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PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- For the second consecutive day at NBA's Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT) draft camp, the story is about who's not here, rather than who is.
After pointing out Thursday that this crop of seniors may be the worst in NBA draft history, it's time to ask the really tough questions. Why? Is it just a fluke that this year's college seniors are so bad? Remember, nine seniors went in the first round of last year's draft, and several of them, including the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich and the Mavericks' Josh Howard, are having great rookie seasons.
Or is this a case of the NBA once again prematurely strip-mining its own resources, then complaining about the inevitable talent erosion? If the NBA had a rule preventing players from entering the draft until after their senior season, players such as Zach Randolph, Caron Butler, Dwyane Wade, Jared Jeffries, Chris Wilcox, Eddie Griffin, Darius Miles, DeShawn Stevenson, Rodney White, Chris Kaman, Qyntel Woods, Michael Sweetney and Luke Ridnour would be added to a class now headlined by Jameer Nelson, Rafael Araujo and Luke Jackson.
While that's certainly would be a much better class of seniors, is it, as a whole, much stronger than the current draft class that's filled with underclassmen? Some GMs would be thrilled to have that many talented four-year seniors at their disposal.
Others, the ones blinded by upside and athletic 7-footers shooting 3s, probably aren't that impressed. Wade looks like he's a star, though he's an undersized two. Randolph and Butler have the talent to be really good. Everyone else? Well, we'll never really know?
This annual conundrum got me thinking again about what the league is doing to stop the tidal wave of underclassmen that flood the draft and drain the collegiate ranks. We've already talked about age limits and the possibility of instituting a real minor league that gives young players a place to get experience. Those are the things the league is thinking about doing to solve the problem. Are they doing anything now?
My search led me over the scorer's table, where NBA vice-president Stu Jackson was sitting. Jackson, in addition to being the guy who hands out all of the fines and polices the referees (the two most thankless jobs in the NBA), also wears a third cap around draft time. He's the head of the NBA's official Undergraduate Advisory Committee. Jackson's job is to poll a volunteer committee of GMs and directors of player personnel about the draft prospects of underclassmen who are considering entering the draft.
Like Jackson's other two jobs with the NBA, it's often a thankless one.
"It's a labor of love," Jackson told Insider. "It can also be pretty frustrating. You try to get information that helps these kids make smart decisions. But not everyone listens. Still, if you can help one guy each year make the right decision, all of the work is worth it."
The process begins at the first of the year, when Jackson's committee sends a letter to every NCAA Division I coach informing them how to use the committee. Coaches who have underclassmen interested in the draft can fill out a form and send it to Jackson. Jackson then begins calling the various members of the committee looking for a projected draft range for that prospect.
Once he's talked to enough people, he calls the coach, player and sometimes even the parents and lets them know what draft range the committee projects. The process is more informal for high school players, but Jackson said the committee services those players, as well, if they ask.
Prospective players are told whether they're projected as lottery picks, first-rounders, second-rounders or undrafted. Jackson encourages the kids to keep checking back periodically as the draft process rolls along, because projections can change pretty dramatically between April and the mid-June deadline to withdraw from the draft.
"The whole idea is to give kids an unbiased evaluation so that they can make informed decisions," Jackson told Insider. "These kids are inundated with advice. Often times they're listening to the people who don't know what they're talking about. It's sad."
Jackson tells of an underclassman last year (he wouldn't divulge the name) who, with the help of his coach, kept asking the committee about his draft status. With each request, Jackson would call the player, coach and family to let them know the consensus remained that the player would be a second-round pick at best. The player ignored the recommendation, hired an agent, wasn't picked until the second round and didn't make it onto an NBA roster.
Jackson estimates he gets around 30 to 40 requests each year. Obviously, considerably more underclassmen enter the draft than actually call Jackson for advice. Do the ones who do call actually listen to what Jackson and the committee say?
"I think that the kids that would ignore what we had to tell them wouldn't seek the advice in the first place."
This whole process leads to an interesting question. Is the NBA itself responsible for the flood of underclassmen? Of the 13 players we highlighted above that would be college seniors had they not entered the draft, all of them were drafted in the first round, 10 in the lottery. While Jackson wouldn't reveal specifically who the committee has and hasn't given advice to in the past, there's a very good chance it was the NBA itself that confirmed to these kids it was safe to enter the draft. Would they have given up their college eligibility had they been more unsure about the millions they were or weren't about to earn?
Jackson says that despite the apparent side effects of such a system, the process itself is worthwhile. "It's so hard to get good information. The chance to counsel these kids and give them an educated opinion can really make a difference in their lives and can prevent some heartache. Jameer Nelson used the system last year and came to the conclusion that his status in the first round wasn't secure. He returned to school and look where it's got him."
Thank goodness. Without Nelson, the senior class could've been on the verge of being shut out of the first round for the first time ever.
Who's Hot and Who's Not at Portsmouth
Thank goodness for USC's Desmon Farmer. He perked everyone up in his first game here with a passionate performance that drew the crowd to its feet on several occasions. Farmer not only played with great energy, he also scored 16 points and handed out a PIT-high eight assists. While he didn't shoot the ball particularly well from deep, scouts still commented that it was the best performance they had seen here so far.
Georgia's Rashad Wright and Kentucky's Erik Daniels also had impressive performances in limited minutes. Wright scored 11 points and handed out eight assists in just 14 minutes of playing time. Daniels did him one better, scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 boards in just 13 minutes. Wright was often paired in the backcourt with Memphis' Antonio Burks, who scored 13 points on 6-for-13 shooting. Combined with Farmer, center Sean Finn of Dayton (11 points, 10 boards), Aerick Sanders (14 points, 13 boards in 15 minutes) and Dylan Page (14 points, 6 boards), they blew out their opponent, 104-71.
DePaul's Delonte Holland and Mississippi's Justin Reed both had some buzz coming into camp. However, Reed's 0-for-6 shooting performance and Holland's miserable 6-for-23 brick-shooting clinic effectively killed it. The lone star on that team was little known UMKC star Michael Watson, who had 16 points on 7-for-18 shooting.
Wednesday's PIT darling, Georgia State center Nate Williams, continued his strong performance with a nice 14-point performance. While his rebounding numbers dipped to four, scouts still are impressed with the energy he has shown here. Many scouts believe Williams has the tools to play in the NBA, but he has dogged it for the past two seasons. Seeing him playing at this pace was a major surprise and likely will earn him an invitation to the Chicago pre-draft camp.
Miami's Darius Rice continued his awful performance here. Rice went 1-for-9 from the field on Thursday. For the tournament, he's just 3-for-23. I hope he has a passport.
Manhattan's Luis Flores continues to do enough here to keep him on scouts' radar screens. He followed up a nice 16-point performance on Wednesday with a stronger 17-point, nine-rebound, three-assist performance on Thursday. While scouts still think he needs to prove he can play the point, I've heard Bobby Jackson's name brought up as a comparison on several occasions. The kid can flat-out score.
DePaul power forward Andre Brown had a dominating 23-point, 11-rebound game in the evening contest. Brown, a former McDonald's All-American, was dominating in the paint and also showed a nice jump shot with range out to 15 feet. Brown can even put the ball on the floor a little bit. He had a disappointing year at DePaul, but scouts believe he could be a kid worth taking a look at. He's one of the few kids here who still has some upside left to his game.
Ricky Minard, a 6-4 two guard from Morehead State, had a great night, shooting 10-for-11 from the field for 24 points.
Iowa State center Jackson Vroman once again showed that he knows how to put the ball in the basket, dropping in 20 points Thursday night. But how can the biggest guy on the floor only grab five boards?
For the second straight day, draft rumors were flying around the NBA's Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT) draft camp, with names such as Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair and Ronny Turiaf mentioned prominently. Here's what we're hearing ...
After two so-so performances in high school all-star games, it appears Sebastian Telfair's stock is plummeting. Several GMs I talked to in Portsmouth were very down on Telfair after watching him play in Chicago and at the Nike Hoop Summit in San Antonio. While they acknowledged Telfair actually ran the point pretty well in both events, his terrible shooting and inability to get to the basket in both games was disturbing.
"He's looked pretty good in the transition game, but what you really look for is a guy who can make things happen in the half-court set," one scout told Insider. "I haven't seen Telfair doing that. He's not going to be able to run in the league that much. I just think he'd be so much better playing a few years for Rick Pitino (at Louisville)."
Take it for what's worth. All it takes is one team in the lottery to fall in love with Telfair. When I talked to him last week, he believed that there were two.
It looks as if Providence forward Ryan Gomes will test the draft waters. Gomes is coming off an incredible season at Providence and has about as much buzz as he's going to get. The scouts I talked to believe he's likely to be drafted somewhere in the late first round, though they acknowledge there's a possibility he could slip into round two.
The issue with Gomes is position. He was a four in college, but at 6-foot-7, he's going to have to transition to the three in the pros. That might be possible. He really improved his perimeter game this season, but scouts still aren't totally sold. If Gomes declares -- the NBA hasn't received his paperwork yet -- he'll probably wait to hire an agent and try to get a better feel for his stock.
Ronny Turiaf likely will declare for the draft, according to a source close to the Gonzaga junior. Turiaf, however, won't hire an agent immediately, preserving his collegiate eligibility, the same source said. Turiaf is in an interesting case. Some scouts love him, others aren't sold. He's competing against other power forwards such as Kris Humphries, Al Jefferson and Lawrence Roberts. Humphries seems to be the clear leader of the four. After that, Turiaf ends up anywhere from second to fourth on the list, depending on the team. My guess is he'd get drafted in the 20s. He has great size, good athleticism and can score in the paint. Those type of players don't come along often.
We may need to add another young international stud to the mix. Sources told Insider Thursday that French forward Johan Petro is mulling declaring for the draft. Petro is a 6-11, 245-pound power forward playing for French team Pau Orthez (the same team that gave the NBA Mickael Pietrus and Boris Diaw).
Petro has played limited minutes for Pau this year, but scouts love his athleticism, length, rebounding and aggressive defense. He's a little raw offensively, but he did average 17.8 ppg for the French national team last summer in the 18-and-under category. I don't know where you'd put him, but from the scouts I've talked to, he's got a pretty good shot to go in the first round.
Another day, another head scratcher. Baylor junior Harvey Thomas announced he'll forego his senior season and enter the draft. Given Baylor's current situation you can hardly blame him ... but still, it's very unlikely Thomas is an NBA first rounder.