Friday, April 23, 1999 | 8:12 a.m.
It has always been Shawn Marion's dream to play pro basketball and Friday, he took a major step in fulfilling that dream by officially announcing he's leaving UNLV to enter the NBA Draft.
The 6-foot-7 junior who led the Rebels in five statistical categories, including scoring and rebounding, knew in his heart he was ready to play in the NBA now, so why put off the inevitable?
"I play against NBA guys in the summer and I don't have any problems. I hold my own," he said at a press conference at the Thomas & Mack Center's Si Redd Room. "My heart told me it was time to go."
Marion said back in early March his intention was to stay for his senior season, graduate and try and win an NCAA championship. But while trying to gauge where he stood with the NBA scouts, he learned he was highly regarded and that he was looking at going no lower than the middle of the first round.
"I made up my mind two weeks ago," he said. "I just wanted to make sure what I was hearing was true before I made it final."
Marion said he plans to make Las Vegas his year-round home. The plans are for him to build a house in the Southwest section of town and his mother Elaine and sisters Traimaine and Quinnisha will live there.
"I'll always love Vegas," he said. "The people here have been great to me and my family."
Elaine Marion said while she was a bit disappointed her son didn't finish up his degree, she is happy that he will pursue his dream.
"We talked but ultimately it was Shawn's decision. I left it up to him," she said. "It's his life and he has to be happy. I'm totally behind him and I'm very happy for him and proud of him."
Marion said he will finish the spring semester at UNLV and will probably wait until the June 30 date for the draft at the MCI Center in Washington D.C. rolls around before settling on an agent.
"There's no rush," he said. "I'll be around, working out, getting ready."
He realizes that he may find himself crossing some familiar paths as the NBA teams that are serious about drafting him will be bringing him in for visits and to work him out.
"It'll be like being recruited all over again," he said. "But it's a different kind of recruiting. Instead of visiting schools, you're working out for individual teams."
Coach Bill Bayno said he's happy for Marion, even though it means replacing a guy who averaged 18.7 points and 9.3 rebounds a game and was a first-team all-WAC Mountain Division selection.
"Some people may see this is a negative or a blow to the program," he said. "But I see it as a positive. Shawn gave a lot to the program and we have another tremendous ambassador to the NBA for UNLV."
Marion said he had no particular preference of which team he played for, though he said he would like to play in a major market which would help in terms of endorsement opportunities and outside exposure.
"Wherever I go is fine," he said. "I'm just looking forward to the opportunity to play in the league."
He also has no problem spending his first four years playing for one team. With the new collective bargaining agreement, not only are rookie salaries capped, the contracts are four years in length.
"It's all right," he said. "You have a chance to get used to the situation."
Bayno said he expects Marion to do well wherever he goes.
"He'll have a tremendous career regardless of where he goes in the NBA," he said. "Hopefully, he'll he me some tickets wherever he goes."