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Standing at the free-throw line, Michael Jordan turned and winked at Keith Webster.
Jordan's unspoken confirmation that the Jazz's seventh-round draft pick blocked his shot cleanly, while being whistled for a foul, never would have happened in today's NBA. The league's annual draft next Thursday will last only two rounds, meaning Webster will remain the most recent Harvard graduate to be selected 30 years ago.
Asked if he would have enjoyed working in the 1980s when more than 200 players were taken in drafts that lasted seven or 10 rounds, Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin said, "Noooo. No, two is fine."
The NBA draft is now a prime-time, streamlined event. In the era when John Stockton and Karl Malone were picked, the draft started at mid-morning Utah time and lasted until the late afternoon.
The National Basketball Players Association bargained for a two-round draft in 1989, allowing more undrafted players to shop for the best opportunity. BYU's Eric Mika, Weber State's Jeremy Senglin and Utah State's Jalen Moore may become free-agent signees next week, after 60 players are drafted. Of the 50 players from Utah schools who drafted No. 61 or lower from 1954-87, only three played in the NBA: WSU's Justus Thigpen, BYU's Bernie Fryer and Utah's Greg Deane.
Yet being drafted offers some cachet, and the No. 53 jersey hanging in the Vivint Smart Home Arena rafters is a reminder that the Jazz once maximized a longer draft. They took UCLA center Mark Eaton in the fourth round in 1982, after he had played only 41 minutes for the Bruins in his senior season.
In a less productive move in 1977, the franchise (then based in New Orleans) had drafted a woman, Lusia Harris, a star at Delta State in Mississippi. Pregnancy kept her from attending the team's training camp, although she later became the second person associated with the Jazz to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, following Pete Maravich.
"Tip Off," a book devoted to the celebrated 1984 draft that included Stockton, credited former Jazz coach and general manager Frank Layden with drafting Harris. It does sound like something he would have done, but he didn't join the franchise until 1979, the year the Jazz moved to Utah.
Murray resident Barry Hecker managed drafts for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers in the '80s. Shown a list of names he drafted, he remembered some of them. "You didn't worry about those picks after the third round," he said.
In Cleveland in '85, he took Ricky Johnson from Illinois State in the sixth round. "Pretty sure he was a 7-footer," Hecker said. He missed by seven inches; Johnson was a 6-5 forward.
More distinguishable was Tim McCalister, a 2,000-point career scorer from Oklahoma. Hecker's Clippers took him in the third round in '87. "I loved him," Hecker said. "His sister was drop-dead beautiful. And he was a nice player."
So was Georgia's Chad Kessler, a fifth-rounder that year. Sixth-rounder Martin Nessley of Duke, Hecker recalled, was "a big, slow, white kid" and an actual 7-footer.
Hecker liked to reward his scouts by having them make the late-round picks. In Cleveland, he gave coach George Karl a seventh-round choice: Buzz Peterson from North Carolina, Karl's alma mater.
NBA teams always will find deserving players and give them tryouts, but the draft system of the old days (and the novelty of international players at the time) basically forced them to give them more opportunities to collegians and reward their coaches.
"The thing that I liked about the 10 rounds is you could do some favors," Layden said.
Webster was one of those concessions, as a son of Bridgeport (Conn.) University's longtime coach. The Jazz took him in the seventh and final round in 1987, No. 153 overall. Now a managing director for a wealth management firm in Los Angeles, Webster described his Jazz experience as "a little secret that I don't tell a lot of people."
The preseason stint is noted on his LinkedIn profile, though. When the subject comes up, Webster acknowledged, having once been drafted "holds a lot of prestige now" with only 60 players taken.
He eagerly shares stories from October 1987, when the 5-foot-11 point guard competed with veteran starter Rickey Green, Stockton, third-round pick Billy Donovan (now the Oklahoma City Thunder's coach) and free agent Eddie Hughes.
Webster remembers being able to defend Green reasonably well, but having trouble with Stockton, a backup entering his fourth season. His father, Bruce, was a guest coach in the Jazz's training camp and once told Webster, "You're playing great, but you just can't seem to get the best of that small, white guy."
Webster was consoled five years later when Stockton played for the Dream Team. Jordan already was famous. The shortened version of a detailed story Webster tells is he sneaked around and blocked Jordan's shot on a drive in a preseason game vs. Chicago in Pittsburgh, but a foul was called. Webster complained to the official that he got "all ball," and that's when Jordan turned and winked.
Webster already was working as a trust administrator for a bank in Connecticut. During the Jazz camp, one profile described him as "a John Elway lookalike" and quoted him saying, "I'm more secure than a lot of the people here. I have no nerves at all. … These guys are probably going for their livelihoods. I have something to fall back on."
He also said completing a Harvard economics degree was "not as tough as people make it out to be."
Webster then earned a master's degree in business from UCLA, where Eaton played after being discovered as an auto mechanic by a junior college coach in California. Tom Lubin later helped market Eaton to NBA teams, distributing a highlight tape. Layden likes to joke that the material consisted mostly of Eaton removing his warmup suit, but the Jazz did enough homework to determine they should give the 7-foot-4 center a shot.
UCLA's coaches "all said, 'This guy will work,' " Layden said.
Eaton, who went No. 82 overall, is by far the most distinguished Jazz player who wouldn't have been taken in a 60-player draft. Bobby Hansen, a third-round pick in 1983, went 54th in an era of fewer teams. The team's biggest undrafted success story, guard Wesley Matthews, played one season before signing with Portland as a restricted free agent. Now with Dallas, he's approaching his ninth NBA season.
Jazz draft discoveries
Notable players drafted by the New Orleans/Utah Jazz after the second round:
Year Player Round/pick School/country
1975 Aleksander Belov 10/161 Russia
1977 Lusia Harris 7/137 Delta State
1979 Greg Deane 4/67 Utah
1982 Mark Eaton 4/82 UCLA
1983 Bobby Hansen 3/54 Iowa
1987 Billy Donovan 3/68 Providence
They made it
Three players from Utah schools who were drafted No. 61 or lower played in the NBA:
Year Player School Round/pick Team
1969 Justus Thigpen Weber State 11/147 San Diego
1972 Bernie Fryer BYU 7/109 Phoenix
1979 Greg Deane Utah 4/67 Jazz
Other draftees from Utah schools
Year Player School Round/pick Team
1971 Ken Gardner Utah 5/82 Phoenix
1973 Kresimir Cosic BYU 5/84 L.A. Lakers
1973 Phil Tollestrup BYU 20/211 Buffalo
1974 Tyrone Medley Utah 5/79 Atlanta
1975 Rich Haws Utah State 9/155 Seattle
1980 Dean Hunger Utah State 4/84 Houston
1981 Steve Craig BYU 5/114 Philadelphia
1983 Tom Heywood Weber State 6/123 Golden State
1984 Bob Evans Southern Utah 7/154 Jazz
1986 Greg Grant Utah State 6/132 Detroit