Five of the players to come off the board at the top of the draft played just a single season in college. In turn, they have matured together as both basketball players and people.
Bradley Beal, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Austin Rivers all left after their freshmen year, while Harrison Barnes, Jeremy Lamb, Meyers Leonard, Terrence Ross and Dion Waiters played only two collegiate seasons.
“I think it’s cool that -- I’m not encouraging it -- but a lot of us are one-and-dones,” said Rivers, who played 34 games at Duke.
“A lot of us have played AAU together and I played at the Hoop Summit with Anthony, Michael and Brad. I played with Harrison. I’m cool with all these guys. I think it’s cool that all of us are experiencing this together. I’ve been playing against Michael since like the sixth grade.”
For the most part, each of the players made available to the media on Wednesday talked very fondly of one another. Of course, that isn’t to say any of the soon-to-be NBAers lack confidence, but there is a palpable camaraderie.
If Not Davis, Who Is The Best Prospect?
The New Orleans Hornets will select Anthony Davis with the first overall pick on Thursday. The next person to make an argument why Davis isn't the best prospect in the class will be the first.
The bigger and more important question is who is the second best prospect behind Davis?
To find out the consensus among the players themselves, I surveyed seven with the following question – “If not allowed to name Davis or yourself, who is the best prospect in this class?” The answers weren’t as wide-ranging as you might think.
Five different players were mentioned in response, but only Thomas Robinson was brought up more than once. He was mentioned by a point guard, wing and a big man, which says something itself.
“I like Thomas Robinson a lot,” Damian Lillard said. “I don’t know him real well, but he was on my team at Adidas two years ago and was a great dude. Even away from the court. He’s built, got a great body and skill set. I think he can develop a lot more and could be a real good player. Everything he’s been through has made him tougher.”
Lillard was referring to a three-week period in January 2011 when Robinson lost his grandmother, grandfather and mother. He returned to the court for Kansas soon after and proved to be an inspirational force for the Jayhawks.
Barnes opted for Robinson in the paint, but separated his picks by court placement.
“If you are going perimeter, obviously Bradley Beal is extremely skilled. Gilchrist too,” said Barnes. “If you are going down low, then Thomas Robinson.”
A number of players answered with confidence, as though they had been pondering the question on their own time, but a few struggled to rationalize a selection.
“That’s tough. It depends on position,” Beal reasoned. “Some people are capable of doing things that others can’t and vice versa. It’s a great class and I don’t think any one player sticks out more than anyone else.”
Waiters brought up the possibility that the best, or second-best, player from this class may not even be among the first thirty picks.
“There are a lot of good players and a lot of them have potential to be great in this league,” Waiters said. “I can’t just single out one person, you just never know. I wish the best for everybody. I’m not going to single out one guy, it could be someone in the second round.”
Speaking of Waiters, Drummond had nothing but good things to say about the Philadelphia native.
“Waiters is probably one of the sleepers in this draft,” Drummond said about his fellow Big East product. “He makes you play. He’ll shoot in your face and laugh at you after.”
Drummond mentioned Robinson and Waiters when I asked him about the best prospect not named Davis, but John Henson was less impartial. Without hesitation, Henson spoke highly of Barnes, who was his teammate for two seasons at North Carolina.
“Harrison,” Henson said. “He’s a beast on offense and even on defense when he locks in he can play good D.”
Score Two For The “Slim Guys”
As someone who has been considered slim his entire life, I have a special place in my heart for players like Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett (the early years) because they defied critics by reaching the highest level of the game without sculpted biceps or huge forearms.
It remains to be seen how long they’ll be “Slim Guys” but two more players comprised of skin and bones will enter the NBA this week.
Henson has been hearing that he needs to gain weight all his life. He is officially listed at 6-foot-10 and 220 pounds.
“It’s been that way forever,” he said. “I told somebody ‘God forbid I get to 240, I might have to lose weight.’ It’s a valid argument. I’m going to put on weight and I will put on weight.”
When asked about Davis, Henson issued support.
“He’s going to be the No. 1 pick for a reason,” Henson said. “I hope he works out fine because he’s one of the ‘Slim Guys.’ He’ll do alright.”
Barnes Appears Contrite
Since being anointed the best incoming freshman in the class of 2011, Barnes has developed a reputation as someone who spoke too candidly about his off the court ambitions, a player that didn’t live up to expectations, and an athlete that isn’t as gifted as some of his contemporaries.
Barnes has put at least one of those criticisms to bed with increased maturity.
He was asked by a newspaper reporter if he still seeks to establish a brand, something he mentioned as a goal during his time in college. He gave a reflective answer.
“I said a lot of things when I was in college, some of which were premature,” Barnes admitted. “I think the best thing for right now is just to focus on the basketball court and everything else will take care of itself.”
Every year there is a prospect that surprises me in terms of maturity and professionalism. Jeff Green is one that comes to mind and this week it was Barnes. He was candid, maintained eye contact and answered each question thoughtfully.
“I always thought I was projected to go late Top-10, so that was where I started,” Barnes said when asked about his draft expectations, a question most players skirt past. “But after the combine some of the top five teams started showing a lot of interest, so I started working out for them.”
Barnes even confessed that the Bobcats trading for Ben Gordon will change the draft landscape, something many involved parties have done their best to deny.
“Everyone is just staying on their toes. With a lot of new trades happening, obviously with the Bobcats getting Ben Gordon that might change the landscape, potentially Charlotte moving down from two,” he said. “Everyone’s just staying on their toes; you don’t want to get set in one place.”
Cavaliers Organized Tough Workout
Owning the fourth overall pick in a draft that will be incredibly fluid, Cleveland worked out a number of players. Among the elite prospects, they worked out Barnes, Beal, Drummond and Kidd-Gilchrist. Two of those players mentioned the workout as the most difficult of the circuit.
“It was real competitive. Harrison Barnes is a great player,” Beal said. “We went after each other. We both had a great workout. The way they ran it in Cleveland was very competitive, a bunch of one-on-one and two-on-two stuff. Shooting and conditioning as well, it was fun to compete like that.”
Not surprisingly, Barnes touched on the same battle.
“Cleveland was my hardest workout by far, we really got after it. It was a bunch of grinders, guys like Bradley Beal.”
Given the apparent battle Barnes and Beal waged in front of Cleveland’s brass, things will get interesting if both are on the board when it’s their turn to pick.