beneficiaries and its victims? Like LeBron James, the 17-year-old schoolboy phenom whom so many NBA pundits have already crowned as the Air Apparent.

OK, so James is going to be the NBA top draft pick come June, but he already refers to himself in the royal-third-person ("LeBron stays humble by just being LeBron"). And he also refers to himself as a "superhero" and as "Basketball Man." And even worse, after he dunks over an opponent, he's liable to shout "King James!" or "You sorry!"

Here comes another narcissistic young man who has been conditioned to believe that celebrity equals money equals power. Admire his talent, but pity his lost youth and forfeited innocence.

LeBron James
Yeah, LeBron can dunk, but where's the jumper?
OK, his St. Vincent-St. Mary team "upset" the No. 1-ranked high school team in the country, Oak Hill Academy. And James's numbers were impressive -- 31 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists. While he certainly showed an abundance of sheer talent, he also demonstrated that he still has much to learn.

At 6-foot-8, 235 pounds, he can have his way among his peers along the baseline and in the pivot, but in the NBA, James will need to be an effective shooter. The problem here is that his release is a tad too low. Also that he fades slightly when he shoots his jumper. The result is that he holds onto the ball too long and will have some trouble shooting in tight quarters.

And what about his poor shooting percentage (40 percent)? He didn't make a jumper until later in the third quarter and then celebrated by banging his fist into his chest. He repeated this foolish routine when he connected on his only other jumper early in the fourth quarter. (The chest beating is supposed to demonstrate how much heart he has.) However, I didn't see any celebration when he arrogantly waved his teammates out of his way and launched an airball.

Let's review some of his buckets that roused the fans (and the TV announcers) into a frenzy:

Midway into the first quarter, James doesn't bother to get back on defense, and when a teammate makes a nifty steal and a pass downcourt, our hero finds himself ahead of the field and executes an dramatic dunk. How about another slam that resulted from an offensive rebound falling into his hands without a defender within reach? Or the layup off a perfect lob pass when he was fronted down low by a much smaller defender?

LeBron James
Is all the media attention going to James' head? Stay tuned.
Big deal!

Yes, James has good hands, quick feet, extraordinary hops, and a lively body. Yes, he's also an outstanding passer. But his defense is atrocious.

His basic defensive stance is much too upright.

When defending a perimeter player, his hands are in his pockets.

When his team tried a full-court press, one of Oak Hill's guards absolutely left him in the dust.

He always looks for the easy way out, making perfunctory swipes at the ball, and gambling on every entry pass.

His transition from offense to defense is shameful. Instead of hustling downcourt, he lingers near the ball, hoping for a steal.

  He always looks for the easy way out, making perfunctory swipes at the ball, and gambling on every entry pass. His transition from offense to defense is shameful. Instead of hustling downcourt, he lingers near the ball, hoping for a steal. His post-up defense offers less resistance than a soft summer's breeze. 
   

His post-up defense offers less resistance than a soft summer's breeze.

In short, LeBron James can't guard his own shadow.

What other shortcomings did the young hoopling reveal?

A barely adequate left hand.

A shaky behind-the-back dribble going left to right.

What's the one talent he possesses that will survive his entry into the NBA? His court vision and his ability to pass the ball.

In high school, LeBron James might be a man among boys -- but in the NBA, he'll be a boy among men. Skilled, experienced, powerful, and above all, ruthless men.

After the media hysteria dies down, after his arrogance is reduced to real humility, he might very well develop into a franchise player. But let's not reserve a wing in the Hall of Fame for LeBron James just yet.

Charley Rosen, a former coach in the Continental Basketball Association, has been intimately involved with basketball for the better part of five decades -- as a writer, a player, a coach and a passionate fan. Rosen's books include "More Than a Game," "The Cockroach Basketball League," "The Wizard of Odds: How Jack Molinas Almost Destroyed the Game of Basketball," "Scandals of '51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball" and "The House of Moses All-Stars: A Novel."