Thursday, June 5, 2003 Updated: June 6, 6:57 PM ET
Double déjá vu for pair of Wildcats
By Andy Katz ESPN.com
CHICAGO -- After four years of having their every moves chronicled by local and national media, Jason Gardner and Keith Bogans blended into the crowd Wednesday.
After being leaders for No. 1-ranked teams throughout the 2002-03 season, preseason and postseason All-Americans at times during four-year college careers, poster boys for the NCAA Tournament and fan website fodder since arriving on campus, Gardner and Bogans are now just two of 61 NBA hopefuls in Chicago.
Need proof? There are no writers from Kentucky here following Bogans. Nobody bothered to show up from Arizona to shadow Gardner.
Heck, they had more fanfare two years ago when each tried to leave college after their sophomore season. Today, the pair of heralded college seniors are hoping just to land in the draft while doing it in relative anonymity.
I don't get caught up in things I can't control. I'm just not going to put pressure on myself. I'm just out there playing. "
— Keith Bogans
But the pressure, at least from their vantage point, is at least off. And it shows.
Both players are in the same position as they were two years ago: Bogans is a likely second-round pick, hoping to get a few more workouts after this week in Chicago. Gardner is a 5-foot-10 point guard hoping to hear his name called by Russ Granik out of a crowded position -- in the second round.
But they're playing pretty loose, so far.
Two years ago, Gardner was uptight, nervous, and anxious about his decision. Arizona had just come off losing to Duke in the 2001 national title game. Senior Loren Woods was in the draft. Underclassmen Michael Wright, Richard Jefferson and Gilbert Arenas all left early, too. Gardner felt like he had to join his fellow Arizona starters and declare early for the draft.
But, the low point in what turned into a brief flirtation with the NBA came after he played poorly in Chicago. So poorly, in fact, that Minnesota Timberwolves scout Rob Babcock was instructed to sit Gardner down and tell him to go back to school. The scene of Babcock imploring Gardner to return to school singled him out as someone who simply shouldn't have been in Chicago. Later that night in the lobby of the Wyndham Hotel in downtown Chicago, Gardner remained in shock as Jefferson and Arenas playfully teased their fellow underclassman about being told to go back to school.
Gardner returned to Arizona with his confidence shaken, but ended up having a stellar career. He scored 20.4 points a game as a junior and then 14.8 last season in leading the nation's preseason No. 1 team to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and eventually the Elite Eight.
"Two years ago, I was calling people every day to tell them what was happening in the workouts," Gardner said. "I've got more confidence now, and more authority on the floor. There is a lot of talent ... but I'm more mature. I know when to throw the right pass and slow the tempo down."
Gardner, however, struggled in his first game back in Chicago. He scored just four points on 2-for-8 shooting (0-for-4 on NBA 3-pointers) with four assists and five turnovers. Meanwhile, unheralded Weber State point Jermaine Boyette hit seven of nine shots against Gardner, getting into the lane with relative ease. Gardner also had to contend with Hawaii's Carl English, who was 5-of-11 from the field. St. John's Marcus Hatten was on the other team, but he mostly went against Washington State point guard Marcus Moore, who shared the ball-handling duties with Gardner.
Despite his shaky start to the week, Gardner deflected any questions about pressure Wednesday. It also helps that good friends and fellow Arizona seniors Luke Walton and Rick Anderson are also in camp trying to improve their NBA stock.
So, Gardner isn't alone. And this is ultimately another extension of his Arizona experience. Assistant Josh Pastner is in the stands watching his every move and handing out encouragement. But it might not be enough to Gardner drafted.
I've got more confidence now, and more authority on the floor. There is a lot of talent ... but I'm more mature. "
— Jason Gardner
Then again, so far, Gardner doesn't seem to be showing any signs that he's worried.
Regardless of where Bogans falls in the draft, he seems about as cool as can be while trying to find an NBA job.
It doesn't hurt that Bogans' teammate this week is Saint Joseph's Jameer Nelson. Nelson set Bogans up with easy passes Wednesday and Bogans responded by making 8 of 10 shots, all three of his 3s, and finished with a team-high 19 points.
"I know what to expect this time," Bogans said. "I'm just out there having fun. There's no pressure on me right now. There was more pressure two years ago. I was overwhelmed by the talent here and started watching a lot of it. That's a big difference."
The word two years ago was Bogans almost felt like he had to declare for the draft because his good friend Joseph Forte of North Carolina left Chapel Hill after his sophomore season. Forte, however, already had the reputation needed to sway NBA minds and was picked in the first round by the Celtics. Bogans didn't have the same cache. And by the end of camp, it was obvious Bogans' best move was to return to Kentucky.
Bogans, however, seemed to have a Chicago hangover. His junior season was bumpy at best. His play was erratic during a turmoil-filled 2001-02 season. But Bogans put his junior season behind him and came back last year as a true senior leader on a remarkable Kentucky team.
Bogans led the Wildcats with a team-high 15.8 points a game, as UK reeled off 26 straight wins at one point en route to No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. An injured ankle limited him in the Elite Eight against Marquette and contributed to the Wildcats' inability to get to the Final Four.
"I don't get caught up in things I can't control," Bogans said of his draft prospects. "I'm just not going to put pressure on myself. I'm just out there playing."
Two years may make a difference, but Gardner and Bogans arrive with just as much uncertainty as in 2001. And, while they can't go back to school this time, at least they appear ready for whatever the future may hold as pros.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.