Seniors in Chicago have plenty to prove

Updated: June 10, 2004, 12:34 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Tony Allen was lounging at his Chicago home Tuesday, enjoying some well-earned R&R after his 12 workouts for NBA teams had dragged him across the country.

The Big 12 player of the year needed a break. And with another seven individual workouts scheduled for the Oklahoma State senior guard next week, the last thing he wanted to do was play in this week's Chicago pre-draft camp. Besides, in his mind, Allen believed he was worthy of skipping Chicago. If fellow seniors Jameer Nelson (Saint Joseph's), Luke Jackson (Oregon) and Rafael Araujo (BYU) -- three players in the Class of 2004 expected to go in the first round -- weren't expected to play this week, neither should he.

Not quite.

Allen's agent Michael Higgins landed in the Windy City at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. His first phone call was to Allen.

"I said, 'Where are you,'" Higgins said. "He told me he was at home. And I told him to get over to the hotel, check in and be there by 3 p.m."

Talk about a last-minute decision.

"I thought I didn't have to come," said Allen, who was invited to the Chicago camp, but was planning to be among the no-shows this week. "I thought I had proved everything with the 12 workouts.

"The camp was about to start, so I ran and got some shoes and came down here (to check in to the Wyndham Hotel) for a 3:30 p.m. meeting. My agent said I had to play."

So there was Allen, mulling around with other first-round hopefuls Tuesday. He was no longer the player who had guided Oklahoma State to the Final Four, but rather just another faceless number in line waiting to be measured, weighed and issued a camp jersey for games Wednesday. And on Wednesday morning, he took another court in front of the same GMs and scouts who've watched him for the past month in workouts from Seattle to Boston.

After the first day of games, the consensus among those NBA folks was Allen has the best chance among the 66 players here to be chosen in the first round. There was some talk of teams, like Seattle, trading or packaging second-round picks to a team late in the first round to select Allen.

Tony Allen
Oklahoma State senior Tony Allen needs to rise above the Chicago competition in order to crack the first round.

Teams love his toughness, defensive tenacity and all-around skills that made him the Cowboys' best player during the Big 12 regular season, conference tournament title run and NCAA Tournament.

So, why was Allen rushed to Moody Bible College? Well, nothing is certain when it comes to this year's draft. And Higgins couldn't guarantee his client on June 9 that he would be among the first 29 picks on June 24. Spots in the first round -- and the guaranteed contracts that come with them -- are at a premium. Why not show that Allen wasn't afraid of a little more competition?

"Nobody plays as hard as he does," Higgins said. "He's physical, he defends, and in a camp like this he doesn't have to score or make shots. He just has to play tough."

Higgins was doing his best to put a positive spin on Allen's first game, which saw him score just six points on 2-of-5 shooting -- numbers that aren't going to get him drafted in the first round. Allen's body language early Wednesday also indicated that he wasn't exactly enamored to be at the camp, a fear Higgins had once he told Allen he had to attend.

Higgins was worried Allen would show up and be a "dog," at the camp. He told him if that was his intention then don't bother showing up. And a scout watching Allen high above the Moody Bible Institute floor said that kind of behavior could hamper him from being a first-round pick.

"When I woke up (Wednesday morning) I felt like, 'Why am I here,'" Allen said. "But I said I had to suck it up and play. I bring a lot of hard work and discipline and do the little things that I don't see others do."

Allen has two more days to prove he belongs in the first round, or at least a look higher than any current mock draft. Troy Bell (16th) and Dahntay Jones (20th) each played their way into the first round last year in Chicago. But even if Allen can't convince NBA types he deserves guaranteed money, he could become this year's Carlos Boozer, who was selected No. 35 overall in 2002 and become a steal for the Cavaliers.

Allen's perimeter defense will help his cause and Higgins, at least, is confident Allen is a ready-to-play draft pick -- which is something that can't be said for a host of first-round selections. Allen, who went to two junior colleges before playing two seasons at Oklahoma State, said he has the maturity to play immediately in the league.

"I've got the four years of college," Allen said.

Texas Tech's Andre Emmett also has plenty of college seasoning. Emmett, another Higgins client, was in Chicago a year ago as an early-entry candidate and he didn't hesitate to return as a senior. Emmett knows he needs to create more buzz about his first-round candidacy, or at least keep himself high in the second round.

Emmett got off to a great start Wednesday, displaying his offensive prowess with 20 points on 10-of-13 shooting. Higgins said Emmett not only had to show up this week, but he also needed to score.

"I just wanted to let people know that I can work hard and be aggressive," Emmett said. "I'm the type of person, that if I have to do it, and play, then I'll do it."

Allen and Emmett are just two of this year's senior class who are using last year's seniors like Marquis Daniels, who went undrafted, and Luke Walton, who went in the second round to the Lakers, as role models.

Those (high school guys and foreigners) are getting picked on potential. I went to college for the experience. ... I can come off the bench (in the NBA) and give energy and make shots if a team gives me a chance. I only have to impress one team.
Matt Freije,
Vanderbilt senior forward

Walton stuck with the Lakers this season, and after spending much of the year on the bench, he could be instrumental in L.A.'s title quest. His passing (eight assists) and timely points helped the Lakers even things with Detroit in the NBA Finals heading into Game 3. And without the free agent Daniels' scoring (15.8 ppg in five games against Sacramento in the playoffs), the Mavericks might have been searching offensively in the final month of the season.

That's why seniors like Vanderbilt's Matt Freije, Florida State's Tim Pickett and Memphis' Antonio Burks aren't sweating being in Chicago, even if it means they could go in the second round -- or not at all.

"Those (high school guys and foreigners) are getting picked on potential," Freije said. "I went to college for the experience. I didn't have the opportunity to come out early like they did. If you do, then you might as well go for it. Luke Walton is a great example. I can come off the bench and give energy and make shots if a team gives me a chance. I only have to impress one team."

These seniors usually work out for more teams during June than any other groups of prospects (underclassmen, foreigners and high school seniors) because there is so much uncertainty as to where they're going to be selected. Higgins said Allen will likely go to 19 workouts, which could be some sort of unofficial record. And by adding the four days of playing in Chicago, the process could technically become 23 days of workouts.

So, while Allen didn't want to bother with this camp, he got here on time ... albeit barely. Now, if he can play up to his potential, there is no reason why his presence should be a hindrance to him going in the second round.

And, if he can play through the bitterness of being here, he could be the only senior pre-draft camper to be selected in the first round.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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