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All the wrong moves

Sports | Former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett may not be taken in the NFL draft

Issue: "Terri Schiavo: In memoriam," April 9, 2005

Maurice Clarett sued the NFL to enter its amateur draft after his freshman season. Now Mr. Clarett might not be drafted at all. In 2002, Mr. Clarett, a running back, set freshman rushing records for Ohio State. But he was suspended for the next season for lying to police and the NCAA. Instead of sitting out the season and returning for his junior campaign, Mr. Clarett sued the NFL to enter the draft.

The former Ohio State running back challenged the NFL's policy that requires draft-eligible players to be three years removed from high-school graduation. Usually this means players can't enter the draft until after their junior or redshirt sophomore season. After a victory in federal court, Mr. Clarett lost on appeal after appeal, leaving him out of football.

Under NFL rules, Mr. Clarett will be eligible in this draft. But he severely damaged his draft stock when the running back went to work out for NFL scouts at the draft combine. In front of a cast of NFL scouts, Mr. Clarett ran the 40-yard dash in between 4.72 and 4.82 seconds, leaving team officials to wonder exactly what the young running back has spent the last year doing besides going to court. "He could have slipped completely out of the draft," his agent Steve Feldman said. "He needs a good workout."

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So the agent tried to arrange for another series of workouts for scouts. But Ohio State, bitter toward Mr. Clarett for statements he made to the media, refused to let him work out on university grounds. Mr. Feldman and Mr. Clarett then turned to Warren G. Harding High School in Warren, Ohio-Mr. Clarett's alma matter. At least they remember him favorably.

The team that Kobe built

It got so bad in Los Angeles, even Chucky Atkins had to say something. Throughout his career, the 30-year-old guard has made a name for himself as a quiet role player. But even Mr. Atkins couldn't contain himself during the Los Angeles Lakers' recent losing skid. Asked before a game against Philadelphia what moves he thought the club should make to better itself for next season, Mr. Atkins exploded: "I ain't no GM. Ask Kobe [Bryant]. He's the GM. It's his team."

The loss that night-Easter Sunday-was the Lakers' eighth straight, which was their second-longest losing streak since moving from Minneapolis in 1960. Small wonder that the Lakers have now seemingly played themselves out of the playoff hunt. That makes Los Angeles lottery bound for only the second time since the draft lottery's creation in 1985. (The worst teams qualify for the lottery, or the top picks in the NBA draft.)

Last year, the Lakers made it to the Western Conference Finals. But the growing feud between teammates Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal caused the team to implode shortly after the playoffs. Mr. O'Neal said team management blamed him too much for the Lakers' defeat by Detroit in the Western Conference finals. "They've got to have a scapegoat, and they know that I'm strong enough to be that scapegoat," Mr. O'Neal said after settling in Miami with a new team. "Who's going to be the scapegoat now? Who are they going to point at now?"

Not only did the Lakers trade Mr. O'Neal, arguably the biggest force in the NBA since Michael Jordan's heyday, but the team also lost championship coach Phil Jackson. What was left was a team created to feature Mr. Bryant, who was simultaneously fighting a rape charge in Colorado. Team officials hoped the 26-year-old Mr. Bryant, seven years younger than Shaq, would be a better long-term solution for the franchise.

Last year, the young guard indirectly complained about Shaq's work ethic, suggesting perhaps the game had passed him by. But with Mr. O'Neal helping to lead his new team, Miami, toward the top spot in the Eastern Conference, maybe it's Mr. Bryant who has been bypassed?

Around the Horn

· This year's NCAA men's basketball tournament was enough for UConn's Charlie Villanueva and Utah's Andrew Bogut. Both sophomores could have jumped into the NBA as 18-year-olds two years ago, but both decided to play in the college ranks for a few seasons. The college seasoning seems to have especially helped Mr. Bogut, who was the top vote getter on this year's AP All-American team .

· Was the Steel Curtain reinforced by steroids? New Orleans Saints coach and former player Jim Haslett says he took steroids during his playing days in the early 1980s. Mr. Haslett, who also played linebacker for the Saints, says it was the Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the mid- to late-1970s that brought steroids into fashion in the NFL. Steve Courson, a part-time starter on the 1979 championship Steelers team, admits he used steroids, but says players like Jack Ham and Jack Lambert refused to use the drugs.

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