COLUMBUS - Kosta Koufos called from an airport gate last Thursday night. The background noise included announcements of flights headed here or there. He was about to board one.
Since the first week in June, when he landed in Toronto to audition for the Raptors, this has been his life. Here today, there tomorrow, interviewing, testing and playing for one NBA team after another that might take the 7-footer in the first round of the draft Thursday night.
It is a laborious routine, but the former Ohio State center is 19 and full of adrenaline, about to realize his dream.
"Not tiring at all," Koufos said of the whirlwind few weeks he has had. "I'm very excited about this. God has given me a wonderful opportunity, a lifetime opportunity for me.
"I get to travel cross-country playing basketball," he said, and stretch his legs in first class while doing it. "I'm traveling good."
Looking good, too, according to some reports.
Once viewed as going 20th or later in the draft, a reported combination of impressive workouts and better-than-expected athleticism, as well as some other first-rounders pulling out of the draft, have elevated Koufos to the fringe of the lottery, which comprises the top 14 picks.
"Koufos is gaining momentum at the moment" and has held the upper hand in most workouts against UCLA's Kevin Love, a higher-rated but shorter forward, draft insider Chad Ford wrote on ESPN.com last week.
Ford also predicted that Koufos would have been a top-five pick had he waited until 2009 to leave school. That being the case, he could have received twice as much in salary over the length of his rookie contract.
But "it's not about money," Koufos said when told of that projection. "I just want to play in the league. It's been a dream of mine. Now I have the opportunity."
Taking advantage of the opportunity led to a mildly acrimonious divorce with Ohio State on April 29, when Koufos withdrew from classes to train full time for his career.
Coach Thad Matta said he was "blindsided" by the decision because Koufos had enrolled part time for spring quarter to preserve his eligibility for next season.
By withdrawing after April 7, two weeks after the start of the quarter, Koufos triggered what could be the loss of a scholarship for the men's basketball program if it does not post an Academic Progress Rate average of 925 or better when the NCAA releases its next scores in 2009.
Asked about the circumstances of his departure, Koufos said, "I wanted to pursue my professional career. The best thing for me was to maintain my focus on basketball."
Koufos' mother, Kathy, said her son initially intended to complete the spring quarter but concluded after spending four days at a Las Vegas training facility in mid-April that he could not do both and maximize his potential in the draft.
"If [the conflict] was only a week or two, it would not have been an issue," she said. "But when you go all the way to the beginning of June, it's a very difficult situation."
Schools on quarter schedules such as Ohio State, which finish classes in early June, are at a disadvantage in the early-entry scenario compared with semester schools, which end a month or more earlier.
Also, Ohio State did not finish playing last season until April 3, four days before the deadline for Koufos to withdraw from classes without triggering the potential scholarship penalty.
"It was a tough decision for Kosta and myself," Kathy Koufos said, "but at some point you have to make a decision of what's in [his] best interest."
As far as the interests of the OSU basketball program, she said she knew her son's withdrawal would cost the program's APR score two points. But she said she was not aware it also might trigger the loss of a scholarship.
Ohio State officials have said otherwise. But Kathy Koufos said she does not want to engage in a "he said, she said" debate on the matter and hopes bygones can be bygones.
Her son said he has no regrets and that "everybody [at Ohio State] has been supportive" of him. Matta recently mailed him a note wishing him the best, he said, as well as a plaque recognizing him as an OSU scholar-athlete and his award for being voted the most valuable player in the National Invitation Tournament.
Koufos said he hopes to return to school in the future and earn a degree in business.
"I enjoyed my experience at Ohio State," he said. "I'll always have a soft spot for campus."
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