Bryant: James Must Make His Own Decision On Going Pro

By RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - Kobe Bryant can't really comprehend what it must be like to be 17-year-old high school star LeBron James.

Bryant, who jumped directly from high school to the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, said appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior -- as James did last week -- might have short-circuited his career.

"I never would have gone to class," Bryant said with a laugh.

James, a 6-foot-7 junior at Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, was on the cover of last week's Sports Illustrated under the heading, "The Chosen One."

The article dealt with the incredible hype surrounding James, last year's Mr. Basketball in Ohio for the two-time defending state champions.

Bryant's teammate, Shaquille O'Neal, caused a sensation Wednesday night when he arrived in Ohio early and watched James play in Canton. James finished with 33 points, six rebounds and six assists in a 77-66 victory over Cleveland's Orange High School.

"The kid is great. He deserves all the rankings he gets. Right now, he is the best at this level," O'Neal told the (Canton) Repository.

"He is better than most college players," he added. "He could probably play in the NBA, but I think another year here will do him and his body well before that happens. He's very talented."

James said O'Neal's presence inspired him to put on a show.

"I looked up at him a couple of times, and he gave me a look like it was time to take over, and I did that in the third quarter," James said.

The Lakers played the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night, and James was expected to attend. He visited briefly with Michael Jordan when Washington played at Cleveland last month.

James has said he would consider making a legal challenge to join the NBA after his junior year of high school. At the same time, he is keeping his options open. Most people think he will join the NBA draft after he graduates from high school, but he also has a list of five prospective colleges: Duke, Florida, Louisville, North Carolina and Ohio State.

Bryant said the decision was a personal one, and his jump to the NBA after graduating from a Pennsylvania high school was the right move for him.

"For me, what better experience are you going to get than coming to the NBA?" Bryant said.

Cavaliers coach John Lucas worked with Bryant and with former NBA center Moses Malone when both were in high school. Lucas hasn't yet seen James play.

"I know he's awfully, awfully good," Lucas said. "I know what it is to be a young player and to have all that talent and all of that attention on you, too."

Bryant has some advice for James if he asks whether he should make the move.

"Do what you want. If you want to go to college you'll be able to learn a lot, I guess. I don't know. People tell me it's a great experience going to college. You miss out on keg parties and things like that," Bryant said, smiling. "But if you come to the NBA, you have to be ready to sacrifice. It might not be a business for you, but it's a business from other people's perspective."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)