LOS ANGELES, Feb. 19 (AP) -- Andrew Bynum had just completed a 14-point, 11-rebound performance against San Antonio, and Spurs star Tim Duncan was properly impressed, saying the Lakers' center showed great promise for a 20-year-old.

When informed Bynum had recently turned 19, Duncan's eyes widened.

"Nineteen? That should be illegal,'' he said, shaking his head.

Duncan isn't the only one impressed with Bynum, who was supposed to ease into his professional career until the Lakers deemed him ready to contribute. Outside of a Kobe Bryant here and a LeBron James there, that's how it works with high schoolers entering the NBA.

But injuries to Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown accelerated the process, and while Bynum hasn't exactly burst into stardom, the NBA's youngest player has done a fine job.

"I think he's improved a lot from the beginning of the season,'' Bryant said. "The toughest thing is being at the top of your game every night. I can relate to it.''

The Lakers took Bynum with the 10th overall pick in the 2005 draft, and were criticized on some quarters since their 34-48 record the previous season made it seem like they needed immediate help.

Nobody's knocking them now, because the 7-foot, 285-pounder has the tools to become an outstanding player.

"He can be as good as he wants to be,'' said Bryant, who went from high school to the Lakers in 1996 and averaged 15.4 points in his second season. "He has a great stroke, all the physical tools. His wing span is enormous. It just depends on him.''

Bynum became the youngest player to appear in an NBA game at 18 years and 6 days on Nov. 2, 2005, and wound up averaging 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in 46 games as a rookie.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson pointed to Bynum's improvement in training camp last October, but with Mihm and Brown around, he still figured to mostly sit and watch. But an injured ankle has kept Mihm sidelined all season and Brown has played in only 24 games because of injuries. He isn't expected back until sometime next month.

That opened the door for Bynum, who has played in all 54 games with 37 starts and is averaging 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 22.5 minutes.

"I definitely was ready for this,'' said Bynum, who comes across as confident but not cocky. "Sitting on the bench last year was kind of annoying. You're here, but you're not really part of it.''

He is now.

Bynum smiled when informed of Duncan's remarks.

"I've always felt I belonged here,'' he said. "That just has to do with putting in hard work, believing in yourself, believing in the people around you.''

That would include his mother, Janet McCoy, and his 27-year-old brother, Corey Thomas, who moved to the Los Angeles area from the East Coast when Bynum began his NBA career.

"We had been hearing stories about what goes on behind the scenes. We wanted to be here,'' McCoy said. "He had just graduated from high school.''

McCoy isn't surprised by her son's success.

"People are amazed by his improvement. I'm not,'' she said. "In basketball, ever since he began playing, he's improved every year. I expect that to continue. I think he's dedicated to anything he wants to do.

"I've never had a problem with him - he's always been a good kid. I had to spank his brother more than Andrew.''

Former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's career leading scorer, has worked with Bynum since he turned pro. The relationship has worked, as evidenced by what they say about each other and some of Bynum's moves on the court.

"I think he's responding well to getting increased playing time,'' Abdul-Jabbar said. "Game experience is something he really needed badly. He's definitely improved.

"He's a great kid, good work ethic, understands he doesn't know everything. That's the most important part of it.''

Bynum said he's constantly trying to pick Abdul-Jabbar's brain.

"He's somebody who's been through everything,'' Bynum said. "I've played basketball my whole life, but I wasn't a history buff. From watching NBA Classics, I realize just how good he was.''

Bryant said he's come to appreciate Bynum's technological skills.

"He's a pretty computer savvy guy,'' Bryant said. "If I have any trouble with my iPod, I go to him. He's a real bright young man.''

Said Bynum: "He asks me where I get music from. I told him about a Web site.''

Bynum said on road trips, he often spends time playing video games with several of his teammates. And, he said, he's in touch with his mother and brother at home just about every day - just as a typical 19-year-old might be.

"Two or three of his teammates have come over to the house and played video games, pingpong,'' his mother said.

Bynum said he's never regretted turning professional at such a young age.

"I'm still going to further my education during the summertime,'' he said. "There's nobody better to learn from than the people I have around.''


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