Jameer's rep grew into first round

Updated: June 15, 2004, 9:29 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Phoenix wants Jameer Nelson back for a second workout Friday. While a return to the desert may not seem like big news during the days leading up to next week's NBA draft, it says all you need to know about the past 12 months of Nelson's life.

A year ago, Nelson struggled to get a team in the first round -- let alone any team in the lottery -- interested in seeing him work him out twice.

But Nelson is worth a second look these days. And that's what four years of college experience, a player of the year award, a 27-0 regular-season record, and an Elite Eight appearance at Saint Joseph's have done for Nelson.

Nelson didn't grow an inch while doing all the above. He's still a bit undersized for the NBA, standing just under 6-foot-1 in his sneakers. And he didn't get any stronger, although the 199-pounder's strength was never a concern.

He might have become a better overall 3-point and free throw shooter, but only by a few percentage points.

Last week he was in Chicago not to impress scouts with his shooting, dribbling or court vision. He was in town to talk, conducting interviews with the media and going through the to physical testing to which all NBA first-round prospects are subject over the weekend.

Nelson didn't need to pick up a basketball or play in games like he did a year ago. He was already on every team's draft radar.

Nelson is the reason that throwing a blanket statement that rising seniors run the risk of ruining their draft status by going back to school is bunk.

Jameer Nelson
Jameer Nelson
I knew I was going to be in the NBA when I was here last year. I knew it by playing here. But the difference was I wasn't in the lottery or in the teens in the first round.
Jameer Nelson

It's simply not true.

Nelson improved his draft stock immeasurably by wearing "Saint Joseph's" across his chest for another season. And he didn't have to change his game on Hawk Hill or wear platform shoes in Chicago.

"This is really fun to be here, just relaxed, talking to the media and not having to play," Nelson said last week, smiling and looking completely at ease in a banquet room at the Wyndham Hotel in Chicago.

"Last year here was a roller coaster ride. One day I was up, one day I was down. It's crazy and very hard on a young person to make a decision like that."

Nelson won't be the first point guard taken June 24, but he could go second behind high school senior Shaun Livingston. More likely, he'll be the fourth guard chosen in the draft, behind Connecticut junior combo guard Ben Gordon and Wisconsin junior point guard Devin Harris.

Phoenix, which picks seventh, obviously thinks highly enough of Nelson to bring him in for a second workout. The Suns want him to match up against Gordon in a workout.

"We're trying to do as much analysis as possible," Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo said Tuesday. "We want to stack him up against top competitors. Is seven too high for Jameer, is 10 or 11? We may trade down, there's a lot that could occur.

"Nothing is out of the question," Colangelo added.

Nelson has been about as busy as any first-round prospect the past three weeks, working out for Portland (13, 23), Golden State (11), L.A. Clippers (2), Phoenix (7), Utah (14, 16, 21), Cleveland (10), Toronto (8), Charlotte (4) and Philadelphia (9) -- before heading to Chicago last Friday.

He's still got workouts scheduled with Atlanta (6, 17) on Wednesday, Miami (19) on Thursday, Phoenix on Friday, Washington (5) on Monday and New Orleans (18) on Tuesday.

The Clippers won't take Nelson at No. 2. But L.A. could trade down with Atlanta and select Nelson at 17. Charlotte could be involved in a trade. So, Nelson will be in New York next Wednesday for interviews with the media and be in the "green room" on draft night.

"Every team needs a point guard, whether it's a starter, second or third string," Nelson said. "Everyone loves to knock my height. When I went to Charlotte, they measured me at 5-11, even though they didn't think I was. And then they told me I played like I was 6-1 or 6-2. That gave me even more confidence."

Nelson hasn't shied away from competition. He didn't mind when the Clippers, Portland and Utah put high school senior Sebastian Telfair against him, even though Nelson had more to lose going against Telfair. That's why he would relish the chance to go against Livingston, Gordon or Harris in a workout. It looks like he'll get a chance against Gordon.

"I knew I was going to be in the NBA when I was here last year," Nelson said. "I knew it by playing here. But the difference was I wasn't in the lottery or in the teens in the first round. I was maybe in the first round, but probably in the 30s (in the second)."

Winning national player of the year honors in college gives Nelson instant name recognition. That's something he didn't have a year ago. But his game is essentially the same. He's still a winner, a tough on the ball defender and a catalyst every time he's on the court.

He's more mature at 22, and ready to contribute next season. He knows he's a steal for anyone who takes him.

Oh, and Nelson can't wait to prove anyone who doubted him wrong ... again.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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