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Outside the Lines:
Playing in Israel and
Testing The Waters

 


Here's the transcript from Show 109 of weekly Outside The Lines - Playing in Israel and Testing The Waters

SUN., APRIL 28, 2002
Host: Bob Ley, ESPN
Guests: Ariel McDonald, Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv; Tyson Wheeler, Fene Hezeliah; Mark Gottfried, University of Alabama basketball head coach; Andy Geiger, Athletic Director at the Ohio State University and member of the NCAA Management Council.

BOB LEY, ESPN- April 28th, 2002. Israel is in conflict, but Americans are making a living here playing basketball.

COREY GAINES, GUARD B.C. HAIFA- I was close. I was within, I guess an hour of the bombing and within 20 feet.

LEY- In a nation afflicted with violence, these players must decided whether their pay checks are worth the personal risk.

LAMONT JONES, GUARD HAPOEL JERUSALEM- I don't want to die just to come here to play basketball, you know.

LEY- The NCAA instituted a rule allowing high school players to be drafted by the NBA. And then decide if they want to play in college. Some college coaches are upset. The NBA says it was not consulted.

RUSS GRANIK, NBA DEPUTY COMMSIONER- We think a player should apply to the draft when he knows that he's ready to play professional basketball and not as some kind of test.

LEY- Today on "Outside the Lines," testing the waters in the NBA and playing basketball in the crossfire.

It's presented as a simple well-intentioned and enlightened rule from the NCAA. A recognition that high school players increasingly will seriously consider the NBA draft, a simple rule, that's what it's supposed to be. Except the NBA does not see it that way and neither do some college coaches. Coming up, we will consider the issues when high school kids test the waters in the NBA draft.

But we begin this morning in a nation at war. Israelis live each day with the threat of violence and civilian deaths. Israel is a country that even in the midst of its current turmoil loves sports and the several dozen Americans playing professional basketball there. For many of those Americans, the question has now become whether it is prudent to stay in this country that many of them have come to love. Whether to continue playing in the crossfire. They have their games. Their life in this land. And their close calls.

RYAN LEXER, GUARD/FORWARD B.C. HAIFA- By the time I would have walked from my apartment to there it would have been exactly when it had blown up and for sure I would have died.

GAINES- I was close. I was within I guess an hour of the bombing and within 20 feet.

LEY- In a country afflicted by random terrorism, Israelis long ago learned to famously adapt and react. Now American basketball players must do the same balancing fear, caution and necessity.

At the age of 38, Corey Gaines long removed from Loyola Marymount has played in the NBA and from Turkey to Japan. This is his fifth season in Israel.

GAINES- I stay away from the bus stops. I stay away from the buses. I stay away from big crowds of people outside, you know, because there's good security here where they're checking everybody going in but things still do happen.

LEY- Lamont Jones knows that full well. The former University of Bridgeport point guard is playing his third season in Israel.

JONES- It's safe. But you've got to pick your spot. You've got to know where to be. You know it's almost -- it's kind of hard to do that. It's like you become a prisoner. You know, it's like I don't leave out too much. You know, I stay home a lot.

LEXER- It's troubling because the first thing you get on the bus you have to look to see if anyone looks suspicious. And then the whole time while you're riding a bus, you know, you're wondering could this bus blow up.

LEY- Ryan Lexer is a Jewish American who in his four years here since leaving Towson State has come to more fully embrace his heritage. Lexer has had three close calls with terrorist bombings. In the most harrowing, only his last second decision to forgo a trip for groceries saved his life. And instead thrust him into the carnage.

LEXER- It was so scary because my apartment had glass windows that I was sitting next too. And they actually indented. You know, they were wobbling and I just -- it scared me so much I, you know, just instinctively jumped back. And it was very foolish of me, I suppose, but I just, I was curious, and I just went downstairs and when I saw what I saw, I felt like I should help. It was so severe the sight I saw. It was just, you know, there's mangled bodies and the whole street was covered with glass for, you know, like 100 yards, complete glass on the street. You know there were people who were obviously dead, deceased. And some people were just with massive wounds. You know, body organs were outside of their bodies.

LEY- Lexer remains haunted by the image of an elderly woman badly wounded by that blast. To do this day, he is unsure whether she survived.

LEXER - Hello?

HOSPITAL PATIENT- Hi.

LEXER- Hi, how are you? I'm Ryan.

LEY- Lexer and other American players, celebrities in this sports crazed nation, visit hospitalized bombing victims.

LEXER- Well I'll say a prayer for you and I hope you feel better, OK.

HOSPITAL PATIENT- OK ..Bye.

LEXER - Bye.

JONES- When you see people that got hit by like the nails that they, you know, and the screws that they strapped to the bombs. And then you just see the victims, and you see the suffering. And you know the pain. It's just -- it's hard to see somebody you know that went through something like that.

LEY- Despite that violence and the ubiquitous security, the regular site of civilians carrying weapons. And the angry passions of both hard line Israelis and Palestinians. These American players believe their lives are hardly as dangerous as media images convey.

GAINES- It's no different than being in Los Angeles. I was robbed before in Los Angeles, you know, in front of my house at gunpoint, you know. So what? That hasn't happened here in Israel. I would never think about getting robbed here in Israel.

JONES- On CNN, they're going to only show you, you know, the violence and they're going to show you certain areas. They're not going to show the every day life of every single person in Israel, you know.

GAINES- My daughter she calls and says, you know, there was a bomb that went off in Netanya, and they don't know how far Netanya is from Haifa because they don't see it. You know you don't see it on the map. No one looks at the map of Israel. So it's a little distance. It's a 30-minute drive and I told her it's not by me, it's far away from me.

LEXER- My families worried sick. You know, I try my best to call them whenever something happens, regardless if it's close to me or not. Because they don't know locations. And I really try to make them feel calmer. Of course, they don't want me here.

LEY- That decision looms for each player. In the best of times, international basketball is a fluid world of comings and goings. Now there may be an imperative to leave.

JONES- I came here to do a job. I'm going to finish out my job and then I'm going to go home, you know. And then I'm going to decide whether or not I'm going to come back depending on the situation. You know, I don't want to die just to come here to play basketball, you know. It's like you've got to think about it, is it really worth it, you know.

LEXER- Would I go play somewhere else? Sure. You know it all depends. It depends on many things. But I certainly wouldn't let violence deter. I'm not going to let anyone get the best of me.

LEY- Joining us this morning to look at playing in the crossfire: Ariel McDonald, he played four years at the University of Minnesota. The point guard then for the Gophers. They wanted the 1993 NIT. He has played overseas for six years. This is his third season with the perennial Israeli champions, the Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv. And Ariel joins us live this morning from Jerusalem.

Tyson Wheeler played at the University of Rhode Island leaving URI in the spring of 1998 for a career that has included some time with the Denver Nuggets of the NBA. And this past season with Fene Hezeliah. He was that team's leading scorer. And he has returned to the United States recently as the level of violence has increased. He's in New London, Connecticut. Good day to you both. Ariel you have remained in country, why?

ARIEL MCDONALD, GUARD MACCABI ELITE TEL AVIV- I think primarily Bob because the team and the club I play for is, as you know, the champion of Israel. But we also behave and carry ourselves as diplomats for the country of Israel. And so we sort of play an inspirational role to the people here in Israel. And so right now we're about to go to the Final Four. And so we have a chance to inspire the people in times of turmoil, in times of crisis.

And so each of us -- I'm not the only American on my team, there's three others. Decided that, you know, we would stay and try to do the best we could for the team and for the country of Israel.

LEY- That's a very noble sentiment, but how severe and how real do you feel the presence of terrorism and the possibility of death or injury.

MCDONALD- For myself, playing in Tel Aviv we're kind of far from the front lines. But, you know, I really don't feel it from the every day life. The Israel people, they move and continue to go about their daily lives. They don't allow terrorism to dictate anything they're doing.

So being here for so long for the past three years, I've kind of taken on an Israeli approach, an Israeli attitude, maybe a bit na´ve. But, you know, like I said, I've been playing here for the last three years I've been here. I've built something here, in terms of -- as a player. And I intend to standby 100 percent.

LEY- OK. Tyson, you have returned home to the United States. What drove your thinking in that regard?

TYSON WHEELER, FORMERLY PLAYED IN ISRAEL- Well I had my family out there with me. Out of the four bombs they had in one week, my family got scared. My mother and father were calling me back home telling me to get home as soon as possible. And we were on the other end of the spectrum. We were in last place. And we weren't Maccabi Tel Aviv; we had no chance of making -- of staying in the first division. So I felt that it wasn't really worth risking my life, or my family's life, my fiancee and my daughter's life, so I decided to come home.

LEY- How big did you feel that risk was?

WHEELER- Well I didn't think it was a very big risk, but you know, after seeing that stuff on TV and having your family members really worried about you. And I was weighing the odds and ends and I was like, you know, I think it's time to go home. It didn't make any sense to stay out there and risk being in a place where I shouldn't be and getting blown up or something or have my family be injured.

LEY- Ariel, what are some of the things that we as Americans take for granted in our everyday lives that you have adopted as almost as an Israeli now in learning what you can't do, what you have to look for?

MCDONALD- Basically, you just have to kind of be careful around the people that you hang around. It's much like any inner city in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York. I mean you can have crime that happens anywhere. But to be here is something a little bit different because, you know, these terrorists can strike at ant time, at any moment.

And so, the Israelis, they have security right now outside of every restaurant, outside of every business. So there's high security on the streets. So you can pretty much feel comfortable in terms of just going in and out of restaurants at the time, but, you know, you still have to be cautious. One person told me the other day that they look at the person's palms to see where the detonators are because they feel that's where the terrorist hold their detonators. So now I'm starting to look at people's hands and things like that.

So but, you know, it's become a part of life here and you just get used to it and just continue to go on about your everyday life.

LEY- You're going to have to reach a decision Ariel whether to return for next season, what's going to frame that decision for you?

MCDONALD- Much like Tyson. Just, I mean, like Lamont Jones was saying, you know, I just want to see how the situation develops over the summer. As of lately, it's been very quiet around here. I had one incident yesterday just a couple of minutes ago we heard something about the nativity scene. So, you know, I'm just going to take it day by day, just see how the peace process continues. Just keep my eye out for just staying on top of things. And I'll make my decision later on.

LEY- Tyson, how did your teammates take your decision to come home? And would you go back?

WHEELER- I would love to go back. Israeli's a beautiful country. And palm trees, it looks kind of like Miami. My teammates really felt that, you know, it's time for you to go home. Take care of your family. Make sure your family is safe. So I decided it was time for me to leave.

LEY- All right, Ariel McDonald, thanks and stay safe over there. And Tyson Wheeler best of luck to you in your career. Thank you, gentlemen.

MCDONALD- Thank you.

WHEELER- Thank you very much.

LEY- All right. Next up, the beginning of the pro basketball life, the NBA draft. And this week's decision by the NCAA, they will allow high school players to be drafted but still play in college. The NBA says the rule is flawed.

SHAVLIK- ...end of the round. Then go back and play college ball for a year and become the college player of the year let's say. But nonetheless when he's ready to come and play in the NBA, he's still going to be treated as a 28 pick in terms of his salary for the first three or four years.

ANNOUNCER- The Minnesota Timberwolves select Kevin Garnett from Farragut Academy in Chicago.

LEY- Beginning with Kevin Garnett back in 1995, 18 high school players have declared for the NBA draft. Sixteen of those have been drafted including three of the top four players in last year's draft when Kwame Brown became the first high school player taken first overall.

All of those players lost their college eligibility simply by entering the NBA draft. But a Thursday decision by the NCAA has changed all of that into the future. This new rule is intended to help blue chip high school athletes. Some question whether it will.

Shavlik Randolph now has an option he did not four days ago. The NCAA will allow him to do what college starts such as DaJuan Wagner and Carlos Boozer simply cannot. Be drafted by an NBA team yet still play in college. Randolph has already signed with Duke, working through the process with his father. And Thursday's ruling did not tempt him into testing the draft, but he likes this new option.

SHAVLIK RANDOLPH, HIGH SCHOOL SR.- It's an advantage for any high school player who wants to, you know, test the NBA waters to see where they would be drafted. And I think it definitely makes it less of a gamble, you know, like if you want to -- if you enter and you're not going to be a good draft (pick) and you come back.

LEY- You can but it's not that simple. NBA deputy commission Russ Granik says the NCAA never discussed this new rule with NBA officials. And that the rule has unintended consequences.

GRANIK- I think it just may confuse the player into thinking that there are certain options he doesn't have. We think the player should apply to the draft when he knows that he's read to play professional basketball. Not as some kind of test, and the test won't work.

LEY- Because, according to Granik, players can enter the NBA draft only once. And NBA teams will own the rights to drafted high school players as long as they are in college plus one year. In addition, NBA teams will own those rights at the salary established by that draft position regardless of how much a player improves his skills and thus his professional value.

GRANIK- He would have been better off if he just went to school and when he was ready then applied for the draft. And, you know, if he was at that level a player, then his salary and his pick would be commensurate with his talent.

LEY- Until now, a high school player, in the eyes of the NCAA, became ineligible by simply declaring for the draft. This new rule will allow players assuming they have not signed with an agent to enter the NBA draft. Be drafted by a team and then take several months until the beginning of their freshman college classes to decide if they want to play in college.

Shavlik Randolph will play in college, a decision reached along with his father. Kenny Randolph shepherded his son through the maze of college offers and pro possibilities. And he believes this new rule may actually cause more problems for coaches.

KENNY RANDOLPH, SHAVLIK'S FATHER - When we look from a coach's perspective, you've taken two years recruiting all of these players. And you think you've got this great class coming in. And then all of a sudden, a couple of them bail out on you, well it's -- it can effect the program.

LEY- That's just one issue to consider in testing the waters. Joining us now, the head coach of The University of Alabama, Mark Gottfried. He was the coach of the year in the southeastern conference this past season. His team finishing ranked eight in the country. Mark Gottfried joins us from Tuscaloosa.

Andy Geiger is Athletic Director at the Ohio State University and member of the NCAA Management Council. He joins us this morning from Columbus. Good morning to you both. Mark, you don't believe this rule is going to help, why not?

GOTTFRIED- Well I think first of all the first thing you have to do is look at what's best for the young person. And I do not see how this rule helps the young person. I think a lot of the kids in college basketball are not ready to make that decision.

They're not even ready to decipher the information. Who do they go to get the information from as far as if I would be a high pick or not. I don't think it helps them whatsoever. I think we invited the agent right in the living room of a high school family, and I don't think it's good at all.

LEY- Andy.

ANDY GEIGER, ATHLETIC DIRECTOR OHIO STATE- Well I think it's a really good idea for exactly the points that Mark makes but on the other side of those points. I think it gives the student athletes options that they haven't had in the past. I think it gives them an opportunity to learn about how they might be valued at the next level.

We want coaches to recruit students that are going to be committed to the college programs. We have the new 5-8 rule as far as initial scholarships are concerned. We're on the threshold of some significant academic reform. And I think this flexibility that it gives the young people is right in concert with those moves.

LEY- But Andy how well do you think high school seniors can be informed as to their true draft value as a 17, as an 18-year-old, with all of the pressures and all of the people putting advice in your ear?

GEIGER- Well I think general managers of professional teams will give that sort of information out. Certainly, that happens now with youngsters who are in college who are thinking about testing the waters or entering the draft.

LEY- But they can lean on college coaches. They -- if I played for Mark, I could ask Mark call your friends on the NBA. If I'm 18 who do I call? Andy?

GEIGER- Well, I think if first of all you're involved in recruitment, the college coaches are going to be involved in this. I think anybody can call the NBA and find out how to ascertain that information. That certainly is what college coaches and freshman and sophomores and juniors that are thinking about coming out do now.

GOTTFRIED- Well let me say one thing Bob. And I think for high schools kids, and we have to understand here again. We're -- I think we're creating problems for these guys. I think that in the last six or seven or eight years we've had a couple of kids per year that might be good enough to be NBA players, and they want to do what a Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant, those kind of guys do.

But now, I think you've put that decision in the hands of a top 50 kid or a top 100 kid. Now all of a sudden in the process I'm having to deal with this issue. And I've got my uncle and my aunt and my neighbor and my buddy and my high school friend telling me I should explore the NBA. And you have kids now that have no business thinking about the NBA who are beginning a process at age 16, age 17. And I don't think there's any question it hurts the young person. That's the first and foremost thing.

Then the second part of the equation is that we spend a lot of money recruiting young people. That's just the nature of college athletics. And here we have gone out now and spent money and time investing it into a player, and at this point right now have absolutely no idea of who may or may not be on your roster.

And it's not just the kids that you say, boy, that's a good decision because he is legitimately ready. What it effects is the kids that have no business thinking about it who will make a mistake now. And they will think about it. They don't have any business thinking about it. And again, I think our primary focus has to be what's best for the young person.

LEY- There's also the question of what's best for the coach, Andy? Mark, I think you touched on it. Do you hamstring the coaches Andy if you give somebody until August just before freshman year to make up their mind?

GEIGER- I don't think so Bob because I think the coaches will be in communication with the young people. That's what the recruitment process is all about.

Let me also point out that I don't think the National Basketball Association is going to expand the number of draft slots that it has. I think it only has two rounds in the draft. And I think the marketplace is pretty much going to take care of this issue up front. We simply are giving the youngster who opts to go into the draft and then realizes that he or she made a mistake and wants to come back into the college pool that opportunity. They don't -- heretofore they did not have that option?

LEY- Is it a mistake though? Or is it intended really to, as we've been calling it, test the water, establish a market value?

GEIGER- I don't think it's a very effective way to test the water if the team is not going to draft the individual again.

Let me point out that there are only a finite number of draft slots.

LEY- That's right. Let me bring another item up Andy. With this new rule, there are essentially three standards for when a player becomes ineligible by NCAA definitions. College underclassman when they are drafted. Junior college players simply by declaring for the draft. But high schools kids can go all the way through. And they don't become ineligible until they sign a pro contract. It seems like a rather beguiling jungle of different standards for high school, juco and under classmen.

GEIGER- Well I think a prospective student athlete is defined first and foremost as a high school player. I don't know right off the top of my head how this effects the junior college situation. But, you know, I think it's fairly clear that this is for perspective student athletes. That's how the rule is written. And, by the way, it's for all for sports, not just for basketball.

LEY- Right. We're obviously concentrating on basketball. Mark, how many kids a year do you think might in the realistic world take advantage of this?

GOTTFRIED- Well I think there will be some. I think there will be kids that again have no business thinking about it. And here's where I have a problem again. And I think when you go into the living room, first of all, in my personal opinion, I think you have invited agents into the living room of high school kids right now to develop a relationship, to get it started.

LEY- Do you agree with that Andy? Are agents now in the picture?

GEIGER- Well I think the agents are there now. I think that any thought that this is going to open up something that already exists is a little bit of a red herring. But we know who the great players are going to be when they're 12, 13, 14 years old and so do agents and others that are involved in these kids lives. There's a couple of famous cases going on right now where the, you know, the shoe people and agents and a whole entourage of people are following these young people around.

There's not mystery here.

LEY- No, and the agents are out there. Mark Gottfried, Andy Geiger, thank you both very much for joining us this morning.

GOTTFRIED- Thanks, Bob.

LEY - Please give us your thoughts and opinions on this issue by going online, the key word- OTLweekly. We offer transcriptions and streaming video of our Sunday shows. Our e-mail address- otlweekly@espn.com.

Coming up is SportsCenter at the top of the hour live from the Sixers and Celtics in the NBA playoffs.

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