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Here's hoping Big Al finds Fayetteville

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Sports Editor

Hey Razorback fans, where were you on the night of March 31?

If you where like me, you spent at least part of that evening staring at ESPN's broadcast of the McDonald's All-American High School Basketball Game from the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.

My eyes, and probably most eyes in Arkansas, were on 6-9 Prentiss, Miss., power forward Al Jefferson.

Jefferson signed during November's signing period to play hoops at the University of Arkansas next year.

A highly-touted player, Jefferson may not make it on to campus in Fayetteville next fall, opting to test the waters of the NBA draft instead.

For most Arkansans, this is all we've heard; Jefferson is one of the top high school players in the nation, and chances are he's gone to the NBA without ever donning a Razorback uniform.

We've heard about the 42.6-point, 18-rebound and seven-blocked shot averages Jefferson racked up during his senior year playing at Prentiss, while facing triple-team defense for most of his time on the court, playing in what to amounts to Class AAA in Mississippi.

But for the first time in the McDonald's game, most of us got to see Big Al in real action, matched up against the best high school talent in the nation.

Jefferson did not disappoint, posting 16 points on eight field goals, including six dunks, in 16 minutes of action as his East team defeated the West 126-96. Jefferson also logged a game-high 11 rebounds.

But I'm not so sure Jefferson is ready to take the huge leap from high school ball in Mississippi to the ultimate level.

I'm not sure any of the players that played in that game are ready, although by listening to the interviews they gave, they, or maybe their advisors, all seem certain NBA destiny lies just around the next corner.

This includes Jefferson's East teammates J.R. Smith, a North Carolina signee, Sebastian Telfair, headed to Louisville and Dwight Howard, a 6-10 forward from Atlanta who many "experts" are predicting could be the number-one overall pick in this June's draft.

Please. Give me a break.

While the announcers calling the action for ESPN couldn't go more than a few seconds without selling each kid's prospects for playing in the NBA next year, I can refrain from signing such lofty praises.

Forgive me for being selfish, but I hope Jefferson does spend at least one year at the U of A.

Not only does he automatically make the Hogs a Sweet 16 team, he could use the time banging around the SEC with big bodies like Mississippi State's Lawrence Roberts, before jumping to the NBA.

This might be something of a tune-up before the likes of Karl Malone, Keynon Martin and Anthony Mason get to ply their trade on Jefferson.

And I'm not just singling out Jefferson.

None of the players I saw that night are ready for the NBA. Nope, no LeBron James in this bunch.

So, Razorback fans, let's hope that level heads end up prevailing and we get to watch Al Jefferson gather a few bumps and bruises as a Hog before jumping into the deep waters of the NBA.

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