Draft futures hinge on Chicago camp
Wyoming's Jay Straight will be in Chicago this week. But he wasn't invited to the NBA's pre-draft camp. Nor is he on any of the elite private workout guest lists.
But Straight is willing to offer his services to anyone in need of a 5-foot-11 point guard. The Chicago native figured why not try his luck and hope someone would notice him at a group workout that NBA personnel might attend. (And, we stress might.)
Straight isn't being stubborn, just opportunistic as he tests the NBA draft waters this month. So far, the waters have been ice cold, which is why Wyoming coach Steve McClain expects his senior-to-be to be back in Laramie, running the point for the Pokes next season.
But, at the very least, Straight got his name out in NBA circles by declaring for the draft last month. He'll have some name recognition for next year's draft. McClain said scouts have called over the past few weeks, saying they would be scheduling trips to Laramie next season to check out Straight's game a little closer.
So, if that was Straight's mission by declaring for the NBA draft and not signing with an agent, well, he accomplished his goal.
But he still would have rather been playing in the Chicago pre-draft camp.
Straight remains in the minority with 10 days remaining before the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the draft (June 17). And, of those players who still maintained their eligibility by not signing with an agent, only seven are on the rosters to play in the Chicago pre-draft camp, which begins Tuesday and continues through Friday night with a game each day Wednesday-Friday.
Seven others will not be playing in the Chicago pre-draft camp for various reasons.
High school seniors Shaun Livingston, who signed on to play at Duke, and Al Jefferson, who signed to play at Arkansas, still don't have agents. No one in the NBA is expecting either to withdraw from the draft, and while both will be in Chicago this week, neither will take the court at the Moody Bible College.
Livingston, who played for Peoria Central High in Illinois, will hold individual workouts in Chicago. He's projected to go in the lottery and doesn't need to be in Chicago. Jefferson, who has worked out for a few teams individually while going back and forth to his hometown of Prentiss, Miss., is on the lottery bubble and doesn't need to make an appearance at the draft camp, either.
South Kent Prep (Conn.) wing Dorell Wright, who signed to play at DePaul, and Western Carolina junior guard Kevin Martin apparently played well enough the past couple weeks in individual workouts to move within the cusp of the first round. Each was invited to the camp, but withdrew Monday. And while Wright and Martin still haven't signed with agents, each is getting closer to doing so every day.
Two other high seniors were also left off the pre-draft camp RSVP list -- Indiana signee Robert Rothbart and Texas signee LaMarcus Aldridge. Rothbart worked out for the Celtics last week, but wasn't deemed worthy of an invitation by the NBA. The 7-1 center out of Natomas High (Calif.) hasn't officially signed on with an agent or withdrawn from the draft as of Monday. He could do either by the end of the week. Aldridge, out of Seagoville High in Texas, was expected to withdraw from the draft and go to Austin next season, where he has already enrolled in summer school.
And then there is Auburn junior wing Marco Killingsworth, who wanted to prove his NBA worth in Chicago, but didn't get an invite. So, like Straight, the Tigers expect their senior-to-be to be back in Alabama next season playing for new coach Jeff Lebo. But Killingsworth still hadn't withdrawn from the draft as of Monday.
So, who will be playing in Chicago who might still return to college? Only seven players, each with plenty to prove this week and a single goal in mind: a spot in the first round.
Here is a consensus of what scouts will be looking for from these seven.
College: Saint Joseph's
Class: Junior | Position: Guard | Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 180
2003-04 Stats: 18.9 ppg | 5.4 rpg
Scouts Say: West has the best chance, according to scouts, of these seven to prove he's first-round worthy with a solid Chicago camp. West has already worked out for Portland, Chicago, Boston and New Jersey -- tantalizing each team enough to where he could get first-round consideration. But he's got to show point-guard skills in the camp. Everyone knows he can get to the basket and make shots. But he measured only 6-2 in Boston so his height would be an issue to play shooting guard. Scouts also say that he did handle the ball more than people thought during his Saint Joseph's career. And while he shared the ball with Jameer Nelson, he's played in big-time games. He's a silky smooth shooter who has a Tayshaun Prince-like frame. The problem is that he's much shorter than Prince.
Bottom Line: While West would rather stay in the draft, he must get a guarantee that he'll be picked in the first round to feel secure. There's a chance he might forego his final year of school, even if he's a second-round pick. West has a chance to be picked among the first 29 players, and if he plays well in Chicago, he could sneak into the first round.
Class: Junior | Position: Forward | Ht: 6-7 | Wt: 245
2003-04 Stats: 18.9 ppg | 9.4 rpg
Scouts Say: Gomes hasn't stood out in the few workouts he's already had for Boston, Utah and Chicago. So, he has to prove that he can be an NBA small forward. He's not going to be paid to play power forward, so he better show he can put the ball on the floor and shoot with range. Still, the biggest question is can he guard a small forward. He's considered a very good college player, but still doesn't offer the NBA a true position player.
Bottom Line: Gomes is considered a dreaded "tweener." Gomes struggled to defend Texas Tech's Andre Emmett in a workout and must prove that he can guard a smaller, quicker player out on the perimeter for him to get a sniff of the first round. The odds are against him getting close to the first round. So, as a second-round pick, Gomes looks like he'll be back in Providence for his senior season.
Class: Freshman | Position: Forward | Ht: 6-8 | Wt: 240
2003-04 Stats: 12.8 ppg | 7.4 rpg
Scouts Say: Bass has to be a dominant player and show that he's first-round potential. He has to show he can score on the low block, hit shots in the lane and rebound. He has the potential to be an NBA player in a few years, but not yet. He's got to be tenacious. Bass also must show he can play a game similar to that of Charles Barkley, going after every rebound. He's an undersized power forward at the NBA level, who wants to be a small forward. But he's not ready to play the three in the league.
Bottom Line: Bass is not a first-round pick unless he has an amazing camp. But he could go in the second round even if he didn't show up in Chicago. The odds are against him staying in the draft.
College: Mississippi State
Class: Junior | Position: Forward | Ht: 6-9 | Wt: 235
2003-04 Stats: 16.9 ppg | 10.1 rpg
Scouts Say: Roberts was hoping that he would have been good enough in workouts to skip the Chicago pre-draft camp. But he's not getting any guarantees. He worked out for Portland and has been going through daily workouts with NBA players and draft hopefuls with John Lucas in Houston. The NBA is still wondering if Roberts will play all week, since he has hinted at going to Chicago but not playing -- hoping to just go through the physicals. But the NBA isn't going to do that since they invited him to play. So, scouts need to see the reigning SEC player of the year be an inside force. He must show that he's a power forward in the NBA. One scout said Roberts wants to be a small forward but he's not skilled enough -- yet. And yet, he's not considered a true power forward. So, he gets labeled a "tweener."
Bottom Line: Roberts must have a stellar camp, dominating in Chicago the way he did at times for Mississippi State. If he can do that, maybe some team late in the first round (Indiana or San Antonio?) would take a flier on him. But the odds are against it, and Roberts appears headed to the second round. If that's the case, expect Roberts back in Starkville.
Class: Sophomore | Position: Guard | Ht: 5-9 | Wt: 175
2003-04 Stats: 13.2 ppg | 3.9 rpg
Scouts Say: He must be spectacular during the three days of games. He's got the talent that makes people go "ooh and ahhh" with his dunks, but he's still undersized and teams usually shy away from drafting the undersized point guards. Points the size of Robinson can make it in the NBA (see: Denver's Earl Boykins), but they tend to have go the hard way without a guaranteed contract. Robinson was a scorer last season at Washington. But he's got to prove to the NBA folks that he can be a true point guard. He's got to distribute the ball and get other people involved. Scouts will be watching his point guard skills more than his fastbreak dunks or pull-up 3-pointers.
Bottom Line: Robinson is taking the right approach to Chicago. He wants to shock the NBA scouts with his talent. He's convinced that he can play at the next level. Robinson wants to stay in the draft, but if he can't get a guarantee for the first round (which seems highly unlikely), he should be back in Seattle for his junior season.
Class: Freshman | Position: Center | Ht: 7-0 | Wt: 240
2003-04 Stats: 6.0 ppg | 4.7 rpg
Scouts Say: Iti's invitation to the pre-draft camp, along with Gonzaga senior Cory Violette's omission, irked some scouts, let alone coaches in Spokane. Iti has done nothing in his basketball career to warrant an invitation to the draft camp. To quote one scout, he needs a "game transplant," before the NBA would consider him. He wouldn't be drafted if there were three rounds in the draft. Another scout said Iti would have to get every rebound, block shots, and run the court like Milwaukee's Dan Gadzuric to get a look.
Bottom Line: He's not even on this draft's radar. So, unless he's becomes a dominant center in four days, Iti should (and we underscore should) be back in Charlotte for his sophomore season.
Dijon Thompson College: UCLA Class: Junior | Position: Forward | Ht: 6-8 | Wt: 205 2003-04 Stats: 14.4 ppg | 4.3 rpg
Scouts Say: No other player irritated scouts among the seven more than Thompson. We couldn't find anyone who thought Thompson deserved to be in the Chicago pre-draft camp. UCLA gets plenty of looks from scouts, so they didn't feel like they needed to get another look at him. The comments were harsh. One scout said they didn't know of a player with his talent that accomplished less in his career. He went on to say that Thompson was soft, an underachiever and couldn't understand why the NBA invited him to the camp. Another scout flat out said Thompson couldn't play in the NBA. But for the purposes of this discussion in Chicago, he said Thompson must show he can be a consistent shooter, put the ball on the floor and finish. And he must show he can guard somebody, anybody.
Bottom Line: Thompson must shoot the ball as well as he ever has in a three-day period to get a sniff -- in the second round. The odds are against that occurring, so Thompson will likely be back at UCLA.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.