Not Carlos Boozer! Not another guy from Duke! Most fans didn't just wince when he was picked by the Cleveland Cavaliers a year ago, they were ready to chant OVER-RATED!
They invoked the names of Danny Ferry and Trajan Langdon - spitting them out, saying they were the typical Duke players with overblown college reputations and little NBA game. Incredibly, many NBA people who should know better fell into the same trap.
If Boozer is from Duke, Boozer will probably be a bust. So what if he averaged 18.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and shot an almost never-miss 66 percent from the field?
Why take a 20-year-old junior who's smart and dedicated when you can gamble on a pimply-faced high school kid or a mystery man with an unpronounceable name from Europe?
Those guys have "upsides."
Some scouts thought Boozer, a 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate, had more of a backside, in terms of some extra weight he hauled around, along with the fact that he was already a very polished player.
They wondered if Boozer would get any better.
They forgot that he was very good in perhaps the nation's premier basketball conference.
Once upon a time, achievement counted for something. Now, it can be held against you by some NBA scouts. They worry that you peaked, that you won't get much better.
They said the 6-foot-9 Boozer was too short for a center, too slow for a power forward, too heavy-legged and earthbound to be anything more than a career backup.
Jim Paxson thought otherwise, and the Cavaliers general manager didn't care that he'd be berated in some corners of the media for supposedly falling under the spell of the Blue Devils, just as he did with Langdon in 1999. Or Wayne Embry did with Danny Ferry.
Know why some fans didn't like Boozer? They thought he was boring, his game mechanical, his personality serious and mature. Who wants that in the NBA, where everything seems to be about slam dunks and trash mouths?
"I think I proved a lot of people wrong," Boozer said during this week's pro summer league in Orlando, Fla., where he finished third in scoring with 15.5 points a game and tops in rebounding with 9.5 a game as the Cavaliers posted a 3-2 record. "A lot of people underestimated me."
Boozer became the steal of the draft, when Paxson grabbed him with the 35th pick. He lost 20 pounds last spring and summer, added more strength and did nothing but impress from the moment he came to free-agent camp.
His final statistics were solid: 10 points, 7.5 rebounds, 54 percent shooting. But in the 30 games he played at least 30 minutes, he was a 15-point, 10-rebound man.
"He can be a monster," said coach Paul Silas, the former gritty, push-and-shove power forward who sees a lot of himself in Boozer. Paxson and Silas praise Boozer for his dedication, for the fact that he's willing to rebound, that he doesn't need to be a focal point of the offense.
"My role model is Karl Malone," Boozer said. "I'm close to his size. I want to develop like he did, and I want to play as long as he has."
Boozer defies the Duke stereotype of "pretty players," who rely on finesse. He seems even more committed this summer than a year ago.
"He was the first player in town when we opened our voluntary workouts in May," Paxson said. "I know he was frustrated by all the losing last year, but he never let it drag him down. He is a very special person."
Boozer is only 21 and in his second pro season, but Paxson and Silas have already anointed him as one of the team leaders.
"I actually think he and LeBron (James) can do it," Silas said. "They know how to play the game the right way."
Part of transforming the Cavaliers from the league's worst team to a playoff contender is more than just adding James. It's changing the selfish, losing culture.
With the no-nonsense Silas as the coach, the pass-first James with the ball and the elbows-out Boozer under the basket, the Cavaliers might just do that.
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