Holding off on draft, Hawks' O'Connor takes the long view Marvin O'Connor relied on anonymous advice from NBA scouts

Posted: May 15, 2001

For Marvin O'Connor, yesterday was like most other days during the off-season in college basketball. He was at St. Joseph's Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse, pumping iron in a cramped weight room before honing his game, the silence of the empty gym broken only by the thumping sound of the ball he was dribbling before he squeezed off one jump shot after another.

"He works so hard, you'd think he was a first-year kid trying to make the team as a walk-on," St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said.

Two months ago, the 6-foot-4 O'Connor provided perhaps the most memorable snippet from the three-week-long NCAA tournament. He was on bended knees beneath the Hawks' basket after fouling out in the final minute, covering his face with his hands while the sold-out crowd at San Diego's Cox Arena stood cheering him for his magnificent 37-point performance against Stanford in the second round of the West Regionals.

In that game, O'Connor took 20 shots and made 15, including five of 10 from three-point distance, and had worn Casey Jacobsen, the all-American who was near exhaustion trying to guard him, to a nub. Afterward, Jacobsen said that he knew nothing of O'Connor before the game, but that he knew plenty about him now that he'd dropped 37 points on him, the most prolific individual performance of the tournament.

Shortly afterward, O'Connor, a shooting guard, wanted to know what the people who scour for NBA talent thought of him. If he could be reasonably certain he'd be a first-round draft choice, O'Connor would pass up his final year of eligibility with St. Joe's and join the long list of underclassmen entered in the June draft.

The list was finalized Sunday, which was the deadline for college underclassmen and high school players to file for the draft. It includes Eddie Griffin, a graduate of Roman Catholic High School who spent a year at Seton Hall as a forward; Michael Bradley, Villanova's junior center; and Kevin Lyde, a junior center at Temple who has indicated that he will return to school.

In all, there are 39 players on the list. Some are dreamers who have little chance of being picked in the two-round draft. Many are walking the fine line that separates draftees from those who will be banging on NBA doors, hoping for a free-agent tryout.

O'Connor is not among them. He approached his decision to remain on Hawk Hill the way he might prepare for a final exam. He was stocked with information gathered from NBA general managers, personnel directors and scouts.

"They said I'd be in a much better position next year," O'Connor said. "So that's why I'm staying. Was I disappointed? Not at all. I feel I'm in a great situation for the future. You know, you've got to play your cards the right way."

Before playing those cards, O'Connor took a long, hard look at the hand he was dealt. Martelli began the research by calling Stu Jackson, who heads the NBA's draft advisory committee for underclassmen. Jackson solicited reports on O'Connor from four general managers and player-personnel directors. The written reports were sent to Martelli. They were done anonymously.

"It's very straightforward," Martelli said. "It's a consensus of what they think about a player. They don't come right out and say a player definitely will or will not be drafted, but they project what will probably happen. They also give you their rankings of players at each position. We got the report on Marvin about two weeks ago, and we showed it to him. He was very mature in the way he went about it."

The most optimistic assessment of O'Connor was that he could possibly be taken late in the first round.

"Beyond the reports, I called three pro teams whose player-personnel people I know," Martelli said. "I called Marty Blake" - the NBA's scouting director - "and I spoke to people who have been here to see him. I wanted to know what they could tell me and where Marvin needs to improve.

"Marv also sought advice from Bill Ellerbee," who had been his high school coach at Simon Gratz High School. "He made his decision with his eyes open. Basically, what Marv learned was that he would have been rolling the dice."

Martelli offered a sampling of comments in the reports.

"Body needs work."

"Not yet a first-rounder."

"Will be at the top of the list at his position next year."

"Pull-up jumper must be part of the package."

"He'll be a top-20 pick next year with a big year from him and his team."

"Fierce competitor."

O'Connor's speed and quickness, which are remarkable, are not an issue with the NBA, Martelli said.

"One team had him ranked No. 8 at his position," Martelli said. "Five who were ahead of him are all underclassmen, and they all declared for the draft. One guy said he was impressed with Marvin's priorities because Marv canceled a workout for an academic assignment."

Among the underclassmen who are shooting guards and are ranked ahead of O'Connor are Michigan State's Jason Richardson, North Carolina's Joseph Forte, Arizona's Gilbert Arenas, and Austin Peay's Trenton Hassell.

Martelli, whose team could be ranked among the preseason top 15 next year, said he did not try to persuade O'Connor either to stay or go.

"If the information we'd gotten assured us that Marvin was going to be a first-rounder, I'd have packed his bags for him, as hard as that would be," Martelli said. "If it would have been right for him, it would have been right. We probably wouldn't win as many games without him. But on the other hand, having a first-round draft pick can only help the program."

Meantime, O'Connor will bide his time, taking the two courses he needs to get his bachelor's degree in sociology, trying out for the U.S. team at the Goodwill Games, and working to improve his standing in next year's draft. He said he also planned to protect himself against a career-ending injury by taking out a disability policy made available to some college athletes.

"I want to improve my ballhandling and get better at creating my own shot," he said. "And it's important to me that I get my degree so I'll have something to fall back on if pro basketball doesn't work out the way I hope.

"The fact that the NBA seems like an arm's length away is amazing to me. But it won't change the way I approach the game next year. I'm not going to be selfish. I won't go into next season worrying about what might happen the following year. If my team has a big year and I do what I'm supposed to do, I'm sure everything will work out fine. I've got all the information I wanted."

Ray Parrillo's e-mail address is rparrillo@phillynews.com.

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