Outlaw comes to town
• Blazers' top pick is far from home, but not from his family and its values
This is a brave new world for Travis Outlaw.
Everything is bigger, faster, scarier than it was it Starkville, Miss., which the 18-year-old left behind last week for the jungle otherwise known as the Portland Trail Blazers.
Outlaw is not physically ready for the NBA. The Blazers' No. 1 draft choice, measured this week at 6-7 and 203 pounds, is built like a flagpole with legs. He's never lifted weights. Nor has he shaved. Someday, peach fuzz will turn to stubble and he'll have to buy a razor, but it won't happen tomorrow.
Outlaw is a soft-spoken, aw-shucks country kid who wears horn-rimmed glasses and lacks the sophistication of some NBA players and street smarts of others. But he has one thing going for him that the majority of NBA players don't: a strong family structure. His parents, John and Markeeta Outlaw, have raised him right, in the Baptist faith, with respect for authority. He still calls his father 'Daddy.' He knows the difference between right and wrong.
If he can develop physically, Outlaw should be an asset to the Blazers, because he is not a flawed young man as are so many who enter the league.
'It is going to take time,' cautions John Outlaw, assistant chief of the Starkville Police Department and a grizzly of a man at 6-6 and 300 pounds. 'I just have to give him time, y'all have to give him time, give him encouragement, and understand there are going to be some mistakes. That's part of growing up.'
John Outlaw acknowledges that his eyebrows went up when he learned that Portland intended to take his son in last month's draft. This is a team with a rap sheet as thick as a big-city phone book and a reputation like Enron's. Travis might as well have been sentenced to Sing Sing.
'It concerned me greatly,' John Outlaw says. 'It smacks you in the face, that you have a lot of guys who may be getting into trouble. It was the first thing my wife and I talked about, that we are putting him in an environment where if he steps too far to the left, there is going to be trouble, and if he steps too far to the right, there could be trouble, too.
'Sometimes Travis asks me questions, like, 'Daddy, how would I handle this if it came up?' I tell him, in life, there are going to be a lot of people placed beside you. It's like with the Blazers. You don't have to be buddies with them, but you are teammates. When you are on the floor, you do everything possible to help them. When you leave the floor, you go on home and get ready for the next day. He has to learn you say no to certain things. You don't stick your nose up at anybody, but you encourage them to do what is right and go on.'
John Outlaw Jr., Travis' 25-year-old brother, will alternate with his father living with Travis for a while in Portland, 'to give him a little push-start,' Markeeta Outlaw says. 'But Travis has to take care of Travis. If he remembers what he's been taught, he should be OK.'
How is Outlaw right now as a player?
'He is long, he has some skills, he is very raw,' says ex-Blazer Jerome Kersey, who spent the four days before the minicamp working with him. 'He has to get stronger, get his physical conditioning up. This is a vast learning period for him. I told him: 'You have to pay attention to detail. It's not high school anymore.' '
After the first minicamp workout, coach Maurice Cheeks says he sees Outlaw as a natural small forward who can handle the ball and shoot and might be ready to contribute in his third NBA season.
Outlaw's biggest goal is to gain some respect this season. 'When they see me, if they say, 'He can play,' that would be cool,' he says.
Notes: The Blazers' summer league team leaves tonight for Salt Lake City and the Rocky Mountain Revue, with the first of its six games set for Saturday. Zach Randolph, Qyntel Woods and Ruben Boumtje Boumtje lead a Blazer team that also includes Josh Davis (Salem Academy, Wyoming), David Jackson (Wilson High, Oregon), Ime Udoka (Portland State) and second-round draft pick Nedzad Sinanovic. É Randolph, who turned 22 on Wednesday, could have skipped the summer session, 'but I just want to get better, and this is the way to do it,' he says. 'What is wrong with playing and trying to get myself better?'
Blazer coaches intend to give their young players, including Woods, more opportunity for minutes next season. 'It is going to be real exciting to come into the preseason knowing you will probably get a little more playing time,' says Woods, 22, a 6-8 swing man who has divided his summer between his native Memphis, Tenn., and Atlanta. 'I have been working on my all-around game, especially my shooting and ballhandling, because (coaches) say I might have to play a little bit at the point next season.' É Boumtje Boumtje is a free agent, but with Arvydas Sabonis evidently retiring, the 7-1 native of Cameroon might be back. 'It is a big summer for him,' Cheeks says. 'He has a shot-blocking quality we don't have, and we could use that ability. The key for him is, you have to put it all together in a 5-on-5 situation.'
Free-agent guard Antonio Daniels' agent, Tony Dutt, has been in contact with at least eight teams, including Cleveland, Houston, Milwaukee, Seattle, Orlando, Boston, Miami and Philadelphia. 'I would love to stay in Portland, to have a chance to make an impact, but I would be a fool to come back and go through what I went through last year,' Daniels says. 'There was just no place for me, and I never was able to find a rhythm.'
A youth movement, rebuilding process and belt tightening could mean free agent Scottie Pippen will sign elsewhere. Pippen was impressed with the Memphis Grizzlies after meeting this week with majority owner Michael Heisley. É Mark Warkentien, who has headed the Blazers' scouting department for the last five years as the assistant general manager under Bob Whitsitt, will return next season, though new President Steve Patterson isn't sure in what capacity. Most of the scouting staff also will be back for at least another year. É Cheeks says he's glad to get a look at Sinanovic, 20, a Bosnian who measured out at 7-2 and 222 pounds. É Patterson intends to meet with ex-Blazer Chris Dudley, who retired this summer after a 16-year playing career, to determine if there is a spot for him in the team's front office. É Udoka played with North Charleston in the U.S. Developmental League last season. The 6-5 swing man hopes to catch on with the Blazers or get noticed by another team in the NBA or Europe during the Rocky Mountain Revue.