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Magic has high hopes for draft

When you have one of the youngest, most talented starting teams in professional basketball and just reached the NBA Finals ahead of anyone's timetable, you don't figure to need much more.

But the Magic wants more.

The Magic needs more.

Despite all the success this past season, the Magic will look for help, big help, with its lone selection _ No. 25 overall _ in tonight's NBA draft. The two-round draft begins at 7:30.

The Magic lacked a dependable, down-in-the-trenches player to spell power forward Horace Grant and/or All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal, which left the team vulnerable if either was in foul trouble or injured.

Backup center/assistant coach Tree Rollins just turned 40 and would prefer to come to work in a dress suit, not a sweatsuit. Orlando's best reserve power forward has been Jeff Turner, a solid perimeter threat but not an interior defender or rebounder.

"That's our need, that's our want," Magic vice president John Gabriel said. "But we won't know if it's there to fill until after (No.) 24."

Most years, you see an exhaustive run on top-notch big men early in the first round, but the Magic is in luck this year; big men are unusually plentiful, thanks to an influx of underclassmen. Of the 16 early-entry candidates, 10 are power forwards or centers, including probable lottery picks Joe Smith, Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and high school phenom Kevin Garnett.

"I think it's a very deep draft, deeper than a long time," said NBA scout Marty Blake, who has been working the draft for four decades.

So, the Magic could choose from at least a couple of its top candidates: Florida and former Countryside High star power forward Andrew DeClercq; Alabama power forward Jason Caffey, who visited Orlando Tuesday; Wyoming power forward Theo Ratliff; and Fresno State power forward/center Anthony Pelle. The team also is keenly interested in Memphis power forward David Vaughn, a former teammate of Anfernee Hardaway, but few expect Vaughn to be available.

Those are the players the Magic interviewed. With the exception of O'Neal, a no-brainer as the No. 1 pick overall in 1992, Orlando has not drafted anyone in the first round without interviewing him first.

But if no one from that group is left or if the choice is unattractive, the Magic could rely on scouting reports and NBA pre-draft camp performances. Possible selections then would include Indiana power forward Alan Henderson or Wisconsin small forward Michael Finley, if either drops that far, or UCLA center George Zidek or Yugoslavian power forward Dragan Tarlac, who played last season in Greece.

"We didn't bring in all the guys we love," Gabriel said coyly. "Many teams brought in a lot more players than we did, and that tells you how messed up the draft is."

Messed up in that most NBA officials agree there is little to separate players who will be picked between 15 and 29. And there are a lot of players in that group:

At 6 feet 10 and 240 pounds, Vaughn has the size and strength of the prototypical power forward. He also has good shooting range and is capable of making a college three-pointer.

"He's a very strong, physical guy," said Turner, who scrimmaged against Vaughn during his visit. "He's raw, but he reminds me of Brian Williams talent-wise and skill-wise."

At 6-8, 255, Caffey is a strong post-up player and rebounder, finishing 19th on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,239 points and 13th in rebounding with 751.

"He probably has one of the best low-post games of the people we brought in," Gabriel said. "He moves his feet and can guard two positions: 3s and 4s. He competes at the highest level of any player we've brought in."

DeClercq (6-10, 230), who helped lead the Gators to the Final Four as a junior, runs the floor well, has good hands and is an unselfish, tireless worker.

"One thing you really want to make sure of in sports is that you take somebody who'll compete and work hard each and every day and night," Gabriel said. "And there's absolutely no questions about the work ethic of Andrew DeClercq."

A relapse of mononucleosis prevented him from participating in pre-draft camps or working out individually for teams, which could work to the Magic's advantage if it wants him. But Tuesday's trade between Detroit and Portland gives the Pistons the Nos. 18 and 19 picks and DeClercq could be attractive at one of those.

Since his sophomore season at Wyoming, Ratliff has added about 40 pounds to his once-lithe 6-9 frame and is up to 220. Although unheralded, he finished with 425 blocked shots, second only to Alonzo Mourning's 453.

At 7-0, 265, Pelle is also an intimidating presence inside. He runs the floor like a blitzing linebacker, can shoot a jump hook equally well with either hand and is a good shot blocker, averaging 2.0 a game as a senior.

All would need some work, which is the norm with a No.

25, a spot that has produced one solid player in the past decade, All-Star point guard Mark Price in 1986. But the Magic has the luxury of a young nucleus.

"We don't need someone to step in and be a starter or even a backup (immediately)," Gabriel said. "This player can be part of a grooming process."

Past picks at No. 25

Year Player Team Comment

1994 Greg Minor Clippers Played well in spot duty for

Celtics.

1993 Corie Blount Bulls High hopes, little production.

1992 Elmore Spencer Clippers Injured this season.

1991 Shaun Vandiver Warriors Went to Italy. Never played in

NBA.

1990 Alaa Abdelnaby Blazers Journeyman reserve.

1989 John Morton Cavs Played 3 seasons.

1988 David Rivers Lakers Played 3 unspectacular seasons.

1987 Ron Moore+ Knicks 14 games for Pistons and Suns.

1986 Mark Price+ Mavs Traded to Cavs for second-round

pick and became four-time All-Star.

1985 Mike Smrek+ Blazers Played 7 seasons with 5 teams.

+ _ second round

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