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Outside the Lines:
Making The Leap


Here's the transcript from Show 61 of Outside The Lines - Making the Leap

Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Reported by: Melissa Stark, ESPN.
Guest: Spencer Haywood, NBA veteran; John Calipari, head coach University of Memphis; John Gabriel, general manager, Orlando Magic.

Announcer - May 27, 2001.

Bob Ley, host - From high school, directly to the NBA; there are major success stories.

Tracy McGrady, Orlando Magic - You got one life -- one life to live only.

Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers - And I've decided to take my talent to...

Unidentified Male - Two or three years down the line, hopefully I'll become an NBA All-Star.

Ley - From high school to the NBA - for Bill Willoughby it was anything but a success.

Bill Willoughby, former NBA player - Everyday life in the NBA, you know, was hard.

Ley - Today on Outside The Lines - a cautionary tale and the escalating pressures; when youngsters make the leap.

Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance.

Joining us from ESPN studios - Bob Ley.

Ley - Once it was news when a college underclassman entered the NBA, and only after a soul-searching session with his coach, careful assessment of his draft position, and public regrets at having left his team behind. That picture is now quaint.

High school youngsters no longer make stop-the-presses news when they decide to leave for the NBA; and there are six of them in this year's draft.

What is news, is the 180-degree turn in temperament and opinion from NBA Commissioner David Stern. He's criticizing the NBA player's union for, in his view, not stepping up on this issue, saying that kids are being, quote, "encouraged, induced and propelled" to bypass college for the NBA.

Today's high school stars are product of the hyper-caffeinated system of summer ball and sneaker influence. Young men who see college coaches making seven figures, while players get room, board, and books -- books that don't interest them right now.

Books in which it took Bill Willoughby a generation to regain any interest after he made the leap as a pioneer from high school into the NBA.

Here's Melissa Stark.

Melissa Stark, ESPN correspondent - On Wednesday, 44-year-old Bill Willoughby graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He's not the oldest or tallest member of the class, but he's the only one to ever block Kareem Abdul-Jabar's skyhook.

Unidentified Male - Kareem and Willoughby -- did you see that!

Stark - Willoughby is the first of his kind - a player who left for the pros directly from high school, and is now a college graduate.

Unidentified Male - William Wesley Willoughby.

Stark - In 1975, as a senior at Dwight Morrow High School in New Jersey, Willoughby was heavily recruited by colleges across the country, but he opted for the NBA.

At the age of 18, he and Darryl Dawkins became only the second and third high school players to make a direct leap to the pros. Moses Malone had signed with the ABA the previous year.

Do you ever think about, what if -- what if I'd gone to college; would my career had turned out differently?

Willoughby - Well, when I was 18, I didn't have nothing. You know, most kids don't have anything -- your mother's paying for everything for you -- your clothes. So if you go to college, you're like everybody else. You don't turn down $1 million coming out of high school when you're 18-years-old and you don't have no money. You don't do that.

Stark - Willoughby was the first player drafted in the second round, 19th overall, by the Atlanta Hawks. He signed what was then considered a lucrative contract - $1.1 million over five years. He thought he had it made, but quickly he felt out of place and misunderstood.

Willoughby - So they looked at me, I'm a guy out of high school. You know, right away they're thinking -- they have an opinion of you. They looked at me like I was, like, a hot shot -- boy this guy got a million-dollar contract and he thinks he's going to step in here? Well, we're going to show him.

Mel Davis, Basketball consultant - This is a business. This is not a tournament, this is not college; it's a business. And they're paying you handsomely and expecting you to perform. And that's just one of the trials and tribulations of being a professional NBA player.

Willoughby - They look at me and say, oh, yeah, well he should have went to college because he didn't have a career like Kobe Bryant or, you know, Kevin Garnett. But you take the ball away from them, not let them shoot. You know, it would be the same thing that happened to me.

When I started, I played well, but I never got to stay with the same team and the same coach.

Stark - Willoughby played a total of eight seasons on six different teams; a journeyman who never found his niche. The six-eight forward averaged just six points, four rebounds and 17 minutes of playing time over his career.

Ken Vehrkens, Dean, FDU College of Continuing Studies - Here was an 18-year-old young man playing, for the most part, with men in their mid-20s to mid-30s, and so there was a social adjustment; and college might have helped him in that maturation process. But it's hard to look back and predict what might have happened.

Stark - By the time Willoughby was 27 years old, his NBA career was over. He realized he had nothing. He had given his agents power of attorney, and he said they took everything. He had to sell his six bedroom house, he moved in with his parents and he got a job at a recreation center that paid him $10 an hour.

Over the next decade, Willoughby struggled. But in 1993, everything changed with a single phone call from Mel Davis, a friend and former New York Knick, who was then working for the NBA.

Davis - I asked him to come in and visit with me. And when he came in, I could see that he needed some severe attention. Just from the psychological standpoint, he had been broken, and he had given up hope.

Stark - Davis helped Willoughby through his depression. In 1994, he suggested that Willoughby share his life story with NBA rookies at a seminar designed to help incoming players understand what to expect from life as a pro.

Davis - Many of the athletes coming in the NBA now think that they're going to play long careers and be wealthy and live a wonderful life, but that's not reality. And I wanted to bring Bill Willoughby down to explain his story and what happened to him. And in that audience was also Jason Kidd and Grant Hill. And he made a very, very big impact, not only with those two players, but everybody that was sitting in that room.

Stark - Willoughby warned the players, don't be like me. He had given them his story but, in the end, it was Willoughby who came away with much more.

Willoughby - Basically, it was almost like they were my idols. If I had went to college, I would want to be just like them.

Stark - So with Davis' encouragement, Willoughby decided to enroll at Fairleigh Dickinson. The NBA Retired Players Association paid his entire tuition, something that has not been done for any other player.

Davis has served as executive director of the Retired Players Association since 1999.

Davis - There was an opportunity for us to have a young man who was willing to go back and be an example to the NBA players, because we have so many players who had not graduated. I think -- well, I'd rather not mention the percentage, but it's a large percent of ball players have not achieved their degrees.

Willoughby - I didn't miss a day of school. And you know, I went in there, and I knew I could pass the classes and I tried to get the best grades that I could. And when it got tough, I said, I can't make no excuses; everybody else is in here; everybody's tired.

Davis - It was going to be difficult for him, but he had to be strong and he had to persevere if he wanted to achieve this. Otherwise, he was just going to remain in the position he was in, which was going nowhere.

Vehrkens - He worked very hard, and he wound up making the Dean's List. It's a great success story.

Willoughby - When I walked into my first college class, I had no idea what to expect. It had been so long -- 20 long years. But I knew one thing - I wasn't going to give up, no matter how hard it got.

Stark - This year, their names are Eddie Curry, Tyson Chandler, DeSagna Diop, Kwame Brown, Ousmane Cisse and Tony Key - the next crop of high school players looking to jump directly to the pros.

One may become the next Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant, or perhaps the next Korleone Young or Leon Smith, high school stars who never made it in the NBA.

What do you say to younger guys who say, should I go to college, or should I go directly from high school to the NBA?

Willoughby - I say go.

Stark - Go where?

Willoughby - Go to the pros.

Ley - Advice from a 44-year old, newly-minted college graduate to today's teenagers.

Kwame Brown, who is 18, may very well be the top pick in the upcoming NBA draft. His career at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Georgia lifted him from local legend to national name. And Friday night, Kwame Brown graduated from high school, enjoying the moment like any other youngster, except he has a job lined up.

Kwame Brown - Tonight is great. This means the beginning of the rest of our lives; no more school for a while. And hopefully everyone will go out and just have a good time, just enjoy themselves tonight without getting in trouble. Yes!

Ley - How about basketball?

Brown - Oh, NBA, here I come.

Ley - And this morning Kwame Brown will fly to Los Angeles to meet with his agent. So, Friday he graduates, Sunday he does L.A. Pretty good holiday weekend.

Next, I'll be speaking with three men who know this issue very well; University of Memphis head coach John Calipari; John Gabriel of the Orlando Magic; and NBA veteran Spencer Haywood.

Billy Hunter, President, NBA Players Union - Our position is that any player who demonstrates the ability to come should be permitted to come.

Ley - On the other side of the table, David Stern, the commissioner. Quote, "I think the union is about as irresponsible on this issue as the union could be. Kids are now bouncing the ball in the schoolyard thinking, I'll get to be 17, and the NBA is where I'll be; school is an irrelevancy. It's bad for kids, bad for the college game, bad for the business of basketball.

With me, three men who know basketball - John Calipari, he took the University of Massachusetts to the NCAA Final Four back in 1996, and then spent three years as the head coach and general manager of the New Jersey Nets. He is now the head coach at the University of Memphis. And he is joining us this morning from Memphis.

John Gabriel has been with the Orlando Magic since their birth, and he has been their general manager for the past five years. He is joining us from St. Petersburg.

Spencer Haywood spent 12 years in the NBA as a player, and his 1971 Supreme Court victory established the right of players to go pro without four years of college. He is joining us from greater Detroit this morning.

Spencer, let me begin with you. You heard Bill Willoughby's advice - Go pro, kids; even though I'm 44 and I just got my college degree, if you have the money on the table and you're 18, go pro now. Do you agree?

Spencer Haywood, former NBA player - I disagree. I think that what is happening with the NBA is that we are bringing them in younger and younger, and you don't get the quality of play at the early onset of players. And it also sends a message out to the younger players. I recently spoke in Chicago, and one of the young men was quite angry because he didn't enter himself into the draft, and he happened to be a sophomore -- just was finishing up his sophomore year in high school; so he would be a junior today.

And so you're going to have that whole idea of getting younger and younger and younger. So, I think there should be an age requirement and an age limitation. And when I fought this case, that was one of the issues. There was a 20-year age requirement at the time, and then we circumvented it and went back to 18. And you know, over the 25 years, there were only three players to come in earlier.

Ley - And a whole bunch since, in the last six years.

John Calipari, in the five years since you were in the Final Four with UMass, now back in the college ranks for a year, how much has it changed, in recruiting and approaching youngsters and the reality of so many 17-year-old kids thinking, I'm going?

John Calipari, Memphis head men's basketball coach - You had about 40 or 50 kids last year that were high school players that, their thought was, I'm going to go straight to the NBA. And I was stunned; I mean, I went around, and we were fortunate to be involved with all the kids that jumped, and one that didn't based on the fact that, when I was in the NBA, even though we were in the playoffs and had sellouts I was considered, quote, "a college coach."

Now, I'm back in college, they consider me a pro coach, so they want to think I can prepare them for that level, which we probably can -- but not the 50.

The two questions are, are they emotionally ready for the NBA? And John and Spencer would agree, as much of it's physical, it's emotional - Are you ready for the grind? Are you ready for veteran players fighting for minutes?

I have one question, and maybe John or Spencer can answer this - Why would a veteran player not be for the 20-year-old? Because you've got young players that may not make it taking their jobs and their money? I just don't understand.

Ley - Is that happening, John?

John Gabriel, General Manager, Orlando Magic - Well, I think to some degree it is and plus there's roster spots that are drying up in the NBA; there's only so many places to put these young players. And it's not like we're not going to eventually get these youngsters if they truly are good players, into the NBA. We'd just rather not get them so soon, right now.

Ley - Yes, but there were seventy NBA people at the McDonald's High School All-Star game. That stat that Davis turns out a lot of firepower and fun with over the last several weeks. Is that something that you, as a basketball professional, can be proud about? Seventy guys from your league scouting high school kids?

Gabriel - Oh, absolutely not. But I tell you what, when the draft starts I can tell you exactly who we're going to pick in the draft - We're going to pick the best player for us, the guy that has the most talent and, in some cases, the greatest upside.

But it's not the same for all teams. We do take into consideration maturity; we do take into consideration, are they ready to play now? And that is very different across the board, as Cal would tell you, from a team that's competing for a championship and a team that's just rebuilding.

Ley - Now, Spencer, on the entire idea, though, of emotional maturity; aren't kids today, though, exposed to so much more? Summer ball...

Haywood - They're exposed to so much more -- summer ball and so on, so forth. But they are exposed to somewhat of a dangerous element, which is the so-called hip hop movement; and a lot of the youngsters that are coming to the league, have their groove in their mind. They think everything is about the platinum watch, the platinum mirror, the platinum goal, and so on -- and it's not about education.

And it must be about education, because this country's built, basically, on education, and the NBA was basically built on education, and it was the educated that were there, and still are there.

And those players that are going back and getting their degree, that's fine and well. But it has moved to a point now where the NBA must make a decision, and that decision is that the age requirement should be 20. I think the Players Association should jump on board with this, and we should come up with an agreement that would work.

And also I must say that the Developmental League is a frightening thing for a lot of people, but those players that are not drafted...

Ley - They can't play in the D-League, right? They can't play there.

Haywood - ... and not make it a team; they can't play.

So let's just go over the whole, total picture - We've got like 38 underclassmen; you have six high-schoolers...

Ley - It's actually 52, Spence; 52 underclassmen. And 58 players total -- and only 58 players will be drafted.

Let me just pick up on your point of education, though, and ask John Calipari, you've got a heck of a player coming in, Dajuan Wagner. You'll be lucky to have him for a second year. Is his primary motivation coming to Memphis to be educated? I mean, it's to play basketball.

Calipari - It's to be prepared. And you have to be real with most of these kids - Yes, they want their education; their families want them to be educated. Dajuan's mom, her concern is, hey, he's there, I want him to begin to be educated, and if he has to leave early, I want him to be able to come back.

I have to applaud Bill Willoughby. I just think it's amazing, what he's been able to do.

But let me throw this on the table - I worked out Kobe Bryant, almost drafted him with the eighth pick, had people in my organization going crazy, from owners to GM -- you can't do it, he's a high school player. He was far beyond his age, maturity-wise -- he spoke fluent Italian; I barely speak English. I mean, here's a young man that I'm looking at saying, wait a minute now. And physically, he was ready for the NBA. I wanted to take him with the eighth pick.

Then I had recruited Kevin Garnett. He was a junior in high school. This young man, physically and emotionally, I felt, at the time was as good or better that Marcus Camby, who was going into his junior year of college and was going to be player of the year in college basketball. And I said, this young man's as good, if not better.

So I don't know what the answer is...

Ley - That was two years ago, though, John. Today, you'd take him.

Calipari - Yes, but here's what I would say to you - Too many are coming out; this is wrong. But what do you do when there's an 18-year-old or a 19-year-old Kobe or Garnett or Moses? I don't have the answer. All I know is, it's not the NBA, it's the Players Association holding up the 20-year-old. And I just don't understand why a veteran player would be against it, because it's taking jobs away. And...

Ley - We're going to pause right there just a second; we'll pick up on that point -- veteran players and young players coming in.

Since Kevin Garnett, by the way, sparked this latest run of high school players, 11 total high school kids have come out. Nine of them are still in the league; six of those nine are getting significant minutes.

We'll continue in just a second on this topic Outside The Lines.

Al Harrington, Indiana Pacers - I think the question was, "will he be able to handle all the money, you know, on the road, the women that come at us and all that." And I think that all the guys that have made that jump so far, have done a great job. I mean, not one of us has been in the news for anything negative yet.

Ley - We are back with John Calipari, John Gabriel and Spencer Haywood. Al Harrington makes an interesting point, but John Gabriel, David Stern says the kids are being lured and prodded into the draft. By whom?

David Stern, NBA Commissioner - Well, you know, they are being scouted by us, but in many ways, that is every personnel guy's job and general manager's job -- to not only know the best players in college, but to know the best basketball players in the world, no matter what level and no matter in what country. But to say where it all starts, it's hard to put your finger on it. There are a lot of very luring points.

Ley - Well, take a stab at it.

Stern - Well?

Ley - Besides personnel people, who else - who is to blame or who, at least, has responsibility here?

Haywood - Well, I can?

Stern - Well?

Haywood - ? take a stab.

Ley - Go ahead, Spence.

Stern - Go ahead, Spence.

Haywood - Well, you know, a lot of the young people that they play against, their neighborhoods, kids or the people in their families, their uncles and so on and so forth, are telling them that they can do it and they feel in their heart they can do it, so they're giving it a shot. But what you have is, again, you have the four-year rule that states that you have to be in the league for four years before you can make the big money. And so, I think that is one of the things that the older players voted in back a while ago, when Kevin Garnett got the big contract.

Ley - That sort of backfired, though, hasn't it now? It's kind of?

Haywood - Yeah, that is?

Ley - ? inducing youngsters to.

Haywood - ? inducing to youngsters.

Ley - Do you see that, John Calipari, when you recruit somebody. I've got to pay my rookie dues before I get the big dollars?

Calipari - Right. But here's what I would say, they are so young, when I was in New Jersey, I tried like crazy to trade for Jermaine O'Neal - everything I could. The reason is I thought I could get an $86 million player for $30 million. That's why. John Gabriel, would you agree with that?

Gabriel - Yeah, but the other thing that we're talking about education is what would be nice, which, John, you deserve a lot of credit for getting Wagner to stay and go to college for one year, just to get them one year of experience in college, so they can educate themselves to what that whole experience is about. It's one thing for you to tell them how great the collegiate life is and what an education means for them. If we had an age limitation, they would at least get to experience it themselves.

Haywood - And that's a beautiful experience because you get a chance to spend time with a whole student body, you know, 20 and 30,000 students. It was a great and fun time and a great time to grow, as a human being.

Ley - But now you've got sophomores. You've got sophomores in college who are playing ball who have or if they're still there as a junior, are saying to themselves, gee, my game must not be that good. It's almost a test of manhood to come out early.

Calipari - Well, it's becoming that Bob. But let me just say this, I'm looking at us as a program right now. We signed Dajuan Wagner. His mom wants him there for two years. I'm saying it may not be possible. If he's one, two or three or five next year, my recommendation is he's got to go into the NBA. But I would say this, what it does for our program is there's so much change. We have a junior that we have commitment from, that I can't mention on the air here, but he's another guy that may be a year or two on out. Well, I've got to make things much more simpler as I coach because we're going to have more changeover with these kind of players.

Ley - Spencer, we have about 20 seconds left. It seems like you've unlocked the Pandora's box with that supreme court decision 30 years ago.

Haywood - Gosh, I would like to go back and have it amended for players that really get to do it at 20. I sure would love to do that.

Ley - All right. Gentlemen, thank you very much. Thanks to John Calipari.

Haywood - Thank you so much.

Ley - Continued good luck in Memphis. John Gabriel, thank you and Spencer Haywood, always good to speak with you.

Haywood - Thank you so much.

Ley - Next, we will have details of a conversation with Ken Griffey, Jr., as we continue Sunday morning, Outside The Lines.

Ley - Ken Griffey, Jr., discussing his fear of the media and dealing with death threats. That conversation at noon Eastern over on ESPN2. It is "Baseball Today" with Karl Ravech, Harold Reynolds and Buck Showalter, coming up.

The interactive Outside The Lines is online at, and the keyword to type - OTL Weekly, to access our site with streaming video and transcriptions of all past programs as well as a message board to engage in or begin discussions on our show topics. As always, we welcome you e-mail, we share it many weeks. Our address -

Ley - If you joined us along the way, our re-air today over on the Deuce is at 5:30 Eastern, 2:30 Pacific this afternoon.. We've got the White Sox and the Tigers tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern. I'm Bob Ley. We will see you next Sunday morning right here on Outside The Lines.

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 ESPN's Bob Ley discusses the escalating pressures of making the leap.
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