Ivan Chiriav: Better Than Dwight Howard?

Ivan Chiriav is a mystery man. He's a 7-1 native of Russia who is wowing college coaches and NBA scouts that make the trek to Canada. Five schools are in good shape if he decides to pass on the NBA - as he says he'll do if he's not one of the top three picks in next year's draft.

When the conversation comes up about who is the No. 1 high school basketball player in the U.S., there is really little debate. However, Dwight Howard may get a run for his money if you add Canada to the equation.

Remember this name: Ivan Chiriav.

He's a 7-1, 237-pound native of St. Petersburg, Russia, who has put on more than 60 pounds since arriving in Ontario last December.

While most college coaches already have him pegged for the NBA after the 19-year-old finishes his prep career at St. Thomas Aquinas (Oakville, Ontario) and NBADraft.net has him projected being taken seventh overall by Memphis in next year's draft, Chiriav says he'll be on some college campus if he's not expected to be one of the top three picks.

``Then I'll go to college," Chiriav said. "Because when you're a really high draft pick, you have more opportunity to play. You are on a pretty bad team, but have more chance to play – and that's the goal."

While Chiriav admits that he doesn't exactly have a school list and doesn't even have the proper documentation to leave the country and take official visits, a few colleges have made the trip north to get a first-hand look at the Dirk Nowitzki clone.

If there is a top five list, according to sources close to the situation, it reads as follows: Kentucky, LSU, Florida, Memphis and Iowa State. Tubby Smith, Billy Donovan and John Brady are a trio of head coaches who have seen him in person.

``He's so skilled it's incredible," said one D-1 coach who watched him play. "This 7-1 guy comes down the court dribbling between his legs like a point guard, knocking down the 18-footer and he has a great understanding of the game."

``I play anywhere from point guard to center," Chiriav added. "But I'm more comfortable anywhere from point guard to small forward."

The confident Chiriav, who is often shooting at a court outside his uncle's house in Ontario until past midnight, said that the comparisons to Nowitzski aren't justified.

``I can be better," he said matter-of-factly. "He can't play point guard."

Lorne Clark, who runs hooprecruits.ca, works with Chiriav daily and says he's as good as advertised. Maybe better..

``He's in the same class as Dwight Howard and Josh Smith," Clark said. "But the difference between Ivan and Dwight is that Ivan is a legitimate wing player and not a block guy."

The biggest concern is whether or not Chiriav's game will stack up against other elite players. No one really knows yet, since he faces weak competition in Canada and wasn't allowed to leave the country this past summer for AAU competition.

``He has NBA talent written all over him," said Ro Russell, a summer-league coach who started a prep school in Canada this year. "He can handle it, shoot it and has perimeter skills. However, I haven't seen him play a lot of competition."

``I understand why people say that. It's true, but it's not every day you find a 7-1 guard," Chiriav said. "This whole summer I practiced with Carl English and he's an NBA player."

The jury will remain out until fans in the U.S. get a glimpse of Chiriav. That could come, according to the well-spoken Russian who will ink a deal with Nike, at next April's Jordan Capital Classic.

But a better bet is that the first time fans in this country will get their first look at Chiriav is on June 24, 2004, when David Stern welcomes him to the NBA.

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