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May 29, 2008

Past could haunt some NBA draft prospects

KISSIMMEE, Fla. They say they want to talk to those who know him best. So in the weeks before he becomes a professional basketball player, Keith Brumbaugh realizes NBA executives will be contacting his coaches, his relatives, his friends.

And perhaps even his prison guards.

"They were nice," Brumbaugh said of the officers at the Federal Correctional Institution in Marianna, Fla. "They let me get out on the court at 6:30 every morning to (shoot) and do my thing. That was very beneficial to me. It kept me going."

Brumbaugh said his sketchy past has been brought up numerous times during this week's NBA pre-draft camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports.

Along with evaluating Brumbaugh's ability on the court, league officials need to feel comfortable with the strides he's made off of it before they'll considering selecting him in the June 26 draft.

Brumbaugh who averaged 34.9 points at Hillsborough Community College last season has been arrested three times since 2005.

"I put myself in a hole and now I'm digging myself out," Brumbaugh said. "A lot of eyes are on me to see if my character has changed."

It's not just Brumbaugh. Multiple NBA scouts said Wednesday that Memphis' Joey Dorsey, New Mexico's J.R. Giddens and USC's Davon Jefferson are all dealing with character issues that could cause them to slide in this year's draft.

Now more than ever, NBA scouts and executives are doing more research to ensure they're bringing in players who will enhance team chemistry while steering clear of the police blotter.

"The research we do is very extensive, very in-depth," Portland Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said. "AAU coaches, classmates, academic counselors, trainers, teachers we talk to as many people as we can who have been around a certain prospect.

"At the end of the day, we'll pass on a kid quicker than anyone if we still have questions about his makeup."

Indeed, the character issue is a particularly sensitive topic in Portland, where Pritchard is doing his best to erase the "Jail Blazers" tag that hovered over the organization prior to his arrival.

As much focus as he places on drafting players who are quality individuals off the court, Pritchard said he devotes an equal amount of attention on nurturing players once they get into the league.

"Because teams are drafting so young, we have to start looking at our business in a different way," Pritchard said. "We have to build a foundation and give these guys the support and the tools they need to be successful in life.

"That's how you run a program, and that's what we want this to be a program instead of guns for hire."

Charlotte Bobcats head coach Larry Brown said drafting players with solid reputations is about more than maintaining a strong public image.

"I'd take character and toughness over ability any day," Brown said. "Those are kind of guys that help in the locker room and on game days. Those are the kind of guys that help you win."

Brown, though, isn't the type to write off a player who has made a bad decision or two before draft day.

"Some people do that, and I think it's wrong," Brown said. "I don't like that. A lot of us make mistakes along the line. The thing we have to be better at is mentoring those kids once they get here.

"The support system in the NBA isn't the same as it is in college. We've got 19-year-olds in the league, and they're on their own. We've got to do more to help them along the way."

Comments such as those should be encouraging to a player such as Brumbaugh, who is projected as a late second-round pick, at best.

According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Brumbaugh took a swing at an opposing player during his junior season at DeLand (Fla.) High School and also went into the stands to confront a heckler.

Brumbaugh signed with Oklahoma State, but he never played for the Cowboys after being charged with shoplifting the summer before his freshman year. Upon his return to Florida, Brumbaugh was arrested twice: once for fleeing and eluding officers and resisting arrest, and once for possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

Following his release from prison, the 6-foot-8 Brumbaugh played one season at Hillsborough C.C. before entering this year's draft.

Brumbaugh said he still remembers a conversation he had in 2005 with Oklahoma State assistant Jimmy Williams.

"I guess he had a crystal ball," Brumbaugh said of Williams. "He told me I was going to have hit rock bottom before I would ever come up and learn from my mistakes. He said, 'You're either going to barbeque or mildew.'

"You don't see rock bottom until you hit it. Sitting behind them bars that's not a place for a star basketball player. That was the turning point for me. Ever since then I've been trying to will my way back to the top. I've got to show people that I'm all about business."

Brumbaugh said his 17-month-old daughter, Deliah, has been another motivating force.

"I don't want her to see her daddy growing up like a crazy man," he said.

Like Brumbaugh, Giddens is expecting to face plenty of questions from NBA executives regarding a series of incidents that damaged his off-court reputation.

Giddens played his first two seasons at Kansas, but he was forced to transfer to New Mexico in 2005 after an investigation revealed that he was the main instigator in a bar brawl that left five people including Giddens with stab wounds.

New Mexico players complained publicly about Giddens' selfishness during his junior year, when he was suspended near the end of the season for attitude problems.

As a high school senior, Giddens was arrested while trying to steal $4,000 worth of electronics equipment from an Oklahoma City Wal-Mart by having an employee disable the security tabs as she checked the items.

"I think it will come up," Giddens said, "but anyone that meets me now will see that I'm a completely different person. I'm 23 now. I'm a lot different then when I was 17, 18 and 19. I had some issues, but hopefully people will look past them."

Giddens' demeanor changed during his senior season, when he became a fan favorite while leading his team to a 24-9 record.

"The mistakes have made me the man that I am today," Giddens said. "They've made me a better a teammate. If people want to judge me off the past I can't do anything to change it. I can't stress about it or dwell on it."

It remains to be seen how Giddens and Brumbaugh's off-court issues will affect them on draft day. What seems certain is that both players, even if they sign as free agents, will have a chance to make an NBA roster this fall.

At least one NBA Hall of Famer believes they'll make the most of their second and perhaps final chance.

"A lot of times the guys with spotless records are the ones that end up becoming the biggest problems," said Dominique Wilkins, the Atlanta Hawks Vice President-Basketball. "You can do all the research you want, but a lot of times it's just a gut feeling you get when you look a kid in the eye.

"If he really loves to play the game, over time he'll get past some of the things that happened to him as a young man. If he really loves this game, he'll start concentrating more on developing his career than all that other stuff."

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.



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