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Tale of Three Big Men
FRIDAY, JULY 9, 1999   12:00 AM CT
By Clutch
Copyright 1999
This year, the Rockets did not surprise us.

Oh sure, the pick surprised us, but the Rockets didn't. It's just like Rudy T and Co. to go against the grain... to not give in to what the public thinks the Rockets should do.

Miami's Tim James is available? No sir. Jumaine Jones is super talented and dropping like a rock? Not a Houston Rock. Is little known Devean George another potential Scottie Pippen? Apparently one Scottie's enough in Clutch City (really.... it is).

The Rockets passed on athletic swingmen who left school early and instead (and as usual) opted for 4-year seniors. This is the Tale of 3 Big Men...

#22 Kenny Thomas

College: New Mexico
Position: Power Forward
Height: 6'7"
Weight: 260
Age: Turns 22 late this month

The sincere hope here is that Kenny Thomas takes the NBA very seriously. If that's the case, the Rockets may have found themselves a player who will battle alongside Othella Harrington and Antoine Carr for playing time.

You also hope Charles Barkley returns (for obvious reasons other than this example). Barkley could be the perfect tutor for Kenny. Not to say Thomas is going to be another Barkley (because lets face it... who is going to be another Barkley?), but Chuck could surely teach a thing or two to the young Thomas about the NBA.

We weren't thrilled with the pick when it was made, but we're warming up to his potential and we look for him to be a watcher/benchwarmer in 1999-2000, but with the potential to become a solid piece the years following.

Kenny Thomas

"Kenny Thomas".

Just as it happened when the Rockets selected Rodrick Rhodes in 1997, and Mirsad Turkcan in 1998, the fans found themselves giddy with anticipation only to be disappointed seconds after David Stern utters the words "The Houston Rockets select... "

I myself was pretty let down with the pick, expecting a different type of player. The only solace seemed to be the fact that the Rockets didn't send Hakeem Olajuwon to the Canadian Jurassic Park in order to get Thomas.

Just as I and hundreds of other Rocket fans were disappointed with the pick, Thomas, at home watching with his parents, girlfriend and friends, was stunned. He couldn't help himself. He had to walk outside the house, where he broke down into tears. He was realizing his dream.

"This is just overwhelming," said Ron Garcia, who coached Thomas since he was 14 at both Albuquerque High School and at UNM. "Houston got a helluva steal. This will be great for Kenny, because he's not locked into a center position like he was here."

The Rockets felt like they had their man.

Perhaps because it's taken me 10 damn days to get this draft report up, I may have warmed up to the Rockets' thinking.

The Rockets like Thomas a lot, but they know this is a "roll-the-dice" pick. At pick #22, the pickings weren't that great (though Jumaine Jones and Tim James were tempting), so taking a flyer on someone like Thomas could be worth it. His talent is exceptional, but if it was on talent alone Thomas would have gone a lot higher.

His weaknesses are evident. First and foremost, Thomas doesn't bring it every night. He disappears, shows up when he feels like it and has a bad habit of coming up small in big games. He averaged nearly 18 points and 10 boards a game his career at New Mexico. In the NCAA Tournament, he averaged 7.5 points on 9-31 shooting, including his very last game against eventual champion UConn...

Kenny scored just one point.

Many suspect he could have a problem keeping off pounds since his work ethic is in question.

As far as talent is concerned however, some say he's stronger in most areas than the first pick in the draft, Elton Brand. He's a very good team player. He'll make the good pass. He can post you up, face you up and stick the jumper straight in your face.

When he comes to play he displays all-around skills. Points (17.9), boards (10) and even blocks (2 and a half per game) and steals (over 1 and a half per). Is he the next Charles Barkley? Well, as power forwards go, I guess they're both short, fat and not afraid to put up the three. Only in Thomas' case he can hit them. He drained 37% from long range last season (27-73) and hit over 35% for his college career.

The talent is there.

But again, the question is... is the work ethic that is required to succeed in this league? NBA general managers and coaches have pulled their hair out many a time trying to motivate "talented" players who are deemed "lazy" or without the desire to improve (See Benoit Benjamin and Derrick Coleman). We're not convinced Thomas' case is that bad, but to have a lazy rap coming out of college is pretty pathetic.

The opportunity cost may prove big (James, Jones or George), but Thomas is a player worth rolling the dice on at a pick as late as #22.

#44 Tyrone Washington

College: Mississippi State
Position: Center
Height: 6'10"
Weight: 260
Age: Turns 23 in September

The Rockets were one pick short of stealing TCU's Lee Nailon, who went #43 to the Charlotte Hornets. The Rockets actually eyed Nailon with their #1 pick so that would have been a blessing.

Washington is definitely a project, but unlike Terrell Bell and Serge Zwikker (All Hail Serge), he could make it back to the Rockets.

Tyrone Washington
Tyrone Washington was drafted by the Rockets and immediately compared himself to Alonzo Mourning.

Talk about your flashbacks to 1991 when John Turner, the big power forward out of Phillips drafted #20 by the Rockets, proclaimed himself the next Charles Barkley.

Anyone seen Turner lately?

Slow down there Tyrone. Lets not raise the bar so high. Let start with Terrell Bell... as in, are you better than Terrell Bell?

Bell of course was one of the Rockets second round selections in 1996. Out of Georgia, he was big, raw and a mean shot blocker. He never even made a dent in the Rockets' roster and our guess is he's probably learned several foreign languages by now.

Washington may suffer the same fate. Though he's saying the right things, he almost assuredly won't make the roster this season. He's simply too raw. However, unlike Bell, he may make it back here some day.

Washington was the team's leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker in 1998-99. He also is Mississippi State's second all-time leading shot blocker behind only Erick Dampier, and the 5th all-time leading rebounder. He is durable, holding the school record for games played at 123. He was second team All-SEC last season.

He has an NBA-caliber body, but has a ways to go before making the Rockets' roster.

#50 Venson Hamilton

Good pick.

Drafting Venson Hamilton could potentially be what the Rockets will be known for most in this draft. Though he's not going to come in and have a huge impact, he does have good skills and provides what the Rockets sorely lack. A weakside shot blocker to help out Hakeem Olajuwon. When your third string power forward (Antoine Carr) is your best shot blocker at the four, you know you need some players with hops.

We're reaching, but hopefully Hamilton can pan out in this league to the tune of a player like Theo Ratliff in Philly.

If he focuses on the dirty work and tries to be a specialist in rebounding, shot blocking and defense, the Rockets will have done extremely well with this pick and will have pulled off their second straight year of getting the "Secound Round Gem" (Cuttino Mobley, 1998).

Venson Hamilton
We're saying it now: Venson Hamilton will make the Rocket roster next season.

Not because of his game, but because of his name.

Venson. It's hip. It's cool. It's unique. It's 90's.

It's not Tyrone Washington, which sounds about 2 decades behind and should be uttered only in "Welcome Back Kotter" reruns.

Obviously we've lost it, but Venson has a little game to go with the name and could prove to be one of the steals of this draft. He's bigger than he was listed (more like 6'11" than 6'10"). He's athletic. He can block shots. He's a hell of a rebounder.

An AP All-American Honorable Mention. He is Nebraska's All-Time leader in blocks and rebounds and broke the school's single season record in rebounds last season with 335 (he was ranked 11th in the nation in rebounding). He was named Big 12 Player of the Year in 98-99 and also was named to the conference's All-Defensive team for the second season in a row. He is Nebraska's 9th leading scorer All-Time (1416 points) and 3rd in steals (186). He shot over 50% from the field all 4 seasons he was at Nebraska.

Ex-Nebraska teammate and current LA Laker Tyronn Lue, who was with Hamilton and his other friends while they watched the draft, feels Houston is a good team for Venson. "It's a good team for him to go to. They don't have a back-up center and it's (Charles) Barkley and Othella Harrington (at power forward)," said Lue. "He's not down. He knows he'll have to go in and play good and he'll be all right."

Hamilton on the other hand didn't see it coming. "I didn't even know they were interested," Hamilton said of the Rocks. "I talked to the general manager and then Rudy T. called and they said they'd seen me play in Texas. They told me I have a good chance of coming in and making the team, just keep working hard."

Yeah, and maybe get that hard work to rub off on Kenny Thomas. This was a pick worth taking.

The drafting of 3 big men, even if only 2 make the roster, probably spells the end of Stanley Roberts glorious and illustrious career as a Houston Rocket. Fast food investors in Houston need not worry though -- Antoine Carr and Kenny Thomas should help pick up the load, though obviously Robert's shoes are monsters to fill when it comes to grease consumption.

Obviously 3 bigger rookies, 2 of which came in the second round, doesn't help much in the "Trades" department right away, but size sells. If any of these rookies pan out, the Rockets will hold more cards in the rebuilding effort when it comes to trades and not have to rely so heavily on the draft. After all, why are some teams so willing to give up so much for guys like Luc Longley, Will Perdue and half of Portland's roster? He who is shopping size gets what he wants when it comes to NBA Wheeling & Dealing.

Overall a decent draft. Nothing terribly exciting -- not right away anyhow. As with most draft picks, the jury is still out.

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