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Sunday, June 16, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mister Basketball -- True Confession: I Admit I Didn't Vote For Kemp -- Future Sonic Was Super Then, Too

Louisville Courier-Journal

It is time for a public confession. I can carry the shame of my secret no longer.

I hereby admit it: I did not vote for Shawn Kemp for Indiana Mr. Basketball in 1988.

I voted for the immortal Woody Austin of Richmond High School, and I had company. Austin actually won that year, in what should be remembered as one of the most grievous group gaffes in the gaffe-intensive history of voting on sports awards.

It's right down there with Brigham Young being voted the 1984 football national championship. Or Miami's Gino Torretta winning the 1992 Heisman Trophy when he was the third-best QB in his own state (behind Florida State's Charlie Ward and Florida's Shane Matthews).

I wasn't an accomplice in those historic miscarriages of justice. I'm guilty with Kemp.

Now that we've seen him putting up a fight against the Chicago Bulls in the National Basketball Association Finals, there's no remaining reason to deny it.

Austin, a fine player in comparison to the mainstream, reportedly is living an unremarkable life in Indianapolis. Kemp is living large as one of the best dozen basketball players on the planet.

And, yes, he was the best Hoosier senior in 1988.

My admission elicited a hearty chuckle from Jim Hahn, Kemp's former coach at Concord High in Elkhart, Ind.

"I knew who the best player in the state was," said Hahn, now in business in Elkhart. "I think it's obvious."

As obvious as a Kemp tomahawk dunk. It was obvious when he averaged 15 points a game at age 21, obvioua when he was named an NBA All-Star at age 24 and obvious as he has led the Sonics to the Finals at age 26.

Austin matriculated to Purdue and did go on to score 1,076 more college points than Kemp, who never got to hear Dick Vitale scream his name. Kemp, however, has gone on to score 9,794 more NBA points than Austin, who took his 11.6 scoring average for the Boilermakers into relative obscurity.

(In fact, he's not even the most famous Woody Austin in sports. That honor would go to the up-and-coming professional golfer.)

I do have a few flimsy excuses for thinking like Mr. Potato Head when voting for Mr. Basketball:

-- Austin averaged 33.2 points per game, 10 better than Kemp, and his Red Devils were ranked No. 1 much of the season.

-- I hadn't seen Kemp play until after I'd voted.

The last part was the fatal flaw in the Indiana High School Athletic Association system (since changed). Votes were in before the Final Four, where I first laid eyes on Kemp. Wow.

It took just a few screaming slams and ballistic blocked shots in the semifinals against Hammond Noll before I was ready to ask for a new ballot. His team was whipped in the finals by Muncie Central, however, and the best player on the floor that night was Muncie's Chandler Thompson. So there was still a shred of plausible deniability.

But a few weeks later, I saw Kemp on an all-star team against a Russian team in Lexington, Ky. That display was a revelation. He looked almost as good as he does now.

Kemp was hurt by a couple of other things in the Mr. Basketball voting: He had a rep as a hot dog, he had a hard-edged public persona and he committed the heresy of signing with Kentucky over Indiana.

"I've said that if the award is that petty and that's what people look at, where you're going to school, then maybe it isn't worth having," said Hahn, who keeps in contact with Kemp and went to see the first two games of the Finals in Chicago. "I do think it's a great award and most years it goes to the best player. But I felt that year was unfair."

Agreed, eight years too late. Today, I'd say the five best prep players I've seen are Kemp, Anfernee Hardaway, Damon Bailey, Jerry Stackhouse and Jason Kidd.

I don't think Austin makes the cut.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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