Snubbing their noses at the experts

Celtics guard Marquis Daniels was undrafted but has crafted an eight-year NBA career. Celtics guard Marquis Daniels was undrafted but has crafted an eight-year NBA career. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 21, 2010

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The draft is essentially when pro sports are reduced to gym class, everyone dying to be picked first for a team and dreading being left out when all the picks have been made.

The Celtics’ Glen Davis still knows all the names of players picked before him in the draft. He especially knows the ones who are dangling in the wind now.

Javaris Crittenton. Boston College’s Sean Williams. The Finnish kid, Petteri Koponen, whom Philadelphia took a flier on. They all were supposed to have more upside than Davis. They all were supposed to be better fits. They’re all gone.

Davis was called everything from undersized and out of shape to slow and heavy, and even though a 1,000-watt NCAA Tournament, in which he led Louisiana State to the Final Four, put him on the radar in 2006, his stock dropped when he declared the next year. He fell to the second round, the guaranteed money and years that first-rounders get eluding him.

“It molds you into the player that you need to be,’’ Davis said. “You can take that information and you can take that experience and go whatever way you want to. You can feel sorry for what you didn’t do in college. You can ask, ‘Why didn’t people draft you?’ Or you can take the information and say this is going to be my fuel to get to where I need to go and show these people that when you passed me up, you made a huge mistake.’’

The Celtics locker room is full of players who know what it’s like to be skipped over only to laugh last.

Paul Pierce still doesn’t understand how he fell to the 10th overall pick in the 1998 draft. Marquis Daniels was skipped over by the entire league in 2003. The Suns took Nate Robinson with the 21st pick in 2005, then dealt him to New York. They had the same pick the next year and did the same thing with Rajon Rondo, shipping him to Boston. Even Celtics president Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers were second-round picks.

“You earn everything you get in the NBA,’’ Davis said. “Some guys are given that first-round pick, that starting position. You’ve got to go take it.’’

That sense of being snubbed doesn’t last long, Rivers said, but it is there.

“I think you always remember where you were drafted and you remember a bunch of guys you thought you were better than went in front of you,’’ Rivers said. “But the only way you prove that is with your play.’’

His first year at Marquette, Rivers set the school’s freshman records for points, scoring average, field goals made, field goal percentage, and steals. Two years later, he left for the NBA. Five point guards were taken in the first round of the 1983 draft. One more, Sidney Lowe, now the coach at North Carolina State, was taken before the Hawks grabbed Rivers with the 31st pick.

“I always think you should be drafted where you’re drafted,’’ Rivers said. “Then it’s up to you to prove the rest of your career. I was 31. I lasted over everybody in the draft except for one guy.’’

That was the Ralph Sampson draft, in which the Virginia star was the top choice and Missouri 7-footer Steve Stipanovich went No. 2 largely because he dominated Sampson on national TV. But the only player from that draft to have a longer career than Rivers was Clyde Drexler, an NBA champion in 1995 and a walking monument in Houston and Portland.

“Having said that, at that moment, I earned 31,’’ Rivers said. “Then I earned my career.’’

Personal pride on the floor is one thing. Personal finances once the games are over is another.

For the 2004-05 season, the 24th pick in the draft was slated to make $782,900 his first season, to increase over the next two seasons. That, of course, was the pick the Celtics landed from the Mavericks when they sent Antoine Walker to Dallas. They used the selection to take Delonte West.

Meanwhile, the last lottery pick of that draft was Sebastian Telfair, taken with the 13th pick by the Trail Blazers. His draft stock slipped, but the high school phenom was still a millionaire as soon as he walked into the league, hauling in a $1.3 million starting salary.

Coincidentally, they would wind up in the same locker room two years later when the Celtics made a draft-day deal to bring Telfair to Boston. Telfair was the $1.8 million basketball celebrity. West was just barely a million-dollar worker bee. West led the team in assists (4.4 per game) and was fourth in scoring (12.2), while Telfair struggled.

West took it in stride.

“I don’t take anything personal,’’ he said. “Of course you would have liked to receive the money of a lottery-pick guy, but there’s a reason for everything.’’

Rivers and Ainge, who was taken 31st overall in the 1981 draft, told him that picks and pay weren’t important.

“You go sit down with Danny and he’ll tell you, ‘It doesn’t matter where you’ve been drafted at. You’re on an NBA team. Go show them,’ ’’ West said. “When you hear that from them, those type of guys, knowing their NBA career and the respect that you have for them, it makes a lot of sense. You say, ‘OK, yeah, you’re right.’ You’re worried about playing and proving yourself more than being upset about where you were drafted at.’’

But if he had the power to level the paying field, he would.

“If I could change one thing I would say, ‘Hey, listen, all first-round picks get the same thing, the same amount for let’s say two years,’’ West said. “Within that two years, you’ve got time to prove yourself. Then a 28th pick can go to their team and say, ‘This guy can really go.’ And let’s go play basketball. Stop worrying about what car you can get and all that. Let’s go play basketball. But where I’m at now, you can’t look at the past.’’

Daniels had to deal with feeling unwanted altogether.

Flying under the radar coming out of Auburn in 2003, Daniels figured he would land in the second round. Don Nelson, with the Mavericks at the time, came across Daniels while he was watching game tape of Josh Howard and made a mental note. The night of the draft, the picks kept passing by, with Daniels still unclaimed. When it was all over, Daniels was still out there.

“You’re mad as hell,’’ he said.

He didn’t have a Plan B. He hadn’t thought about playing overseas. It took about five minutes for his phone to start ringing.

A few teams called, trying to sign him. Rivers, who was coaching the Magic at the time, gave him a call. But Nelson called him up as well, and not long after their conversation, Daniels hopped a flight to Dallas, eventually signing. Mike Sweetney, Jarvis Hayes, Reece Gaines, and Boston College’s Troy Bell were some of the first-rounders who came and went in the ’03 draft. Zaza Pachulia, Steve Blake, Matt Bonner, Mo Williams, Luke Walton, and Keith Bogans were among the second-rounders who stuck.

“Timing and situations,’’ Daniels said. “You can take a role player and make him a star if you just put him in the right situation. Some people come into it and some people have to work for it.’’

Going undrafted, Daniels said, “Just makes you want to go out there and prove [yourself]. You’ve just got to work. If you want to get in the league, you’ve got to continue to work to stay there.’’

Robinson has a list of “Where Are They Now?’’ and “How Did They Get There?’’ players such as Khalid El-Amin, Erick Barkley, and Dajuan Wagner. “Guys I looked up to,’’ he said.

Then, he looked at his own situation — a small player facing long odds.

“For me, God puts guys where he wants you to be,’’ Robinson said. “I just thank God that I’m drafted and I’m still here — 5-9, undersized, still ticking, going on six years strong.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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