Investing in one player could cost a team a championship

Seven-feet-five-inch center Yao Ming became the No. 1 pick in the 2002 NBA draft Wednesday night and upon doing so, the NBA solidified its growing interest in foreign players.

Ming was one of 17 foreign-born players to be selected in the draft. Five of the first 16 picks came from overseas.

Kansas forward Drew Gooden was drafted fourth.

But the NBA draft stands as a foggy ceremony at best for NBA coaches and fans of these highly paid and usually unproven basketball prospects.

The NBA draft is as useful as a screen door on a submarine. The portfolios of these players are built in the college ranks, foreign leagues and even some in high school-with little or no guarantees.

Standing on hope and raw potential, NBA execs are playing an expensive game of poker, praying for a higher hand than the house.

What are the chances that Drew Gooden will be a force to reckon with in the NBA?

Chances are good he’ll struggle for the first year or two, and then turn into a 10- to 12-point-per-game player. That’s what history tells us.

And if Gooden wins a championship scoring 10 to 12 points per game, isn’t that the level by which he or any other player should be measured?

I marvel at how players are gauged in the NBA. I also wonder sometimes how high school and college players are gauged.

What prompts coaches to choose one player over another, to designate one player to lead a team or be the team’s superstar?

Most teams are lucky to have one great player, but for teams in our readership area, most teams consist of more than one good player. In some schools, more than one great player.

A single moment-such as a temporary bout of fatigue, a disgruntled parent or simply miscommunication-can alter a coach’s perception of a player, and whether that player is seen as a leader or an intricate part of the team.

Championships in any fashion are not won by individuals alone. Even sports such as golf require more than just the golfer-although he or she receives all the credit.

Basketball also requires more than an individual to be successful. It’s a sport that has idolized the individual and encouraged players both young and old to concentrate solely on themselves.

In simple terms, basketball to a large extent has become a selfish game. But the team that functions as a team notoriously wins even if it doesn’t have a clear-cut superstar.

Coaches who invest their chances in a single player or players do an injustice to that player, the team, themselves and to their chances of winning a championship.

Judging a player on his scoring ability or defensive skills alone is as foolish as sticking your hand in a crocodile’s mouth because he appears to be smiling that day.

The most intriguing players at any level, are those who have talent on more than one level.

Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird all had one thing in common: they recognized that winning the “big one” would require a team effort.

Those fans and coaches who invest in a player because he can score or look flashy better prepare for several years of frustration and championship-less seasons.

As far as rolling the dice on a player in the NBA draft, I say sign ’em cheap and expect the worst, because the only time you’ll find an “I” in team is when that team is a loser.

Yao Ming and others before him have proven that No. 1 truly means No. 1 only if you are No. 1 at the end of the NBA season.

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