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ESPN selection show to offer deep thoughts

''We do drafts for a living," said Mike Tirico, who will host tonight's five-hour telecast of the NBA Draft (ESPN, 7 p.m.). ''We've created the way they're done on TV."

The draft is a perfect ESPN property: It's a national event and generates weeks, if not months of speculation across studio shows and ESPN.com. ''But it becomes a local show for every city when their team is on the clock," said Tirico. ''Fans want to know what's going on with their team."

Analyst Jay Bilas, who will join Tirico, Greg Anthony, and Stephen A. Smith on the main set at Madison Square Garden , said, ''The draft isn't necessarily about whether you can play in the NBA but rather about being selected. One thing experts never have been able to measure is heart. The draft always is clearer in hindsight, which makes the whole exercise a fascinating process."

As for the Celtics, Bilas says, ''My sense is that they may look at some foreign kids they can leave parked overseas for a year."

ESPN has highlight packages on 181 players. ''That's 50 more than in past years," said coordinating producer Dan Steir. ''That shows the depth of this draft and the diverse talent available. We think we have all ends covered -- international, high school, and college."

Bilas on:

High school players opting to enter the draft: ''You come out early because you think you can make an impact or because you don't want to go to college and reveal yourself as a fraud."

Intriguing players: ''Arizona center Channing Frye. The knock on him is that he plays soft, but I think he's tough. I rank him as the fifth best prospect in the draft."

Top point guard: ''I rank Deron Williams of Illinois No. 1. I think he's better than [Wake Forest's] Chris Paul because of his size [6 feet 3 inches] and the way he plays the game."

Small guards in general: ''You have to ask if he can disrupt the game like Muggsy Bogues did and if he can push the ball upcourt at breakneck speed."

FSN New England's ''New England Sports Tonight" (6:30 and a full hour at 10 p.m.) will originate from the Celtics' HealthPoint training facility. FSN expects live local reaction after the Celtics' first pick (projected to come about 9:45 p.m.). The evening's guests will include executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge, coach Doc Rivers, announcers Tommy Heinsohn and Mike Gorman, and either Al Jefferson or Delonte West, both of whom were picked by the Celtics in last year's draft. At 10, Ryen Russillo of WWZN (1510) will join the mix.

ESPN will augment its presentation with its draft coverage hallmarks: A constant crawl across the bottom of the screen providing prior picks, trades, team-by-team summaries, players stats, and the results of ESPN.com polling, and lists of ''Jay's Best Available" remaining prospects.

Other members of the ESPN team tonight include Dick Vitale (via satellite from his home), Stuart Scott (interviewing draftees at Madison Square Garden after they are selected), Jim Gray (from Los Angeles), and Fran Fraschilla (on international selections).

Weekend recap

Somehow NASCAR isn't quite the same when the heavy vehicles race on a road course, but who'd have thought transmissions would become an issue as gearbox failures plagued Sunday's race? ''The old transmission was pretty dang good. I don't know why it wasn't in there to start with," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., an early victim. ''Everybody took something that wasn't broken and fiddled with it until it was," said analyst Darrell Waltrip. The telecast wrapped up Fox's half of the season with NBC taking over for Saturday's Pepsi 400 at Daytona (Ch. 7, 7 p.m.).

Analyst Johnny Miller seemed beside himself in the NBC broadcast booth during Sunday's final round of the US Women's Open. ''The last 10 twosomes -- the final 20 players -- are all over par. The first hour shows the choke factor. Then they'll settle down for the next two hours, then tighten up in the last hour." When Lorena Ochoa teed it up on No. 18, Miller said, ''If she pars this hole, there's a 75 percent chance she'll win this tournament." Instead, she hit it into the water for what Miller termed ''a colossal chili dip."

More Miller: ''When you see someone finish an Open strongly -- like [men's winner] Michael Campbell last week -- you've got to hand it to them." After the aptly named Birdie Kim holed out from the bunker on No. 18, Miller said simply: ''Talk about great moments in US Open history. That may have been destiny's shot. I don't know."

Getting criticism from ESPN's Joe Morgan is tough. Even as the Yankees' Gary Sheffield was being tossed by first-base umpire C.B. Bucknor for throwing his helmet in protest after being called out at first on a bang-bang play in the seventh inning of the Yankees' ''Sunday Night Baseball" game with the Mets, replays were showing he had a good case for argument. Morgan's way, however, is to say, ''You can see he's got an argument there. It's definitely a close play, but Gary was there. What do they say in Little League? The tie goes to the runner."

Coming soon

A new generation of US track and field athletes came to the fore during ESPN (and ESPN2's) coverage of the US Championships over the weekend. A startup called World Championship Sports Network (WCSN) has the US rights for the IAAF World Championships, to be held in Helsinki August 6-18. The network will produce a daily one-hour highlight show that will air nationally on PAX (Ch. 68 locally) from 5-6 p.m. weekdays and 4-5 p.m. on weekends. WCSN plans to launch a website -- wcsn.com -- in July that will include a pay-per-view option with more than 50 hours of coverage. Details will come in July . . . WEEI today starts a weeklong salute to US troops serving in Iraq, broadcasting messages home through the July 4 weekend. ''We've got some loyal listeners serving overseas who can tune in via the internet," said director of programming and operations Jason Wolfe . . . NESN airs a one-hour special on ''The Tradition," tomorrow at 9 p.m. (it re-airs at 11 p.m. and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.) The event, emceed by Dale Arnold of NESN and WEEI, benefits the Sports Museum. All reports say inductees Bob Cousy and Andre Tippett were particularly eloquent . . . The Globe's Jackie MacMullan, Gordon Edes, Peter May, and Shira Springer join host Bob Neumeier to talk Sox and NBA Draft on tomorrow's ''Sportsplus," (NESN, 6 and 10:30 p.m.) . . . HBO airs its delayed broadcast of Saturday night's Floyd Mayweather-Arturo Gatti bout Thursday at 10 p.m. and again Saturday at 11 p.m. . . . National ratings for the NBA Finals came in at 8.2. While the number wasn't great (second lowest in history), it compares favorably against a 5.8 for the US Open and a 6.0 for the first 12 races of the NASCAR season. In Boston, the Open did a 6.4, the NBA Finals a 4.1, and NASCAR is doing a 3.7.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com

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