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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 06/25/2011 3:41 PM

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Men's Basketball
Lighty Snub Shows Why NBA Has it Wrong
By Brandon Castel

According to the new NBA way of thinking, Ater Majok is a better pro prospect than David Lighty.

Majok is the same player who averaged 2.3 points and three rebounds per game in his one season at Connecticut. After not playing in the first eight games of the 2009-10 season, Majok had a career game against Marquette in late January, scoring seven points and seven rebounds.

He would play just one season with the Huskies before turning pro, but not with the NBA. Majok initially signed to play in the Turkish league, but his stay lasted only seven games. From there, he took his game to Australia, where he bounced around between a handful of teams.

Apparently that was all the Los Angeles Lakers needed to see. They used one of their second round picks, No. 58 overall, to select the 23-year old Sudanese big man in the 2011 NBA Draft Thursday night.

Two picks later the draft was over, leaving players like David Lighty, Ben Hansbrough, Jacob Pullen, Kalin Lucas and Matt Howard to fend for themselves in free agency. That actually might work out O.K. for some of these guys, who will get a chance to find the situation that fits them best, but it is still baffling how the Lakers could see more benefit in drafting someone like Majok than these heroes of March.

That is not an attack on Majok, who does have some potential as an athletic 6-11 big man who can block shots, but it is absolutely an attack on the system that left a lot of good players hurting on Thursday night.

One player who could have easily been subjected to a similar fate was former Ohio State sharp-shooter Jon Diebler. Instead, the school’s all-timer leader in threes was snagged by the Portland Trailblazers with 51st pick in the draft.

Jon Diebler
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jon Diebler

“I feel great right now. This has been a result of many hours in the gym and lots of hard work. It's another step and goal I've been trying to accomplish,” Diebler said.

“I've been blessed with a healthy high school and college career. This is an exciting time for my brothers, my parents, my high school coaches, the Ohio State staff and all my former teammates.”

It was a different kind of night for friends and family of David Lighty, who watched 30 teams pass on the Ohio State senior, including his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Just when it looked like Lighty might be ready to come off the board, the Cavs used the 54th pick to select Serbian forward Milan Macvan instead.

The blowback from his former teammates and coaches was instantaneous, with one OSU assistant denouncing nearly three decades of Cavaliers fanhood. Although Lighty is a native of Cleveland, having played for Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School, the Cavaliers had no more obligation to draft him than the Lakers did when they opted for Majok. It would have made for a great feel-good story, and the fans in Cleveland would have loved it, but their job is to win basketball games.

David Lighty
Photo by Jim Davidson
David Lighty

Therein lies the biggest problem with the new NBA way of thinking—it doesn’t make any sense. If their job is to win basketball games, both now and in the future, than makes little sense to draft Majok or Macvan over Lighty.

David Lighty is a proven winner. He has played in the NCAA national championship game and two Sweet 16’s along with winning an NIT championship.  He averaged 12 points, four rebounds and 3.3 assists per game during his college career, but was never the kind of player to be defined by his stats.

Much like Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio State’s MVP on the football field last season, Lighty was a heart guy. A glue guy. His biggest contributions were in practice and the locker room, although he could also take over games the way he did against George Mason in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

He is athletic enough to get to the rim and his jump shot improved tremendously over the course of his college career, but there’s no argument against the fact Lighty is limited offensively. He has a history of injury problems, including a broken bone in his foot that cost him nearly an entire season.

Yet Lighty’s value to a team like the Lakers far out-measures that of a project like Majok. At the very least, he will improve the quality of every practice with his defense, intensity, focus and desire to win. Even Kobe Bryant could appreciate that.

Instead, the Lakers, Cavaliers and many other teams followed the all-too familiar trend of the NBA. They decided they were better off stashing a long-term project away in Europe somewhere for 2-3 years than grabbing a guy like Lighty who could come in an contribute right away.

Guys like Bojan Bogdanovic, Davis Bertans, Chukwudiebere Maduabum (the Lakers other second round pick), Targuy Ngombo and Adam Hanga are now hearing their names called on draft day despite the fact only three European-born players (Nowitski, Gasol and Okur) have been named to NBA all-star teams in the last five years.

Maybe that way teams can justify all the money they are spending on overseas scouting, but it’s shame players like Lighty are the ones who really end paying for it.

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