NEW YORK Michael Beasley strolled into a hotel ballroom Wednesday, spotted the swarm of cameras surrounding his table, and jokingly asked Brandon Rush if he wanted to switch spots.
The guy Beasley really may want to swap with is Derrick Rose.
Rose is Beasley's competition for the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, and the winner will be announced tonight when NBA commissioner David Stern announces the selection shortly after 7 p.m.
The Chicago Bulls own the pick, and Rose would love to play for his hometown team. When the Bulls won the lottery despite only a 1.7 percent chance, Rose immediately thought of LeBron James, the Akron, Ohio, kid picked first in 2003 by nearby Cleveland.
"I thought that LeBron James was the luckiest person because he got to play in his hometown," Rose said.
Rose, the point guard from Memphis, and Beasley, the Kansas State power forward, sit atop a deep freshman class that could gobble up most of the spots in the top 10.
O.J. Mayo of Southern California, UCLA's Kevin Love, Arizona's Jerryd Bayless and Indiana guard Eric Gordon are among the other first-year stars who might already be earning NBA paychecks if not for the age requirement forcing American-born players to be at least 19 years old and a year out of high school.
"We can have possibly eight players from our class in the lottery, so just hearing that I feel like we have a lot of star power in this class," Love said. "We're a pretty deep class as well, and I feel like hopefully we'll be able to step up our games and impact the NBA."
Beasley had the best individual year, leading the nation with 12.4 rebounds per game and ranking third with his average of 26.2 points. But if the Bulls opt for Rose, Beasley isn't even guaranteed to go second, with Miami possibly more interested in trading the pick and grabbing a guard to pair in the backcourt with Dwyane Wade.
"One, 2, 3, 78, I just want to get there," Beasley said.
Hurting Beasley's chances of going first are questions about his height. The draft media guide lists him at 6-foot-10, and he said a doctor measured him at 6-8 3/4 in bare feet. Still, there are some concerns he may be smaller perhaps too small to play the 4 spot in the NBA.
"I didn't know there was a height requirement in the NBA," Beasley said.
The Bulls haven't revealed publicly which way they are leaning, but Rush, sitting at the next table, said Beasley was the "best player I've seen in college, since I've been in college." His Kansas team faced Beasley in Big 12 play, then beat Rose and Memphis in the national championship game.
"I would go with Beasley because he makes things look so much easier," Rush said. "He just looks effortless out there. He had 39 on us in our own house."
Having played three seasons for the Jayhawks, Rush was one of the old-timers in the room. He may have to wait until after the kids have had their fun Thursday night.
Mayo and Bayless could be on Miami's radar if the Heat can't get Rose, don't want Beasley, and trade out of the No. 2 spot. Or, perhaps one may end up in New York, where the Knicks could be in the market for a point guard with the sixth pick to run new coach Mike D'Antoni's offense.
With Rose, Mayo and Bayless, three teams should get a player capable of running their team. Just ask UCLA guard Russell Westbrook, the Pac-10 defensive player of the year who had to guard all of them.
"You can go down the list. You got O.J., you got Derrick, you got Jerryd Bayless ... that's the core of the guards," said Westbrook, also expected to go in the lottery. "Them three right there basically speaks for itself. They wouldn't be here for nothing."
Minnesota, Seattle and Memphis, holding the Nos. 3-5 picks, all could turn to players who this time last year were just getting their high school diplomas. Mayo worked out for the top seven teams, and doesn't know whose hat he'll put on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
"There are a lot of great players in this draft," Mayo said. "You really can't go wrong with anybody; we all worked hard to get to this point. We all should be happy to be here. It's a blessing for all of us."
Rose could be the luckiest one. He might get to go home and help the Bulls rebound from their 33-49 finish last season and return to the level they were at when he was growing up in the Windy City.
"It would mean a lot knowing all of the great players that they've had in the past," he said. "So if I go there and get picked there, hopefully that will have a positive side to it."