CATEGORY: Basketball

AUTHOR: AP

Erick Dampier became the first Mississippi State player chosen in the NBA draft since 1986 when the Indiana Pacers took him as the 10th pick overall Wednesday night.

The 6-foot-11, 268-pound Dampier was the first center taken in the draft at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., the site of Mississippi State's first NCAA Final Four appearance just three months ago.

Later in the first round, Dontae' Jones, a 6-7, 218-pound standout in his only season at Mississippi State, was taken as the 21st pick overall by the New York Knicks. Jones averaged 14.7 points and 6.8 rebounds a game and was the MVP in both the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Southeast Regional tournaments.

Mississippi State became the only university this year with two first-round picks in both the NBA and NFL drafts. In April's NFL draft, Bulldog free safety Walt Harris was the 13th pick overall by the Chicago Bears and Eric Moulds was the 24th pick by the Buffalo Bills.

State's last NBA draft pick had been Chauncey Robinson, the 86th pick overall in 1986. The Bulldogs had only four previous No. 1 picks, the last being Jeff Malone when he was the 10th pick overall by the Washington Bullets in 1983.

The first player with Mississippi ties chosen Wednesday was University of Memphis sophomore forward Lorenzen Wright, who moved from Oxford to Memphis his senior year of high school.

Despite a stress fracture in his foot suffered during a pickup game earlier this month, Wright was the seventh pick overall by the Los Angeles Clippers. He averaged 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds for the Tigers, shooting 54 percent from the field.

The three Mississippians were the most ever taken in the first round. Two had been taken in the first round twice before in 1990 (Gulfport native Chris Jackson of LSU and Gerald Glass of Ole Miss) and in 1993 (Jackson natives James Robinson of Alabama and Linsey Hunter of Jackson State).

Georgetown center Othella Harrington, who played at Jackson Murrah High School, was the first player chosen in the second round, the 30th player chosen overall by the Houston Rockets.

Mississippi Valley State forward Marcus Mann (6-8, 237) was the 40th pick, the second-round pick of the Golden State Warriors. Mann led all of college basketball with 13.6 rebounds a game this past season.

Indiana had obtained the 10th pick in the recent trade of Mark Jackson to the Denver Nuggets for Jalen Rose. The Pacers took Dampier, who averaged 14.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks during his junior season. His shooting range is suspect but he is extremely strong inside.

Even though he was drafted, Dampier could return to Mississippi State for his senior season since he hasn't hired an agent. But that scenario is very unlikely.

As a lottery pick, Dampier is guaranteedast a three-year contract worth $2.6 million. If he returned to State, he couldn't improve his draft status next year.

Dampier, who had been projected to go as early as the sixth pick, steps into a situation where he could some immediate playing time. Indiana starting center Rik Smits generally plays no more than 30 minutes a game.

Jones' draft stock had dropped amid questions regarding a stress fracture he suffered in his left foot last fall. A screw was inserted in his foot, and X-rays taken in the pre-draft camp earlier this month indicated the screw might be coming loose.

Jones, who watched the draft from a Memphis sports bar, was New York's third first-round pick, following John Wallace of Syracuse at No. 18 and Walter McCarty of Kentucky at 19, both players who can also be small forwards.

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