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June 27, 2006
PHILADELPHIA - Here's a different way of looking at Philadelphia's Big 5: Count the city pro prospects who will likely hear their name called in the NBA draft.
This should be a stellar draft for the local standouts, with at least two players projected to go in the first round, one tweener selection and two others that could be selected in the second round.
''I think it would be great for Philly basketball, great for the Big 5,'' Villanova coach Jay Wright said Monday. ''I think it shows you what kind of teams the Big 5 has.''
Villanova guards Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Allan Ray, Temple guard Mardy Collins and La Salle forward Steven Smith all seem headed to the NBA. The past month has been like one long job interview, with grueling workouts, measurements, personality tests and background checks on the Philly stars that have jetted them from city to city trying to impress a slew of NBA personnel.
It's worth it to them if it means their lifelong dream of hearing their name called on national television as an NBA draft pick comes true on Wednesday night.
''I'm just ready and I'm excited to be in the position I'm in right now,'' Foye said after a recent workout in Minnesota. ''It really doesn't matter where I go, I just want the right fit for me and a place where there's good people surrounding me. ''
Foye should be the first Philadelphia college prospect selected, earning a trip to New York for the draft because of his projected lottery status. The 6-foot-4 guard led the Wildcats in scoring last season and impressed scouts with his ballhandling, his aggressive attitude, and his strong rebounding for a player of his size.
''Randy is going to be somebody that's going to be taken very high in the draft,'' Sixers president Billy King said Monday. ''I think he's proven that he's got a great skill level.''
Foye's two Villanova teammates face a lot more uncertainty. Lowry - a raw, talented prospect - might not play right away in the NBA while he learns the league as a backup.
Lowry decided to forgo his final two years of eligibility after he ranked third on the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding this season. He smartly ran the four-guard offense and his speed and quickness make him a possible late first-round or early second-round round pick.
''Kyle's unique in the NBA in terms of being able to disrupt a game, but still have that strength and toughness,'' Wright said. ''That could be a unique entity for an NBA team.''
The 6-2 Ray is one of the more intriguing prospects in the draft. He was a streaky shooter at Villanova, but he can create his own shot and connect from 3-point range. His size and strength could keep him out of the first round, though he should be a solid pro.
''He naturally shoots that NBA 3,'' Wright said. ''We didn't figure that out until after the Kansas game his junior year. That's when we told him he should just take them from out there. We used to tell him to get a lot closer to the line.''
Collins is widely considered one of the top point guards in the draft, though his beefy 6-6 frame has some teams thinking he might more suited as a small forward in the NBA.
''Some teams don't think I can play a one full-time at the next level and some teams do,'' Collins said. ''Some see me as more of a two or three. I feel most comfortable at the point. But wherever I go, I'm ready to come in and do what they need.''
Collins, who strained a hamstring during a workout in Orlando, has tried to stay away from the various mock drafts that have him projected as a late first-round pick. He'll be watching the draft with family in his Philadelphia home and could be the last John Chaney recruit in the NBA.
''I talked to my agent and he's been hearing something from the middle of the first to the 20s,'' Collins said. ''He said he thinks I'll go somewhere in there.''
Smith's status has bounced around like a loose basketball. He declared for the draft last season before deciding to return for his senior year and returned the Explorers to respectability. The 6-9 forward can rebound and has the offensive versatility that makes him an option in the early second round, but he could slide because of concerns that he's undersized in an NBA frontcourt and doesn't have natural quickness.
''I've put too much work to get into this point to slip up now,'' Smith said. ''The worst thing that would happen would be to go undrafted. But I'm confident that no matter what happens, I can make a team. I've been through too much now to let it slip away.''