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Telfair's rise makes good viewing

Sebastian Telfair could be entertaining TV audiences in the NCAA basketball tournament playing for the University of Louisville if his stock hadn't soared in 2004 while leading Lincoln High to its third straight New York City public school championship.

He'll do his entertaining instead in a much-promoted documentary, "Through the Fire" (8 p.m. Sunday, ESPN), which comes with a TV-14 rating because of language. The film is a slam dunk for basketball lovers and also has educational value.

It just as easily could have been titled "Escape From Coney Island" because "Fire" illustrates how the 6-foot Telfair's abilities enabled him to live the dream of getting enough money to support his mother and family, take them out of the projects and put them on Easy Street. It's a dream that is no longer attainable out of high school after the NBA raised the minimum draft age.

"Through the Fire" doesn't take a position on the eligibility change and lets the action speak for itself. By allowing players, family members, college coaches, scouts and players who failed to realize their dreams to speak, the film enables viewers to see the plusses and minuses of the NBA's position.

Telfair was a rare, charismatic talent able to land a multi-million dollar shoe deal before he opted out of his Louisville scholarship and declared for the 2004 NBA draft. He was selected 13th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers. Who knows if he would have been picked that high if he decided, like cousin Stephon Marbury of the New York Knicks, to play a collegiate season. Telfair was assured his money, his image-conscious family members certain that their efforts to manufacture a star with the help of hard work would pay off.

But you wonder if a season or two with Louisville coach Rick Pitino (who could have used him in the Big East tournament) would have helped develop Telfair's game. And you can't help but also wonder how many slightly-less talented players dreaming of the NBA will put all of their effort into basketball at the expense of educations that could have taken them further.

Now in his second season at Portland, Telfair doesn't get much national exposure. He's on a bad team in a small market so it is difficult to measure how well he's been doing other than looking at his statistics. He averaged 6.8 points and 3.3 assists as a rookie and is averaging about 8.7 points and 3.6 assists this season. He is hitting about 37 percent of his three-point attempts this season, up from the 24.6 percent he hit as a rookie.

You won't get any pro statistics from the film, which ended 14 months of filming in June 2004. It ends shortly after the family celebrates the emotional day of the NBA draft. It is a family triumph because two of his older brothers -- one of whom had his dreams of being a first-round NBA choice dashed -- helped develop Telfair's game and his image.

The footage of his high school career is loaded with jaw-dropping moves and highlights that make you understand why Telfair became a hot NBA commodity. ESPN also contributed to the hype by carrying a few of his games. So it is a surprise when the draft nears and ESPN's own analysts question his shooting skills and size and whether he's ready for the pros. The network helped build him up to make millions, only to tear him down.

This documentary, which is ESPN's first film acquisition, builds him up again. After watching "Fire," you can't help but root for the likable Telfair to make a bigger NBA impact.

The film is likely to have a stronger impact on Coney Island and places like it, inspiring less talented players to follow in Telfair's footsteps when they should be more worried about hitting the books than hitting threes.

The film does a magical 360 at the end, lavishing attention on Telfair's talented younger brother, Ethan. I expect the filmmakers are already preparing their sequel following him around.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 4.

***

Around the dial

Now that March Madness is approaching, Internet users might consider signing up for NCAA March Madness on Demand for free so you can watch streamed games that local CBS affiliate WIVB-TV isn't carrying. To get them, go to www.ncaasports.com/mmod. CBS urges fans to pre-register because when demand exceeds capacity viewers will be put in a "virtual waiting room."

The NFL reports that more women watched the Super Bowl on ABC than total viewers watched the Academy Awards.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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