- Andy Katz, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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It would be easy to paint the Chicago pre-draft camp as a second-round tryout. The list of big names not participating this week, combined with a laundry list of international players expected to be chosen in the first round, makes those in attendance this week fighting for just a few first-round slots.
But such thinking would require the assumption that every single international early-entry player stayed in the draft. The odds are against that happening. A year ago, 10 of the 15 early-entry international players pulled out of the draft. Of the 31 on this year's early-entry list, the NBA expects around half to withdraw by the June 19 deadline.
All of which means, the first round is far from filled.
The play of those invited to Chicago will affect at least the late, if not second half, of the first round on June 26. And that is why the atmosphere Tuesday through Friday will be intense, and at times anxious, for the 65 players who know every high-profile NBA executive is deciding whether they are worthy of a guaranteed contract.
Think of the NBA's only official camp prior to the draft as the equivalent of the NFL's draft combine. Players begin the week with a session of drills Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Players will then be placed on teams, which play a total of three games Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute.
As is the case most years, the NBA expects the top 15 or so players to not play in Chicago. But LeBron James and the other potential lottery picks are expected for the physical-only part of the camp (Saturday to Monday). James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, T.J. Ford, Chris Bosh, Chris Kaman, Dwyane Wade, Kirk Hinrich, Nick Collison, Josh Howard, David West, Brian Cook, Michael Sweetney and Luke Ridnour were invited by the NBA to be evaluated by teams off the court.
The NBA also invited center Chris Marcus of Western Kentucky to have his foot examined. The 7-footer broke his foot last season, sitting out all but five games as a senior and reportedly contemplating giving up basketball. Siberian center Pavel Podkolzin will also be in the physical-only group. Marcus would have been a top 15 pick a year ago. Podkolzin could sneak into that group.
The NBA is still waiting to see if Georgia's Jarvis Hayes shows up to work out in the camp. Louisville's Reece Gaines withdrew. So, too, did UNLV's Marcus Banks. Hayes could be in the lottery. So, too, could Gaines. Banks is a likely late first-round pick. But he could slip into the second.
The consensus among the NBA personnel running the camp, and the majority of NBA teams, is there are only a handful of potential first-round picks coming to Chicago. But that could change if the international pool shrinks as expected.
"If some of those foreign guys don't get a guarantee, then it will open up spots for guys in Chicago," said Adam Simon, the Miami Heat's scouting coordinator. "Chicago has become a venue for players to possibly move up who are second-round picks."
"The best-case scenario is for players to move up from the late first to the mid-first or the lottery," said George David, Detroit's director of scouting.
Jamal Crawford moved up from a possible second-round pick into the lottery in 2000 based on his play in Chicago. Jeryl Sasser went from the second round to the late first in 2001. Steven Hunter rose even higher in '01, going No. 15 after declaring early out of DePaul. Freddie Jones jumped up to No. 14 last June after being billed as a second-round, or late first-round pick.
If a similar scenario occurs in this year's draft, don't be surprised if it's due to a stellar week in Chicago by Boston College's Troy Bell, St. John's Marcus Hatten, Saint Joseph's Jameer Nelson, Tennessee's Ron Slay, Alabama's Mo Williams, Duke's Dahntay Jones or Texas Tech's Andre Emmett. Each are border-line first-round picks. Jones and Williams have the best chance of rising into the first round heading into Chicago based on their college rep and the NBA's buzz about their game and athleticism. But the others could gain ground quickly if they dominate the three days of games.
Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting, says this could be the best collection of college players in Chicago -- ever. He's certainly thrilled with the point guards. Bell, Hatten, Nelson, Williams, Price, Arizona's Jason Gardner and Pittsburgh's Brandin Knight will certainly make it one of the most competitive positions at the camp.
But this year's draft remains unique because of the potential for up to 10 to 13 international players going in the first round. The question remains: Will teams look to someone like Frank Williams or try and find a Nenad Krstic late? The latter was drafted by New Jersey and kept overseas. Williams hardly played for the Knicks this season after being chosen 25th overall.
Teams could look at seniors like Juan Dixon (No. 17 by Washington in 2002), or take a gamble on foreign players like Bostjan Nachbar or Jiri Welsch. There was a buzz about the latter two international players, who hardly played as rookies, but were selected in the first round over senior All-American Steve Logan, who played well in Chicago but was still on the board when Golden State chose him No. 30 to start the second round.
And that's where Chicago fits into the process.
Teams say they would rather the players go to Chicago so they can see them in one spot instead of trying to get them to come for workouts in their individual cities. The problem with the more common scenario is players can tire easily after going to seven cities in eight days.
"The problem is that some of the guys who aren't going to workouts think they're in the first round," Simon said. "We've got the 33rd pick and a lot of players aren't working out for us because they all think they're in the first round."
At least if some of these players -- like Minnesota's Rick Rickert -- showed up in Chicago, there would be someone to compare them when making a selection. If players aren't in Chicago and not first-round locks, they could be in for big surprises on draft night.
The NBA used to have three scouting camps, two run by the league in Phoenix and Chicago, and the privately but NBA-influenced Portsmouth Invitational (Va.). The Portsmouth event still exists for only seniors in April. It's an event that once included Tim Hardaway, John Stockton and Scottie Pippen when scouting wasn't as extensive. Now, Portsmouth is mostly for fringe players looking to get an invitation to Chicago.
As for Phoenix, the need for a second NBA pre-draft camp appears over. If a player isn't known by this week, he won't be discovered -- unless he's an international find -- and even those players aren't found by accident with European, Asian and African scouting becoming so intense.
Still, if there are fewer international players to choose from, Chicago's best will move into the first round. And that's why the next three days remain among the most important for most players not named LeBron, Carmelo, Darko or T.J.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
Three good days in Chicago could mean a ticket into the NBA draft's first round.