SBJ/April 8 - 14, 2002/Labor Agents

Agent's ties to hockey prospect's family may win one for the little guys

Bryon Baltimore, an Edmonton lawyer who represents Jay Bouwmeester, the expected No. 1 pick in this year's NHL draft, hopes to buck a recent trend of independent agents losing top prospects to big agencies.

Last year, independent agent Andy Joel signed quarterback Michael Vick, only to lose the 2001 No. 1 NFL draft pick to Octagon. This year, veteran agent Frank Bauer lost quarterback David Carr — projected to be the No. 1 pick in this month's draft — to Octagon.

In hockey, last year's No. 1 pick, Russian Ilya Kovalchuk, left independent agents Scott Greenspun and Mike Deutch for SFX Hockey, which was then headed by agent Jay Grossman. Grossman recently bought back his hockey practice from SFX Sports in order to satisfy NHL Players' Association concerns about a potential conflict of interest.

Baltimore knows the stories of small agents losing prize draft prospects to big agencies, but, he said, his situation with defenseman Bouwmeester is different.

"I have known Jay since he was a Pee Wee, which is to say, I have known him and followed him since he was 12 years old," Baltimore said. "I have a long-standing relationship with Jay and an even longer-standing relationship with his dad."

Baltimore and Dan Bouwmeester played together on the University of Alberta Golden Bears team 30 years ago.

Baltimore now represents about a dozen junior hockey players and practices general litigation law in Edmonton.

PINNACLE SIGNS TWO NBA PROSPECTS: Pinnacle Management Corp., a New York-based basketball representation firm headed by Marc Cornstein, has signed two prospects for the 2002 NBA draft, as well as a hot prospect who could potentially go high in the 2003 draft.

Cornstein signed 16-year-old Darko Milicic, a 7-foot-2 center for the Hemofarm professional team in Yugoslavia who could be a top draft prospect in 2003.

Cornstein also signed two Yugoslavian players who he hopes will be drafted this June: 6-foot-6 shooting guard Predrag Savovic, who averaged a little more than 20 points a game for the University of Hawaii, and 6-foot-7 Nikola Vucorovic, who played for the professional Lovcem team and had 42 points in the Global Games in Dallas last summer.

Savovic, who just was accepted at the University of Hawaii law school, is a possible first-round pick, Cornstein said. Nbadraft.net, a popular mock draft Web site, has Savovic listed as its No. 47 pick. But Cornstein said, "I am optimistic that on June 26 his draft ranking will be higher than 47."

If Savovic is taken in the first round, it will mark four years in a row that Cornstein has represented a first-rounder. He represented Alexander Radojevic in 1999, Primoz Brezec in 2000 and Sam Dalembert in 2001.

Pinnacle, which was founded about five years ago, represents about 25 athletes, many of them in Europe's pro basketball leagues.

FEE STILL IN BUSINESS: NHL agent Jay Fee is still working as an agent, despite comments by an executive at his old place of employment, Woolf Associates, that he was prevented from representing players because of noncompete and nonsolicitation clauses in his employment agreement.

Last year's top NHL draft pick, Ilya Kovalchuk, jumped from two independent agents to SFX Hockey.

"There is nothing preventing me from doing business or representing players," Fee said.

Fee, who worked at Boston-based Woolf for about six years, said his contract was terminated by hockey chief and former NHL great Bobby Orr "for no cause" several weeks ago. "It was Bobby's decision that he wanted to take the company in a new direction," he said.

Orr has set up Orr Hockey Group and is working on buying the hockey practice, which includes about 75 players, including NHL players as well as NHL prospects, from Woolf. Orr left because of a decision by Woolf to exit the player contract negotiation business and focus on the sports marketing and corporate consulting business.

Former Woolf agents Paul Krepelka and Rick Curran are working with Orr. Because of all the agents' changes in employment status, Woolf hockey clients will have to re-sign with an agent, under NHL Players' Association rules.

Speculation is there is a tussle between Fee and the other three agents over the players.

Orr would not return repeated phone inquiries. Arthur Roberts, Woolf Associates' chief financial officer, told SportsBusiness Journal last month, "It is clear that if [Fee] has players and is soliciting players, he would be in violation of his contract."

Fee said that is not the case, but he would not comment on how many players he is representing.

PRIORITY SIGNS SEVEN NFL HOPEFULS: Priority Sports & Entertainment, the firm run by NFL and NBA agent Mark Bartelstein, has signed several prospects for this month's NFL draft, including Arizona State offensive tackle Levi Jones.

The firm also represents Northwestern linebacker Kevin Bentley, Sam Houston State quarterback Josh McCown, Stanford offensive guard Eric Heitmann, Arizona State center Scott Peters, Portland State wide receiver Terry Charles and Kansas defensive lineman Nate Dwyer.

The players are represented by agents Bartelstein, Rick Smith, Kenny Zuckerman and Mike McCartney. The company is based in Chicago and has an office in Los Angeles.

Contact Liz Mullen with labor and agent news at lmullen@amcity.com.

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