By Chris Kowalczyk
As we exited the floor of Buffalo’s HSBC Arena, you could feel the collective range of emotions from the sellout crowd of nearly 19,000. Shock. Awe. Excitement. Despair. Validation.
Literally moments earlier, some wiry point guard nobody had ever heard of named Eric Maynor sent shockwaves through college basketball, when his jumper with 1.8 seconds left felled Duke, a presumably insurmountable Goliath.
It was my job that evening to escort Maynor, CBS’ new poster boy for their “One Shining Moment” slogan, from his courtside TV and radio interviews, back to the jubilant VCU lockerroom. As we retracted under the stands and into the guts of the arena, we slipped past a group of men, led by a tall, balding gentleman, likely in his mid-forties.
“Nice shot,” The man said, as we passed in the hall.
Maynor, his eyes darting about, adrenaline coursing through his veins, looked like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” after unwrapping his Little Red Rider B.B. Gun. The 6-3 guard barely noticed the man, but managed to reply, “appreciate it.”
As we walked, I gave a look back.
“Was that Jim Kelly?” I said, referring to the former rocket-armed Buffalo Bills quarterback.
Maynor’s face lit up as he turned.
“Jim Kelly?!” he exclaimed, loud enough for all to hear.
Indeed, the man who steered the Bills to four Super Bowls threw up his right arm in a confirmatory wave.
Welcome to the big time.
Some 27 months later, Eric Maynor is no longer the best-kept secret in Richmond, Va. On June 25, the pride of Raeford, N.C. will likely be a first round NBA draft pick, the first in VCU history. But where does the Rams’ all-time leading scorer and assist man stack up in this year’s class?
First, let it be known that where a player is drafted isn’t so much a reflection of success, as much as it is a function of physical ability and presumed potential. Sure, LeBron James, Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal were No. 1 overall picks, but so were Kwame Brown, Michael Olowokandi and Pervis Ellison. Meanwhile, the selections of guys like Tony Parker (No. 28), Gilbert Arenas (No. 30), Carlos Boozer (No. 34) and Manu Ginobili (No. 57) were met with much less fanfare, but were undeniably better.
Heck, if high draft picks alone translated into success, Donald Sterling’s L.A. Clippers would be the Boston Celtics. As a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers, I know this dance well. When the team used the No. 8 overall pick on DeSagana Diop in 2001, a high school center who was confirmed to have zero offensive ability, I threw my coffee table at the TV. Actually, you could argue Diop, who has averaged exactly 2.1 points and 3.9 rebounds in eight NBA seasons, was miles better than some of the other Cavs lottery picks the last decade (Chris Mihm, Trajan Langdon, Dajuan Wagner or Luke Jackson, anyone?). End rant.
That said, Maynor will likely surpass Sherron Mills, who went 29th overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1993, as the highest-drafted Ram.
In another year, Maynor could very well be a lottery pick. But, this year’s draft is stocked with excellent point guards. Maynor is competing with the likes of Spanish wunderkind Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn of Syracuse, Stephen Curry from Davidson, UCLA’s Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson of North Carolina and one-time Arizona recruit Brandon Jennings.
Teams looking for a true, experienced point guard will find one in Maynor. A consummate floor general, Maynor’s poise and court vision is comparable, if not better, than any player in the draft. In addition, he’s a four-year collegian who has been in pressure situations and performed well. See: Duke, 2007, Maryland, 2008 and UCLA, 2009.
As good as he is - and Maynor is very good - he’s not without shortcomings. At the top of that list is his long-range shooting ability. Although proficient from 3-point range at VCU (37-percent), his release is slow and often flat-footed. He also suffered through a February in which he shot 8-for-44 (18 percent) from 3-point land this season. Whether or not he can improve in this area will go a long way towards defining his NBA prospects.
Still, Maynor is projected as a mid-first rounder by a number of mock drafts. Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated has Maynor going 18th, to Minnesota.
“A four-year collegian, Maynor will instantly provide solid direction at point guard. Nothing flashy here, but he'll be a reliable addition and a nice find for a team that needs long-term backcourt help.”
CBS Sportsline recently had three different writers conduct mock drafts, which had Maynor going No. 21 to New Orleans, No. 18 to Philadelphia and No. 19 to Atlanta, respectively. NBADraft.net and NBADraftExpress.com also have Maynor slotted to go to the Hornets at No. 21.
When asked recently where he’d like to be drafted, Maynor recently told reporters at a workout in Philadelphia, “I just want to land in the right situation. I want to be able to go somewhere I can play.”
Each of the four teams mentioned provides a different, but intriguing situation. In each, he’d likely be brought in to serve as a backup for an incumbent starter. However, in New Orleans he’d be buried for an undetermined amount of time behind Chris Paul, who has about as much chance of surrendering his starting role as Sarah Palin and David Letterman have of sharing a cab. A colleague of mine suggested the Hornets could play both guards alongside each other at times, where Maynor would serve as the Joey Rodriguez of New Orleans. It’s an interesting scenario, one which would allow Paul to play off the ball for periods.
In Atlanta, Mike Bibby is a free agent. Even if Bibby returns to the Hawks, back-up Acie Law has struggled, leaving open an opportunity for Maynor.
Despite all the fanfare, including an ESPN documentary, that came with Sebastian Telfair’s arrival on the NBA scene, the Brooklyn native has largely been a disappointment in Portland, Boston and now, Minnesota. Additionally, the other point guards on the Timberwolves’ roster consist of Bobby Brown (not that one), and uber-journeyman Kevin Ollie, who is 36 and once backed up Oscar Robinson with the Cincinnati Royals.
Meanwhile, in addition to holding the highest pick of the four teams (also read: more money), Philadelphia may present the best opportunity for Maynor. Andre Miller is a free agent, but could return to the Sixers next season. Back-up Royal Ivey recently declined his player option for next year. Even if Philly re-signs Miller, he will turn 34 next season. Maynor could serve as an apprentice, with hopes of taking over the position full time in three years. Philadelphia also made the playoffs this season, and could have the talent to compete for several years.
Regardless of where he ends up, Maynor should have a shot at a prominent NBA career. He’ll also make his mark as the first Colonial Athletic Association player drafted since Cal Bowdler of Old Dominion was selected by Atlanta with the No. 17 pick.
It should be a good party in Raeford on June 25. Maybe they’ll invite Jim Kelly.
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