Going back to Philly

It's the middle of rush in one of Philadelphia's highways and John Salmons admits it could be an hour or so before he reaches his destination. But Salmons doesn't sound rattled, calmly swatting away the thought of having to sit in traffic. Salmons isn't in a hurry. Never mind that the former University of Miami swingman is in high demand and a hot commodity these days all around the city of brotherly love.

His cellphone rings constantly with interview request from local newspapers, radio and television stations in addition to inquiries from media-types in South Florida. Strangers have been walking up to him to offer congratulatory handshakes or kisses. Others that he hasn't heard from in years are calling to give Salmons well wishes.

But despite being pulled in different directions as a result of being thrust into the spotlight, Salmons remains unnerved. Instead of shying away from all the attention, Salmons is soaking in it.

"It's all right man. Right now, I feel like the luckiest man on the planet," Salmons said. "It's already been a couple of days and I still find it hard to come up with words when people ask to describe what I'm feeling. It's really a dream come true. What else can I say?"

Salmons, regarded as the most versatile player ever at UM for his ability to play four different positions, turned in one impressive workout after another to climb on the list of potential draft picks for the National Basketball Association draft.

The 6-7, 210-pounder didn't waste anytime in showing off the same defensive prowess that was always rewarded with the best offensive player that went up against the Hurricanes in his four years at the school. He showed the same passing ability against NBA regulars that placed him in all-time assist at Miami. And Salmons also displayed an improved shooting touch that all but made him worth a look come draft time.

Only the quiet kid that grew up in Philadelphia, couldn't imagine what was about to transpire.

"I couldn't have written it any better," Salmons said. After being contacted by several teams prior to the draft and getting an indication that his status was soaring among scouts and NBA personnel, Salmons decided it would be a good idea to fly back to Philadelphia to be with his family just in case he got the call during draft night.

Sure enough, the call came almost three hours into the proceedings when the San Antonio Spurs took Salmons with the 26th pick of the first-round, making Salmons the third Hurricane ever to go in the first round – joining Rick Barry and Tim James- and sending his family into hysteria in the small household.

But the immediate celebration would only pick up a few notches minutes later when the Spurs sent Salmons, along with Randy Holcomb and Mark Bryant, packing to Philadelphia in a trade in exchange for Speedy Claxton. The cheers could be heard at the First Union Center after it became official that Salmons would be playing professional basketball in the same city he grew up in.

"My family has been going crazy and for me obviously it's a dream come true," said Salmons. "I'm from here and I've been a Sixers' fan my whole life. It's an absolute thrill to know that I'm going to be wearing the uniform of the team I rooted for as a kid. It doesn't get any better than that."

Salmons, the 14th player in UM history to be taken in the NBA draft, was a second-team All-Big East selection this past season after averaging 13.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.8 steals for the 24-8 Hurricanes, who were bounced out of the NCAA tournament in the first-round by Missouri. Salmons started all 32 games at point guard last year, but he also played every position on the floor for the Hurricanes.

Although he never gained notoriety on a national scale, or in the Big East Conference for that matter, Salmons left plenty to talk about in the records books at UM with over 1000 career points (1.287), 600 rebounds (687), 400 assists (433) and 150 steals (192) in four years at the school. And Miami simply produced with Salmons on the court, going 86-39 (.688) during his career and marking the most wins in a four-year period in school history.

Talk to anybody in the Sixers' front office or in the Hurricanes' coaching staff, and they all agree that Salmons might never reach All-Star heights in the NBA. But his ability to play at four different spots on the floor and aggressiveness on the defensive side make him a prospect for a long and steady professional career. The same versatility that Salmons displayed since showing up in Coral Gables back in 1998 and that led the Hurricanes to three NCAA tournament berths was one of the reasons head coaches and general managers around the league, including Philadelphia's Larry Brown and Billy King, were calling for Salmons services.

"There is just so much John brings to the table," King said. "We have a few different options with him on the court."

"We gave up a valuable piece to our team, but getting a player like John was something we couldn't pass up," said Brown. "Obviously, the kid has never played at this level, but he came in here and really opened up some eyes. I like the control he shows out on the court. He never seems out of place."

High praise from a future Hall of Fame coach regarding a player that is yet to put on an NBA uniform. But Salmons thinks that his multiple skills will reward Brown and the Sixers for pulling the trigger on the trade.

"I think my strength as a basketball player is that I can play several positions," said Salmons. "I feel I can post up smaller point guards, and I can defend the one, two and three (point guard, shooting guard and small forward)."

Salmons went as far as comparing his game to that of Philadelphia guard Aaron McKie, who at 6-5 also has the capability of playing several positions on the court and defending the top players around the league. Salmons, third in career steals at UM, is the only player in school history to record 50 or more steals three straight seasons.

"I don't have the experience or don't know the players like he does," said Salmons. "But we have a lot of the same strengths."

Salmons said that getting around in Philadelphia would take a while to get used to since he hasn't visited often since playing for the Hurricanes. But the former High School player of the year shouldn't have a problem making any adjustments living in the same place he made a name for himself years ago.

Salmons was a three-year letter winner and was one of the nation's top high school prospects as a senior, guiding Plymouth to a 30-3 record and a trip to the state tournament semifinals after averaging 18.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists playing both guard and forward positions. Plymouth was 88-9 overall and won a state title in 1997 with Salmons on board.

"I hadn't been to Philly in a while," said Salmons. "I made a lot of friends and came across a lot of people growing up here. It'll be awesome being a local kid playing in front of family and friends everynight."

Salmons is also looking forward to playing along side All-Star Allen Iverson, who has made his share of headlines in Philadelphia - good and bad. "I don't know him. I just know the guy can play the game," Salmons said. "I can't wait to get on the court with him."

Neither can the Sixers.

Canes Time Top Stories