- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Jameer Nelson arrived at the NBA pre-draft camp at a crossroads. He will likely base his decision on whether to remain in the draft or withdraw his name and return to college on how he performed over the camp's three days. ESPN.com's Andy Katz tracked Nelson's progress each day.
CHICAGO -- Jameer Nelson started to play the politics of the NBA draft Friday night, but understanding the game off the court won't make the decision of staying in the draft any easier.
Nelson started to break down his possibilities of staying or going while sitting down for dinner in Chicago with his cousin, a summer league coach and Saint Joseph's assistant Monte Ross. He knows that his numbers were good enough over the three days to crack the first round. But, despite his strong case on the court this week, what he knew going into the NBA pre-draft camp may still keep him out of the first round: He's not 6-feet tall.
And the height issue may keep him in college and out of the first round this year.
The 5-11 Saint Joseph's junior point guard finished up strong Friday morning with a 4-for-6 shooting, seven-assist, three-steal game. He finished his three-game audition by making 12 of 22 shots over three days, dishing out 19 assists with only five turnovers, and adding four steals for good measure.
Nelson also made Kentucky's Keith Bogans a better player throughout the time the duo spent in the same backcourt, feeding the Wildcats' shooting guard for a double-figure average throughout the week.
But Nelson said he understands that what he did this week inside the Moody Bible Institute may have no bearing on his draft position. If teams slotted him somewhere from No. 21 to 35 then that's where he would still be, regardless of his play in Chicago. Certainly, he could have slid down by playing poorly. But by playing well, he stayed in a precarious position.
"I did my job individually," Nelson said. "I needed to show that I could play because the questions about my height."
Nelson would love a guarantee that he will be drafted in the first round. He needs one, actually, to make his decision easier. If he receives the word from any NBA team that they're interested in using their first-round pick on him, he will definitely stay in the draft. But that could be hard to come by over the next two weeks.
Nelson was the best true point guard in camp. But scoring point guard Troy Bell of Boston College was the most impressive. The word from most NBA personnel is that Nelson and Bell are still borderline first-round picks. They might be first-round talent, but there might not be a spot for them among the first 29 picks.
Teams are still enamored with foreigners, and even with a language barrier, Brazilian Leandrinho Barbosa could end up going ahead of both Nelson and Bell. Nelson should go higher than fellow camper Maurice Williams and Chris Thomas, who wasn't in Chicago, if both rising juniors stayed in the draft.
Nelson said he wouldn't have problems going back to school if that's what has to happen. Don't expect a decision, however, until the days leading up to June 19 -- the deadline for the early-entry candidates to withdraw from the June 26 draft.
The pros of returning to Saint Joseph's start with the chance to be the most heralded point guard in college next season. He would be billed as preseason first-team all-America. The Hawks would have a chance to compete for an A-10 title and a Sweet 16 berth. The Hawks could get a national TV game or two, and Nelson would have his number likely retired by the school.
A possible argument against going back to school is it would slow down the process of getting to the NBA. If he's good enough to make an NBA roster next season, even if it's via the second round, then why wait? The only negative would be the financial difference of a guaranteed first-round contract.
Still, Nelson could have a better chance of cracking the first round in 2004 if he has a stellar senior season at St. Joe's.
The plan, for now, is for Nelson is to go home Sunday after going through the medical and physical testing Saturday in Chicago. He has summer school classes to attend Tuesday, and is expected to schedule more NBA workouts. But he said he can't afford to fly around the country. Instead, he'll more than likely hope teams are interested enough to come to Philadelphia to watch him workout.
In the interim, Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli began calling teams from No. 20 to 29 in the first round.
"I want to know if they would take him, point blank," Martelli said by phone from his Saint Joseph's office. So far, he's talked to the Pistons, Timberwolves and Grizzlies -- all prior to the Chicago camp. "I want to know if they think he would be a first-round pick."
Martelli said he planned on calling Boston, Atlanta, New Jersey, Portland, the Lakers, Detroit, Minnesota, Memphis, San Antonio and Dallas. He said he wants to know who is interested in spending a first-round pick on a point guard.
Even if that point guard isn't 6-feet tall.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
Jameer Nelson did all he could in Chicago. But cracking the first round is a tall order.