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11:03 PM Thu, Jan. 17th

The NBA draft roller-coaster ride

It's a never-ending game general managers, coaches and owners play.

They are always trying to find the players who are going to lead their teams into the NBA history books.

They scour colleges, high schools and international leagues trying to find the next Michael Jordan.

Once upon a time, the NBA draft was a simpler process – the top draft picks were simply the top college players.

Michael Jordan finished his junior year at the University of North Carolina and became the No.

3 pick when he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the 1984 draft.

Spurs center David Robinson graduated from the Naval Academy, was drafted No.

1 overall in 1987 and served two years in the Navy before playing his first NBA game in 1989.

But Minnesota forward and NBA MVP Kevin Garnett single-handedly changed the draft.

Garnett made waves when he announced he would make the jump from high school to the NBA and was selected fifth overall in the 1995 draft.

The following year, Kobe Bryant skipped college and was selected 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets and was later traded to the Lakers.

Both players are considered superstars but did not play a day of college ball.

The trend of high school draft picks hit its peak in the 2001 draft when four of the top eight picks were fresh out of high school.

Over the last couple of seasons, the focus of the draft has turned to the international leagues and players.

Sixteen international players have been selected in the first round of the draft since 2001.

Twelve first-round draft picks have come straight from high school in that same period, and the other 60 are from the college ranks.

The success of the international players appears to have garnered the attention of team owners, coaches and G.M.s across the league.

The Houston Rockets used their No.

1 pick in 2002 to select center Yao Ming.

Ming became the first international professional to be chosen as the top pick in the NBA draft.

International players are the answer to one of the league's biggest problems – what to do with the increasing number of players who are foregoing college in hopes of making the big bucks in the NBA.

Most of these high school players are young, inexperienced and not ready to compete in the grown-up NBA (LeBron James being THE exception).

They may have some good skills, but they lack what is important – the knowledge of using their skills.

The NBA came up with one idea, the Developmental League, to help these players mature.

But it is not the same experience they would gain from spending a couple of years playing college basketball.

This is where the international players come in.

As more and more professionals from international leagues are drafted into the NBA, the kids coming out of high school will realize they can't compete with the pros.

These young players will then have to prove themselves at the college level to make it into the NBA.

By taking the collegiate step, even if it's only a year or two, they will mature, gain the experience they need and be prepared to play with the professionals.

Brent Hinckley is the Miner's sports writer.

He can be reached by e-mail at