Draft Tales: Kenny Gattison and the NBA Scout
Kenny Gattison shakes his head and smiles when he thinks about the mistake that, he says, “kicked me from the first round to the third round.”
“Now being older and wiser, [I know] I should have done it differently,” Gattison said.
What he did was try to make a point, though it was attempted toward the person every draft prospect in the 1980s wanted on his side.
Marty Blake was the NBA Director of Scouting Services, a talent evaluator dubbed by many as the “Godfather of the NBA Draft.” He unearthed talents from the least likely of places, including Scottie Pippen (Central Arkansas) and Karl Malone (Louisiana Tech).
Gattison didn’t know Marty Blake. Unfortunately, the opposite was also true.
“A coach and friend of mine, he knew some NBA people,” Gattison explained. “He told me ‘all the NBA guys take Marty Blake out, wine and dine him, want to get his opinion. Marty Blake doesn’t know who you are.’ Of course, being young, I kind of took offense. I was supposed to be a pretty good player.”
That was certainly true. Gattison had been named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the year in 1986 after averaging 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.0 steals per contest while shooting a ridiculous 63.7 percent from the field. His career rebounding numbers at Old Dominion still rank second in conference history.
It had to be a mistake that Marty Blake didn’t know about Kenny Gattison. At least that was the 6-9 big man’s train of thought.
“I decided that I was going to see if Marty Blake knew who I was,” he said.
Gattison got his chance at the weigh-in portion of a college All-Star game held in North Carolina. Blake was getting the official numbers after calling each player to the scale individually, so the soon-to-be Suns forward knew his chance was coming.
“Kenny Gattison, get on the scale so we can do height and weight,” came the call from Blake.
The long-time scout had no clue Gattison was standing right beside him. His cluelessness continued, because Gattison purposefully kept quiet.
A second call. “Kenny Gattison, where are you?”
Gattison’s deep southern voice carried a hint of humor when he finally answered.
“I’m right here, Mr. Blake. I just wanted to see you knew who I was,” he said quietly. Old Dominion’s star player thought his point had been made. The next day, however, the point was made to him when the same friend (who was a coach) helped Gattison realize the kind of impression he’d made – and the potential consequences it would bring.
“I don’t know what you did to Marty Blake, but he can’t stand you,” the coach moaned. “You will not be drafted in the first two rounds. Before yesterday, you’d have been a first-round pick. You will not get drafted in the first two rounds. He will see to that.”
Gattison was flabbergasted. Surely the opinion of someone from the sideline wasn’t going to outweigh the numbers and effort he put on the court.
“Does he have that much power?” Gattison asked, bewildered.
It dawned on the coach just how little his small-town friend (Gattison grew up in Wilmongton, N.C.) knew about the politics of NBA circles.
“You really don’t know who Marty Blake is, do you?” he asked.
Gattison was blunt.
“I’ve never heard of the guy.”
In response, the coach could only shake his head before saying, “You know him now.”
Gattison knew his friend hadn’t been lying about the reputation of Marty Blake, so he kept his activities on draft day as low-key as possible. While future stars such as Brad Daugherty, Mark Price and Dennis Rodman heard their names called in the first round, Gattison stayed away from the television and even the house.
“I think I might have been out fishing or something on Draft Day,” he said. “The guy had told me I wasn’t going to be picked in the first two rounds. Why was I going to watch it?”
Sure enough, Gattison’s name went unannounced until the third round, when he was selected by the Phoenix Suns with the 55th overall pick.
The newest Sun wasn’t even sure where his first NBA job was on the map.
“I was a football guy. Still am to this day. Phoenix?” Gattison laughed. “It’s got to be close to Dallas or somewhere over there. I had to get a map out and I’m like, ‘good Lord, who plays out there?’ Then I look at the roster – Larry Nance, Walter Davis – those were some North Carolina, South Carolina guys. I watched those guys play.”
Less than a month into his rookie season, Gattison ran into Blake for the first time since that fateful All-Star game. The Suns rookie had just polished off his most encouraging performance as a rookie after scoring eight points in just 14 minutes in a 14-point win for Phoenix at Atlanta.
After the game, Gattison saw Blake in the visiting locker room.
“Of course, I knew who he was now,” he remembers with a laugh.
Blake, however, was far from irritated with the player whose draft stock he’d affected so heavily. In fact, he was apologetic.
“Gattison, I made a big mistake about you,” Blake declared. “You’re going to be a fine pro.”
The Suns forward remained true to his honest and good-natured ways with his reply.
“Marty, your mistake ain’t cost you as much as it cost me!” Gattison laughed.