Kwame, Ovie, and Now Strasburg
"I could be a bust....I'm in no better position than the guy who gets picked 20th tonight. There is pressure on me now because of being chosen first." -- Kwame Brown, the night he was drafted No. 1 overall
"If you are second, you are second. If you are first, you are first. I always want to be first." -- Alex Ovechkin, the night he was drafted No. 1 overall
Washington's history with No. 1 overall picks is similar to its history with world championships: scant.
Before they became the Bullets/Wizards, the Chicago Packers/Zephyrs franchise took Walt Bellamy No. 1 overall (in '61) and Billy McGill No. 1 overall (in '62), but they don't really count. The Redskins grabbed Alabama RB Harry Gilmer No. 1 overall in 1948, and Syracuse RB Ernie Davis No. 1 overall in December of '61, and while the former had a distinguished career, the latter was traded almost immediately to Cleveland.
The Caps drafted Greg Joly first overall in 1974, and Rick Green first overall in 1976, both before I was born. Joly was a minus-114 in two years with the expansion Caps before moving on to Detroit, and Green had a 15-year career, the first six of which he spent with Washington. D.C. United took Jason Moore with the first pick in the '99 college draft, Alecko Eskandarian with the first pick in the '03 SuperDraft, and Freddy Adu first overall the following year. None lasted more than four seasons at RFK.
But the guys Stephen Strasburg will be compared with are not named Bellamy, Gilmer, Joly or Eskandarian. D.C.'s trinity of modern-era superstar draft picks is named Brown, Ovechkin and Strasburg. The first failed, badly. The second succeeded, wildly. The third got picked by the Nats this evening, on a night when the team's scheduled draft party was foiled by a massive thunderstorm that kept the bleachers at Nats Park completely empty at the climactic moment.
A few brave fans with umbrellas and slickers peaked at the broadcast on the massive scoreboard as they trickled into the stadium, and others crammed the Red Porch. Mostly, the audience was ushers and security folks. A mild cheer could be heard inside the press box when the pick was made, and PR staffers instantly handed out a press release.
"We are thrilled to select someone with the special talents that Stephen possesses," Acting GM Mike Rizzo said in the release.
Strasburg's future is unknown, but on this night, here's a glance back at the equivalent moment for Brown and Ovechkin, who were also picked in the month of June, three years and one day apart.
June 27, 2001
Steve Wyche:: In an unprecedented and historic move, the Washington Wizards used the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft last night to select high school star Kwame Brown, a 19-year-old from Brunswick, Ga., who said he decided to skip college to help his family overcome financial difficulties.
No high school player had been taken first overall and no player directly from high school has ever played for the Wizards. But the franchise's long-term struggles prompted Michael Jordan, the president of basketball operations, to believe he "had to stick his neck out" and take the risk.
"We feel like we have a quality kid and his potential is unbelievable," Jordan said. "We don't know what this kid is capable of doing, that's the beauty of why we drafted him. We don't know. In a couple of years he may be a star."
Michael Wilbon: Anybody who tries to grade this draft the morning after, telling you who won and who lost, isn't playing with a full deck because there's no possible way to know. Here's all we know about Kwame Brown at the moment: He's big, athletic, skilled and seems very, very poised for a high school senior. "I've never been so nervous," he said, "and just . . . overwhelmed in my life."
But after a few moments, it was clear Brown had composed himself, and he presented himself as the nicest, chattiest high school kid you'd hope to meet. Down south they used to call a kid like Brown "introduce-able."
Asked how it feels to be compared to NBA all-star Kevin Garnett, who also skipped college for the NBA, Brown said, "If I was Garnett, I would be upset to be compared to a high school student." Asked about the distinction of being chosen first, he said, "I could be a bust. . . . I'm in no better position than the guy who gets picked 20th tonight. There is pressure on me now because of being chosen first, to be better than Kevin and to be better than Kobe" Bryant.
Thomas Boswell (a day later): Everyone wants to know who Kwame Brown will become someday. Let's stop wasting our time. Instead, consider who he already is. Someday, the first high school player ever picked first in the NBA draft may be an all-star for the Wizards. Yet such a feat may be less remarkable than what he's already achieved, and overcome, in 19 years....
Washington may have expected a tall child to arrive in the big city yesterday, green from the Georgia coast. Instead, Kwame Brown arrived with life lessons to teach as well as many a basketball trick to learn. The Wizards, and to a degree Washington, have a responsibility to mentor, not mangle, this young man. With time and work, he may be a basketball diamond. But, as a person, he's already something of a jewel.
June 26, 2004
Tarik El-Bashir: Three months of speculation ended Saturday when the Washington Capitals used their No. 1 overall pick in the NHL entry draft to select Russian forward Alexander Ovechkin, heralded by scouts and general managers as the best prospect since Mario Lemieux....
A 6-foot-2, 212-pound right-handed-shooting left wing, Ovechkin topped nearly every team's list as the best player available -- a fact evidenced by how often Capitals General Manager George McPhee's cell phone rang in the days and hours leading up to the draft. McPhee said he fielded inquiries from at least 15 teams, three with serious offers, including one Saturday morning. But it wasn't enough to dissuade him from hanging onto the pick, which was the first of the seven selections Washington made at RBC Center.
"We were lucky to win the lottery, and then to have a player of [Ovechkin's] ability sitting there," McPhee said. "He was number one on our list. He makes the difference in the big games."
Ovechkin said he wanted to be No. 1. "If you are second, you are second. If you are first, you are first," Ovechkin said. "I always want to be first. My mom and dad always said [whether] you play hockey or football, you always want to be first."
George Solomon: If any NHL team needed a shot in the arm it was the Washington Capitals....By winning the lottery to draft No. 1, the Capitals made a commitment to their fans and town Saturday by drafting 18-year-old Russian forward Alexander Ovechkin, considered by hockey experts the most exciting young player to come into the league in years.
And what's most startling was that Ovechkin seemed excited in front of the TV cameras about becoming a Capital and moving to Washington. A far cry from the midseason exodus of veterans -- led by Jaromir Jagr -- most of them exclaiming, "I'm free."
But that's history -- however recent -- and we look ahead at the addition of this 6-foot-2, 212-pound potential superstar whom owner Ted Leonsis envisions leading a younger, faster and less expensive version of the Capitals to heights reached by other modest-salaried teams such as the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
"He has a confidence and inner glow that radiates success," Leonsis said of Ovechkin in a telephone interview Saturday. "He has great individual talent, but his teammates love him. I hope he can be a leader for us."
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