Waiting game begins

Former West Virginia basketball standouts Kevin Pittsnogle (left) and Mike Gansey have gone through all the workouts leading up to tonight’s NBA draft in New York. Both have been projected as high as late first-round selections.

It’s been a while since a West Virginia University Mountaineer was drafted into the NBA and then also went on to play in the league.

The last WVU player selected was forward Gordon Malone, who went in the second round (44th overall) to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1997. However, the last Mountaineer to play in the NBA was guard Lowes Moore with the San Diego Clippers in 1983.

That’s the history that both Kevin Pittsnogle and Mike Gansey stare down tonight when the 2006 NBA draft begins at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Pittsnogle led the Mountaineers in scoring at 19.3 points per game and added 5.5 rebounds, earning first team all-Big East honors. He was named to the John Wooden All-American team and was tabbed a third-team All-American by the NABC. The 6-11 center finished his career as the sixth-leading scorer in school history with 1,708 points and as WVU’s all-time leading three-point shooter with 253.

Gansey averaged 16.8 ppg in 2006 and earned first-team all-Big East honors. The 6-4 guard shot 42.9 percent from 3-point range and 55 percent overall. Gansey joined Pittsnogle on the all-Big East first team.

Both have been projected as high as late first-round picks.

o As Andrea Bargnani told a curious media contingent about himself Tuesday, Tyrus Thomas sat a few feet away and was asked what he knew about the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

“I don’t know much, but I hear he’s a great player though,” Thomas said. “He has to be a good player to be here.”

Texas forward LaMarcus Aldridge is the other player prominently mentioned as the one who could be called first by NBA commissioner David Stern on Wednesday night. Surely, he must know something about his chief competition.

“I’ve talked to him and I’ve seen he’s a great person,” Aldridge said. “But I don’t know anything about his game.”

Bargnani is the biggest reason there seem to be more questions than usual so close to the draft. But even if his future rivals don’t know him, he isn’t a mystery to the Toronto Raptors or other teams with high picks.

Speculation has focused on the 20-year-old forward from Italy since the Raptors won the draft lottery in May. Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo seemed to send a strong indication recently that the Raptors were leaning that way when he hired former Benetton Treviso executive Maurizio Gherardini, whose team Bargnani played for, as his new assistant.

Colangelo said Tuesday that though he had received phone calls inquiring about the pick, he expected to hold onto Toronto’s first opportunity to choose first.

“At this point, it seems to be that we are more or less locked in at the No. 1 spot,” Colangelo said. “It’s the day before the draft, and it appears we will utilize the pick.

“The offers that we received were not in the caliber that we felt it required to move the pick.”

Listed at 6-foot-10 and 225 pounds, Bargnani has drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki because of his outside shooting skills. He shot 37 percent from 3-point range in Italy’s Lega A this season.

“People ask me about why a big guy plays outside,” Bargnani said. “I always play outside since I was young because my coach told me to play outside.”

But in the draft preview in the NBA finals program, the NBA players Bargnani was compared to are Rashard Lewis, Vladimir Radmanovic and Hedo Turkoglu.

Not exactly No. 1 pick material — adding to the reason there is so much confusion.

“Usually at this point you’d have a definitive 1-2-3 where, in some order, these three guys will be gone,” said Kevin McHale, Minnesota vice president of basketball operations. “The guys they are talking about being No. 1 easily could be there at No. 6. It is very muddled.”

Bargnani and Aldridge are the players most frequently pegged for the top spot, though LSU’s Thomas and Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison also have been mentioned. Washington’s Brandon Roy and Connecticut swingman Rudy Gay also likely will be gone after the top few choices.

The players aren’t the only ones in the dark. Even teams in the lower half of the lottery have no idea who will be available when it’s their turn to pick.

“Usually, by this time, you’ve got a pretty good idea about who will be there,” said Houston GM Carroll Dawson, whose team picks eighth. “It’s not like that this year.”

Chicago follows Toronto with the pick it acquired from New York in the Eddy Curry trade, then Charlotte goes third with its first selection since Michael Jordan came aboard. Portland, Atlanta, Minnesota and Boston are next, and Golden State and Seattle round out the top 10.

The Bulls also pick 16th, joining the Trail Blazers, Nets, Suns and Knicks with two picks in the first round. Isiah Thomas will select 20th and 29th for New York, two days after he was warned by Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan that he has one year to show progress or lose his job now that he has added the coaching responsibilities.

“It’s a very interesting draft because we really don’t have a great feel of what’s happening above us,” Thomas said. “A lot of teams are talking trades and really haven’t settled on the direction they’re going to go.”

UConn is expecting a big night, with Marcus Williams and Hilton Armstrong potentially joining Gay in the lottery and three other Huskies possibly going later.

And even if the top of the draft may not be settled, the depth at the bottom could make it a strong one.

“There’s no definitive No. 1 pick, but there are a lot of guys out there who are eventually going to play in the league,” said Marty Blake, the NBA’s director of scouting. “I’m more excited about this one than any in maybe the last 15 years. It’s very deep. I think it’s very exciting.”

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