Thursday, June 29, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Miles to go: Prep star hopes to be next Garnett

Chicago Tribune

NBA scouts figure Darius Miles is more likely to develop into another Kevin Garnett than another Leon Smith.

The 6-foot-9 phenom from East St. Louis, Ill., is making the quantum leap from the high-school ranks to professional basketball, as Garnett has done so seamlessly.

Smith, the talented but troubled King High (Chicago) forward, encountered criminal, psychological and social problems last season in his quest to bypass the college experience after signing with the Dallas Mavericks.

"Leon is a great person - I know him," Miles said. "Leon is one of the greatest persons I know. My mom even loves Leon. My mom sat down and talked to him for a long, long time."

Smith, who was shuttled from various foster homes as a child, did not have the stable upbringing that Miles has learned to appreciate.

"Leon just didn't have anybody like my mom," Miles said. "My mom is real strict and she makes sure I do the right thing. If my mom had been with Leon instead of with me, I think Leon would still be in the NBA. Leon would be doing good."

To counter any off-court problems he might run into as an NBA teenager, Miles already has a plan.

"Wherever I go, I'm going to move my mom and my little cousin. It really is going to feel like I'm at home," Miles said. "I'm not too much of a fancy-type person. Really, I just stay in the house most of the time."

Miles has impressed scouts with his multifaceted game.

Michael Jordan, the Washington Wizards' director of basketball operations, said he would select Miles No. 1. Unfortunately for the Wizards, they didn't have a first-round pick, and the Los Angeles Clippers selected Miles yesterday with the No. 3 overall pick. Jordan compares Miles' game to Garnett's, and Miles says the comparison is not unfounded.

"To me, my game is exactly like Kevin's," he said. "I pattern my game off of Kevin. I've been watching him since he was in high school."

Because he's so young, Miles expects the Clippers to be patient with him, as Minnesota was with Garnett.

"I don't think the team that gets me is going to expect me to make the next `50 Greatest Players' list," he said before the draft. "I think they will like to see if my game can be like Kevin Garnett's. And if I can go higher and higher every year. I think that's what they are looking at me for."

Smith's unfortunate and aborted transition to the NBA does not appear to be a deterrent in the league's assessment of Miles.

Miles' leaping ability, adeptness at handling the basketball and shifty inside moves make him a high-potential player. He signed a letter-of-intent with St. John's, but the scouts' assessments of him changed his plans.

"A lot of NBA teams liked my style of play and my versatility," Miles said. "I probably wouldn't have come out if teams hadn't told me that I would probably be a lottery pick.

"I didn't think about turning pro until after all the all-star games. All the NBA scouts were at the games and they were saying: `Yeah, he's a lottery pick.' "

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