n the one hand, it's hard not to wish Lari Ketner the best at tomorrow's NBA Draft. Whatever we witnessed on the court last season, Ketner is not a bad fellow, and for the past few seasons, he's been one of our fellows, for better or for worse.
On the other hand, if Ketner is taken in the first round or for that matter, at all, it will prove the draft is a travesty, and that scouting college games has as much relevance to the NBA as the rumbleseat has to modern automotive design.
No one knows for sure if Ketner will be drafted, but NBA scouting director Marty Blake, who isn't wrong often, says a second-round pick is possible. The University of Massachusetts center, it seems, improved his status by galvanizing himself into action at the postseason pre-draft rookie camp in Phoenix, changing perceptions that his first pro stop might be in Springfield with the Slamm.
Ketner was a functional Atlantic 10 player, nothing more and all too often, something less. All season long, scouts studied him closely with an eye on his future, and we know what they saw.
If they now say "Well, he's big," and some team uses a valuable pick on him, we'll be left to wonder why they felt the need to follow UMass around all winter. They just could have pulled out a set of scales and a tape measure in November, and saved themselves time and money.
For Ketner to be drafted would be good for Ketner, but a farce for college basketball. It would say the college season doesn't matter, that players will be taken on size alone, whether they stayed awake on the court or not.
Everybody is clamoring for collegians to stay. For Ketner to be drafted would announce that they all might as well leave. What happens during the winter doesn't make any difference at all.
What matters is whether you have big genes or not, and whether you can marshall the energy to transform yourself from a human lamppost into a talented and mobile player, as Ketner apparently did between the end of the UMass season and the rookie camps.
Here was a player who often seemed out of shape during the season, suddenly emerging as a motivated athlete in new venues. Was Roger Clemens this guy's personal trainer, or what?
It's a good formula. Rest up while on scholarship, when your teammates need you, then kick it into gear at a rookie camp or two in the spring.
I find it impossible to believe Ketner is one of the 58 best prospects on the planet, since the draft now includes collegians, high school kids, Europeans, Africans, Asians and — if they're 7 feet tall — Eskimos from the Aleutians.
And yet if he's drafted, it will not surprise me. There will always be someone who thinks he can take up residence in Ketner's head, solving the puzzle that is him.
Ketner was aggressive only in spurts last year, his jumper is at best unproven, and the camps established that he's not really 6-foot-10 after all. If Ketner is a first-round pick, La Salle's K'Zell Wesson should be a lottery shoe-in.
UMass had two punters on its basketball team last year. There was Andy Maclay, a walk-on who kicked for the football team. And there was Ketner, who punted his senior year, except on selected occasions when he indeed looked like a player with an NBA future.
His was one of the more remarkable transformations in UMass history. He came to school with the reputation as a questionable student and a great player, and left as a fine student and a questionable player. You don't see that at Cincy or Fresno, do you?
Even so, he may get drafted, and if he is, he'll have a chance to be a role model, for which in some ways he's well-suited. But let's just hope he's not the model for the kid who wants to think that hard work and consistent, everyday effort is the true path to success.
s Lari Ketner a solid NBA prospect whose poor senior college season was just a fluke? Or is he an inconsistent player whose desire is questionable?
That question will face decision-makers tonight at the annual NBA entry draft.
The University of Massachusetts center underachieved last year as a senior, and went from a projected lottery pick to a projected - well, it depends who you ask.
Mock drafts from major sports publications differ significantly on Ketner, listing him anywhere from mid-first round to late second round.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint thinks that just being selected is the key.
"I think he'll get drafted. That's the most important thing," Flint said. "The people I've talked to feel as though he can play. It's just a matter of getting him in there and showing it."
Toronto, Atlanta, Chicago and Miami all have brought Ketner in for a workout. With the exception of Chicago, each of those teams already has a veteran center who Ketner could learn from.
"The best situation would be for him to go to a team with some veteran players," Flint said. "A situation where they could hold his hand through the beginning."
Ketner improved his draft standing with a solid showing at the Nike Desert Classic, where he averaged 13.3 points and 6.7 rebounds and was named to the all-tournament team. He shot 54 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line at the event, both far above his season totals.
His height (6-feet-10) and girth (270) make him at least intriguing in a draft field lacking in high-impact centers. His mental lapses during the season will be a drawback, but because of his valuable size, some organization is likely to think it can be the one to unlock his potential.
Ketner is aided by the fact that he played well against some other NBA-bound big men over his career, including Kansas' Raef LaFrentz and Texas' Chris Mihm. But his disappearing acts against some lesser opponents may counteract that.
Ketner's scoring average reached its peak during the 1997-98 season, when he averaged 15.2 points and 7.4 rebounds as a junior. His rebounding increased to 8.3 in his final college season, but his scoring average plummeted to 10.8 points per game.
If he is selected, Ketner will be the third Minuteman drafted in the 1990s. Marcus Camby was the second overall selection by the Toronto Raptors in 1996, while Lou Roe was the first player taken in the second round in 1995.