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June 26, 2008

Beasley stands as basketball prodigy

Now that the absurd nearly three months between the end of the college basketball season and the NBA Draft has finally passed, Michael Beasley will discover his NBA home tonight when the draft takes place in New York City. Sure, the draft's lottery set the order of the selections more than a month ago, but the real winner of that lottery will be decided when Beasley's name is announced.

Chicago technically won the lottery by earning the top pick in the draft, but the Bulls will apparently use that pick to select hometown point guard Derrick Rose and begin the process of retooling their guard-heavy roster by adding another guard to the mix. It's the Bulls fans, more than common or basketball sense, making the pick.

Apparently being from Chicago trumps being the best player not only in the draft, but also for the Bulls. That player is obviously Beasley, but don't trust those who saw him every time he stepped on a college basketball court and witnessed a level of skill and dominance rarely registered, including by NBA Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant in his one year in college hoops.

Whatever you do, don't listen to the babbling masses on ESPN radio, TV, .com, magazine and everything else related to the more and more inept empire of sports journalism. Ignore any radio host, writer or ex-player who mentions Beasley's "character issues" without having a clue what those issues may be. (Sorry, attending one more high school than Durant did does not make Mike Beasley evil.)

Do, and I strongly advise this, sift through the loads of, well, junk covering the draft and find the quotes from NBA general managers and former coaches who are used to drafting late in the first round for a reason. Most of those proven experts state emphatically that Beasley is the best player in this draft. Heck, Beasley may be the best since Lebron James roared into the league in 2003.

All I know is this: Every coach or GM who passes on Beasley tonight in NYC will look sillier than those who tried to triple team the 6-foot-whatever phenom and ended up with Beasley rising up and gently stroking home a jump shot through the chaos.

This will be their highlight reel. If Beasley stays healthy, Chicago's John Paxson and possibly Miami's Pat Riley will spend a lot of time in the future trying to explain why they passed on Beasley.

Boys, I've got news for you. While you're worrying about Beasley being goofy or focusing on where someone attended high school - be it in five different places or the South Side - someone will be drafting (or trading for) a player who former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy, who is now an ESPN analyst, bluntly described as the only Hall of Fame player in this draft.

Even I am not prepared to enshrine Beasley quite yet, but it would be no surprise to me or anyone who actually watched this young man play on a regular basis if he goes down in history as one of the league's greats. He will mature off the court and his game will also continue to get better on the court. That's what makes him so scary.

Basketball is easy for Beasley. Really easy.

When I am around Michael Beasley, I am reminded of the 1984 movie Amadeus that depicted Wolfgang Mozart as playful and crass, but his brilliance as a composer was obvious. He left observers of his art astonished. He was a prodigy, and all other composers in his pool of comparison were simply the rest.

Some people want to focus on Beasley's childlike approach to life, his affection for SpongeBob SquarePants, his love of macaroni and cheese, his silly little grin and giggle when facing questioning from the media.

The foolish will focus on the prodigy when he's running childish laps around the piano and forget what happens when he sits down at that piano.

In terms of Michael Beasley and basketball, few seem to care that this kid finds a gym every day, even on Christmas this past year, to improve his game. Basketball is his art, and it's not just the result of God-given talents, but also because Beasley loves to hone his craft.

No, the future laughing stocks of the NBA want to forget that this is about basketball, and while I agree if someone's character issues are about guns, drugs, or other assorted problems that can derail a young career, they should pass on superior talent, no one can even come close to tying those issues to Beasley.

Michael Beasley is a good kid, loved by those around him, from a good home who sometimes appears to be 19-going-on-14 off the court. On the court, as he has repeatedly stated, he's a man. Basketball is business to Beasley, but he plays the game with a grin and ease that one wishes they could bottle and apply to their own lives.

Maybe Pat Riley is trying to sucker the Bulls into passing on Beasley by talking down the future superstar so he will be available when the Miami Heat picks second tonight. Maybe Riley really doesn't want Beasley. Only Riley knows.

One thing is for sure. There is only one person who will look sillier than Paxson and the Bulls if they pass on Beasley with the No. 1 pick. It will be the person who passes on him with the No. 2 pick.

Thankfully, all of this will end tonight. Either the Bulls or Heat will take Beasley or the No. 2 pick will be traded to a team that understands this player's worth. Within the next few hours, fans of an NBA franchise will know they will soon be able to enjoy the work of a Mozart of the basketball court. And I promise that they are going to love watching Michael Beasley put his craft on display.

The rest? Well, Derrick Rose and others are fine players. They will have good NBA careers and some will be seen as stars of their time.

Still, however, I bet they will go down in history more like Antonio Salieri. Who's that, you ask? That's exactly the point. Salieri was talented, applauded and skilled. He was just not as memorable, or great, as Mozart.


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