- HIGHSCHOOL - Diop declares for NBA draft

Wednesday, July 16
Diop declares for NBA draft

OAK HILL ACADEMY, Va. – Seven-foot, 310-pound Senegal native Sagana Diop became the fourth -- and biggest -- high school player to declare for the 2001 NBA draft when he made it official Thursday afternoon.

"This is a great opportunity to help my family and my country and to make them proud," the 19-year-old Diop said in a statement. "I've always made it my goal to be the best, and the NBA has the best competition in the world."

Diop's entry, combined with the previous declarations of Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry and Ousmane Cisse for the June 27 draft, ties the record of four prepsters deciding to skip college hoops. In 1998, Al Harrington, Rashard Lewis, Ellis Richardson and Korleone Young declared for the draft straight out of high school.

Diop averaged 14.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 8.1 blocks per game this season and wasn't even a starter until midway through his junior season. However, he became coach Steve Smith's most valuable player this season as an intimidating presence in the middle on both ends of the floor. Diop missed the final five games of the season with a stress fracture in his foot and was also unable to play in the McDonald's All-American Game.

However, Diop has been working out for the past two weeks. Smith says the foot is 100 percent and Diop just needs to get back in playing shape and lose about 10 pounds before he begins working out for NBA clubs.

Others who may follow include Glynn Academy (Ga.) 6-foot-11 forward Kwame Brown, who has committed to Florida, and Camden High (N.J.) guard Dajuan Wagner, who has committed to Memphis but may still head straight to the pros. They have until May 13 to make their decisions.

"For Sagana, it was something he's always wanted to do," says Smith. "When he came over here, it was a dream and he had no clue how good he could be. That was only 18 months ago. He expected to go to college for four years, but then he got excited at how quick it could all happen."

Diop's coming-out party was in December when Oak Hill played in the KMOX Shootout in St. Louis. More than 40 NBA scouts were in attendance to watch the head-to-head matchup between Curry and Chandler, but most came away somewhat disappointed with the hyped duo and were impressed with Diop.

Diop may also be the only legitimate center of the group. Curry could play center in the NBA but may be better off as a power forward, while Chandler's game is better suited for the wing in the pros. Diop's decision will not only affect the NBA, as he is expected to go in the lottery, but will also have an impact on the college game as he turned down offers from North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech.

"I'm old fashioned, and of all the players we've had here, none have even entertained the option of going straight to the NBA," adds Smith. "But in Sagana's case, and the way it's going in the last month, it was impossible for him not to go. There have been different sources telling us he's in the top 10 -- and even in the top five."

Diop is the best rebounder among the four players who have declared thus far and has already progressed on the offensive end. He can score with both hands in the paint and also knock down the 15-footer. But his biggest strength is his NBA-ready body, as well as his rebounding and shot-blocking abilities.

"He's got to work on his offensive skills, but he can rebound and defend in the NBA," says Smith. "His offense still has a ways to go, but he's better offensively than people think."

"I think I'm ready for it (the NBA)," Diop said last month. "Some people are saying I'm going to be top five or top 10."

Last year, only forward Darius Miles and guard DeShawn Stevenson made the jump from the high school ranks to the NBA. Two years ago, 6-foot-11 small forward Jonathan Bender was the only one to declare.

One of the reasons why so many high school players have made themselves eligible is because of the weak crop of big men coming out of college. Diop and Curry, according to some NBA scouts, are a lock to be taken ahead of most of the top centers in college -- Arizona's Loren Woods, North Carolina's Brendan Haywood and Georgia Tech's Alvin Jones.

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