Draft Hopefuls Prepared to Fall Back on College as NBA Lockout Approaches

For the National Basketball Association’s top draft prospects, a lockout would mean continuing what they started in college.

Duke University’s Kyrie Irving and the University of Arizona’s Derrick Williams, underclassmen expected to be the first two players selected in tonight’s draft at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, said they’ll return to school if the NBA fails to resolve its labor dispute.

Forty-two underclassmen entered the draft, which takes place one week before the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the National Basketball Players Association expires on June 30.

“If there’s a lockout I’m going to go back and finish my degree,” Williams, a sophomore, told reporters in New York yesterday. “I promised my mom I’m going to do that. If I can get a couple of classes done while at the same time working out and doing a little camp, I think that will be the best thing.”

Irving, a point guard who left Duke following his freshman season after being limited to 11 games because of a toe injury, said he still has a five-year plan to graduate.

“I love college so it’s not a bad thing to get back there and take two more classes, get closer to my degree,” said Irving, who averaged 17.5 points per game in college.

Guard Brandon Knight, who played one season at Kentucky and is projected to be the third pick, also said he’d return to school to get closer to his degree while practicing with his old teammates.

Cavaliers Pick First

Irving and Williams said they want to be picked first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who also hold the fourth selection. The Minnesota Timberwolves choose second and the Utah Jazz are third.

In a consensus of the top 14 selections released by NBA.com, the only college senior was Brigham Young’s Jimmer Fredette, at 14th.

Fredette echoed most of the draft prospects in saying he hasn’t been focused on the labor talks or the effects of a possible lockout.

“I’m not following it all that much,” he said. “I’ve been so busy and I have something else on my hands trying to get drafted in this league. I’ve got to be in the league to worry about the labor talks.”

The union is scheduled to brief its player representatives today in New York, where owners and players tomorrow are scheduled to hold another bargaining session aimed at preventing a work stoppage.

Players union President Derek Fisher said yesterday that the NBA’s description of its salary cap proposal as a flexible plan is “a total distortion of reality.”

Salary Cap Plan

Fisher, a 15-year NBA veteran, spoke a day after NBA Commissioner David Stern disclosed a salary cap plan that targets player salaries at $62 million per team per season, with a firm ceiling on what franchises could pay with salary exceptions.

Williams, the Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year after averaging 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last season, said he doesn’t want the NBA to follow the National Football League, which began a player lockout in March before heading to the courts and mediated negotiations to try to solve its labor dispute.

“I don’t think anybody wants to go through what football’s going through,” Williams, 20, said. “If you don’t have football and basketball in this country it’s pretty bad. I don’t think anybody wants to get to that point.”

Talk of labor disputes and lockouts won’t diminish the elation draftees will feel when their names are called out tonight, said Alec Burks, a sophomore guard from the University of Colorado.

“It’s still my dream,” Burks said. “I feel like I made that come true and they can’t take it away from me. Whether the lockout happens or not, I’m still going to be in the NBA.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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