Diaz not giving up on NBA dream yet

Originally Published: June 11, 2007
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

This is a cautionary tale for Arron Afflalo, Marcus Williams, Glen Davis and maybe Wilson Chandler.

Guillermo Diaz's story is like those of so many other players who declare early for the NBA draft and sign with an agent. Diaz, like the players mentioned above in this year's draft, didn't test the draft process. He was in a year ago as soon as Miami's season ended.

But unlike Texas' Daniel Gibson, who is flourishing as a second-round pick with Cleveland in the playoffs, Diaz wasn't as fortunate.

He wasn't doing dishes as a side gig either. He was simply in Europe, playing in the Czech Republic and Greece. And now he's back in the states this spring, training in Las Vegas, getting ready to be on the L.A. Clippers' summer-league team. He's doing all that with the hope that this time the Clippers, who drafted him No. 52 in the 2006 second round, will keep him on the squad for training camp and into next season.

Look, this isn't a sappy, sad story about a player who left a year early and didn't make it. That's hardly the case. Diaz may make the NBA this year or next. His dream is far from over.

But what Diaz proves is that understanding the reality of where you are in the draft is still a foreign concept for many who declare early and forgo the rest of their college careers. Diaz was about as confident as a player could be on draft day in 2006.

Guillermo Diaz
Peyton Williams/US PresswireDiaz expected his athleticism to take him into the first round despite warnings that he could slip. He was not drafted.
"I expected to go in the first round," he said recently. "But I didn't. I just have to learn from that and forget about it. It doesn't matter where you get drafted, but it matters where you end up in 10 years. I didn't get drafted where I wanted, but I still have my dream. After that night, I forgot about it."

Diaz's agent, Jason Levien, said his client was informed that he wasn't a lock for the first round. The reality is that tendinitis in his knee his last two years at Miami may have hurt Diaz's chances to go in the first round. His numbers -- which went down a smidgen from 18 points as a sophomore to 17 points as a junior -- may have hurt him as well. But he was still an all-Big East first-team member as a freshman and a second-team all-ACC selection as a sophomore and junior.

"Guillermo thought about leaving after his sophomore year, and he was probably in a much better position in the draft," Levien said. "He was coming off the knee surgery as a junior and he was all over the map [in the draft]. As the process continued, I got a better sense that he might fall."

Miami coach Frank Haith asserted that Diaz didn't hear everything he should have during the draft process. He said a number of teams told him Diaz was a second-round pick. Still today, NBA teams say the same thing.

"It's really hard because there are so many players today that have other influences, other than the coach," Haith said. "A thousand people could tell you you're not going in the first round, but if you're in the first round in one mock draft, then that's who they'll listen to. Kids tend to listen to what they want to hear."

Haith said Diaz didn't participate in the Orlando pre-draft camp a year ago but did some workouts outside of the camp. Haith, who didn't have much involvement in Diaz's draft process, said it was a mistake for Diaz not to have played in the event.

Those close to Diaz have said that too much is made of being a first-round pick. And that's true. We have seen time and time again how second-round picks are flourishing in the NBA. But that usually means they were the right fit for the right team. Still, the majority of players who leave early -- and do so without hesitation -- aren't thinking about the second round and the lack of a guaranteed contract.

"You have to believe in yourself," said Diaz, 22. "If you have any doubts, then you should go back to school and play another year. The transition isn't easy from college to pro or Europe. I don't regret anything. I was confident but things didn't happen the way I wanted. Life isn't over. I'll continue. I haven't started yet. It's like I played another year in college but in Europe. I'm trying to go to the NBA. But now I have more experience than I would have had had I stayed in college."

So all that Diaz proves -- especially concerning players such as UCLA's Afflalo, LSU's Davis, Arizona's Williams and DePaul's Chandler -- is that if you left college because you assumed you were a lock for the first round, you were shortsighted. Being picked in the second round guarantees nothing. If you're fine with playing in Europe for a year if you're not in the right situation, forge on. Diaz did. And he claims he's better for doing it than he would have been with another season at Miami. That's fine. But that's also his reality. He's starting anew with the Clippers this summer, hoping that he can make the squad and prove that he belongs in the league.

Diaz isn't into the draft. He's into making the NBA.

As long as these bubble first-round early entrants see it the same way, they'll be just fine.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com