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Phenom Garnett in for big test of talents, maturity

Kevin Garnett probably won't be the first pick in Wednesday's NBA draft, but he already is its No. 1 story.

Days after receiving his high school diploma at Farragut in Chicago, he has stolen the draft spotlight from his elders, if one can use that term to describe a group dominated by college sophomores.

Finding college underclassmen amid the lottery picks, however, has become as commonplace as seeing Dennis Rodman change shades of Crayola. Garnett is fresh news: the first player in 20 years to go from high school to the NBA.

He singlehandedly has changed the terms of the draft debate from who's No. 1 to how high will this skinny 6-foot-11 forward go and should he be turning pro in the first place? No one questions his ability, just his ability to exploit it under the pressure of sudden wealth and expectation.

"There's an old adage that you should live your own age," said University of Utah coach Rick Majerus, a former NBA assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks. "He will be on a fast track in the NBA, with guys with a different agenda.

"Emotionally, socially, physically, he will be immature relative to the guys he will be around. In terms of how he relates to fans, how he relates to girls, how he relates to having all that money.

"There's nothing good about this."

Garnett once seemed to believe that himself, insisting from the time he transferred to Farragut last summer from his hometown of Mauldin, S.C., that he wasn't ready for the NBA. But as he failed in attempts to get the standardized test score necessary to compete as a college freshman, he re-evaluated that opinion.

Finally, at a May 15 press conference, Garnett said he would enter the NBA draft unless he got a qualifying test score. He pronounced himself ready for pro ball.

Initial speculation was he would be drafted with the 15th to 20th pick of the first round, but that number started to shrink immediately and almost disappeared after he wowed pro representatives at private workouts in Chicago. Now he is regarded as perhaps the most talented player in the draft, likely to be gone as quickly as pick No. 4 and no later than No. 7.

NBA scouting director Marty Blake believes Garnett will adjust to NBA life with minimal strain, and that playing with and against pros will hasten rather than retard his development.

"This kid is as gifted a player as comes along once every 20 years," Blake said.

So were Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby, the only other players in the modern NBA to jump directly from high school to the pros. Only Malone achieved stardom.

Last month, Garnett sought advice from Willoughby, who turned pro in 1975 and had an undistinguished eight-year career. Willoughby advised Garnett on a number of points, including being punctual, playing hard and keeping a sharp eye on your money. He says much of the money he earned was squandered by an agent.

"He's not just a ballplayer now, he's a professional," said Willoughby, 38, who works with kids in a recreation department in New Jersey. "It's a man's game."

Willoughby, though, believes Garnett made the right decision.

"Few people have that opportunity, a chance to put money in the bank and be secure," he said.

Made the jump

Players in the modern area who have gone from high school to the NBA:

Year, player Team

1975 Darryl Dawkins Philadelphia

1974 Moses Malone Utah

1975 Bill Willoughby Atlanta