Draft Prospect Q&A

Q&A With NBA Draft Prospect Jordan Mickey

In advance of Thursday’s draft, Hoops Rumors has been talking with some of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s class. Today, the Hoops Rumors Draft Prospect Q&A series continues with LSU big man Jordan Mickey, who is ranked No. 31 in this year’s class by Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress and No. 44 by Chad Ford of ESPN.com.

LSU big man Jordan Mickey has been climbing up draft boards all spring and summer and, as Hoops Rumors reported Tuesday afternoon, his meteoric rise could land him in the first round when all is said and done.  Mickey said that officials from a team picking in the 20s told him that if he’s available, they intend on pouncing on him.  Meanwhile, the Celtics are bringing him in for a second look on Wednesday and it’s quite possible that they’re considering him for the No. 16 selection.  The C’s could also be eyeing him for their No. 28 or No. 33 picks, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be on the board at that point.

Why has Mickey been such a fast riser in recent weeks?  There are multiple answers to that question, but his greatest appeal undoubtedly is his uncanny shot-blocking ability.  Blessed with a 7′ 3.25″ wingspan, the 6′ 8″ big man plays much bigger than his size and swats shot with ease.  In fact, as a sophomore this season at LSU, Mickey recorded an average of 3.6 blocks per game to go along with 15.4 PPG and 9.9 RPG.

Jordan Mickey (vertical)

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Mickey spoke with Hoops Rumors on Tuesday to talk about his draft stock, the art of shot blocking, and much more.

Zach Links: I understand that you’re working out for the Celtics on Wednesday.  What’s that workout going to be like?  Will it be a solo audition or will you be going up against other prospects?

Jordan Mickey:  You know, I’m not exactly sure.  I haven’t heard anything about it yet, so as far as I know, it might just be me by myself.

ZL:The Celtics have a lot of picks (Nos. 16, 28, 33, and 45) this year.  Have they indicated to you that they’re looking at you for No. 16?

JM: My understanding is that I’m being brought in for a second workout for that exact reason.

ZL: Obviously your shot blocking prowess comes largely from your athleticism and wingspan, but how much of that do you attribute to timing?

JM: A lot of it is about timing. You watch some guys in their first season and they have everything down when it comes to blocking, except for the timing, and it shows.  You have to know when to jump and when to initiate body contact.  Otherwise, you’re not going to get far as a shot blocker.

ZL: As an excellent shot blocker out of LSU, I’m sure that you’ve heard Shaq’s name mentioned more than once.  Have you gotten the chance to speak with him?

JM: I haven’t had a chance to speak with him personally, but he’s come to our games before.

ZL: Growing up, did you emulate him at all?

JM: I can’t say I ever did.  We’re very different players.  He’s more of a post guy and I’m more of an athlete.

ZL: Who would you say you’re similar to in today’s NBA?

JM: Draymond Green and Paul Millsap.  We’re all about the same height and kind of undersized for the position.  When I look at Green, that’s a guy that can play the 5, 4, or 3 and he guards everything from the 1 to the 5.  That’s something I feel I can do.

ZL: At LSU, you showed that you can score effectively with a jump hook, a move that some big men tend to neglect.  Did you always have that in your arsenal or is that something you developed in college?

JM: I’ve always had a pretty good jump hook for as long as I’ve played the game.  It’s one of the first things that I ever learned, and I always worked hard at that.

ZL: You had a pretty strong freshman season for yourself.  Did you consider going pro last year?

JM: I did, I considered it.  I looked at it but I thought that if I came back my sophomore year, I could continue to improve my stock.

ZL: I saw a report recently indicating that you have a promise from a team drafting late in the first round.  Is that the case?

JM: This month a team picking in the 20s told me that if I’m available, they’ll definitely take me.

ZL: Your teammate Jarell Martin is also projected to hear his name called on Thursday.  If someone asked you for a scouting report on him, what would you say about him?

JM: I would say he’s very athletic and he gets around pretty easily.  He goes to the rim hard. … I’d also say he’s a pretty good jump shooter.  He has a great three-point shot and he’s just a very capable shooter and scorer.

ZL: What led you to choose Adie von Gontard and Matt Babcock of APAA Sports Group as your representation?

JM: Well, I didn’t want to go with a big agency.  I kind of wanted to stay small and I didn’t want to go to an agency just because of the big name appeal alone.  I wanted personal attention and I felt like I could get that with Adie.  He’s based out of Dallas too, and that’s where I’m working out of now.  I just felt comfortable talking to him and he had confidence in me and believed that I could be a first-round pick.  All of that made me want to join up with him.

Q&A With NBA Draft Prospect Norman Powell

In advance of Thursday’s draft, Hoops Rumors has been talking with some of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s class. Today, the Hoops Rumors Draft Prospect Q&A series continues with UCLA guard Norman Powell, who is ranked No. 41 in this year’s class by Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress and No. 53 by Chad Ford of ESPN.com.

After four years at UCLA, guard Norman Powell is battle tested and ready to take the next step.  While he doesn’t have the prototypical size for a shooting guard, Powell more than makes up for that with his tenacity and athleticism.  In his final year on campus, Powell showed that he can score with his jump shot, and he also put up points by slashing to the basket.  In total, Powell averaged 16.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 2.1 APG in 34.6 minutes per contest as he impressed NBA scouts and helped lead his team to the Sweet Sixteen.  Last week, Powell took some time out of his schedule to talk to Hoops Rumors about his skill set and how it’ll translate at the next level.

Zach Links: You really seemed to come into your own in your junior year. What factors led to you breaking out?

Norman Powell (vertical)

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Norman Powell: It was just the opportunity that was presented to me.  Coach [Steve] Alford, when he got hired, he came to me and told me I was going to be his guy.  He told me my junior year was going to be my breakout year and he was right.  I was finally able to show what I was capable of.

ZL: How close were you to going pro last year?

NP: A lot of people thought I wouldn’t return for my senior year given that I had a strong year.  But, I was really focused on graduating and getting my degree.

ZL: You made a lot of strides with your jump shot this season. Do you feel like that addition to your arsenal is going to make you an even more dangerous offensive threat?

NP: Yeah, definitely, I always felt like I had a strong mid-range pull-up game.  I’ve also shown that I can get to the basket and score.  Increasing my range is something that I’m definitely working on and that needs improvement.  I need to stay focused on that to get it to the level that it needs to be.

ZL: With a 6’11” wingspan, do you feel like you have a greater defensive potential than people realize?

NP: Yeah, definitely.  I think a lot of people are questioning me because of my size.  People always told me I was undersized, but with my length and athleticism, it gives me an added edge out there.  That’s something that people are counting out.  My length makes up for a lot of that. I think I have the potential to be a lockdown defender at the next level.  The sky is the limit for me, honestly, especially because I have that tough mentality and that wingspan.

ZL: Do you have any last minute workouts scheduled?

NP: I’ll actually be working out for the Lakers on Wednesday, June 24th, the day before the draft.  That’ll be my second workout with them.

ZL: What led you to choose Todd Ramasar as your agent?

NP: Todd is a UCLA guy, so he has a similar background to me.  He also understands my mindset.  I was being slept on by a lot of people when it comes to what I can do at the next level.  I feel like I have a lot to prove, I have a chip on my shoulder, and I want to show that I’m one of the top talents in the draft.  We want to put people on notice that have been counting me out.  We both have the mentality of an underdog that wants to succeed.

Q&A With NBA Draft Prospect Ryan Boatright

Leading up to the draft, Hoops Rumors will be talking with some of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s class. Today, the Hoops Rumors Draft Prospect Q&A series continues with UConn guard Ryan Boatright, who is ranked No. 84 in this year’s class by Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress and No. 96 by Chad Ford of ESPN.com.

At 5’11” and 170 pounds, UConn’s Ryan Boatright packs a lot of punch for his small size.  Over the course of his four years in college, Boatright made a name for himself as a tenacious pick-and-roll point guard on offense and a pesky perimeter defender on the other side of the floor.  In 2014, Boatright and backcourt mate Shabazz Napier helped lead UConn to a national championship.  While there was some talk of Boatright going pro early, he opted to stay in school for his senior season to show that he can lead a team all by himself.  Boatright, a client of Aaron Goodwin, spoke with Hoops Rumors last week about the workout trail, his draft stock, and much more.

Zach Links: At the draft combine this year, you clocked in with an eye-popping 41-inch vertical leap.  Did you get a lot of extra attention from scouts and team executives after that?

Ryan Boatright: I spoke with my agent and he told me a lot of people were impressed.  The funny thing is though, I normally do a 44-inch vertical.  So, that 41-inch jump was good, but it wasn’t my best.

Ryan Boatright (featured)

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

ZL: Did you think about doing it again?
RB: They gave me the opportunity to do it again but I didn’t take it.  I think 41 is impressive enough and that day I was dealing with a bit of a groin injury, so I felt like I should leave it alone.
ZL: Has your agent told you about specific teams that are especially interested in you?
RB: He said that the Clippers, Nets, and Trail Blazers are really interested in me.
ZL: Do you have an idea of where you might get drafted?
RB: I don’t ask him for the details or whatever.  I just go in there and focus on the workouts and do my best.  I don’t ask him for the range I might go in because that can always change.
ZL: After winning the National Championship in 2014, did you give any thought to going pro?
RB: Yes, I was going to go pro right after we won.  I knew my name was hot and I had a great tournament.  However, after I spoke with everyone whose opinion I trusted, I felt like one more year would be good for me.  The last day before the deadline, I decided to go back to school to show everyone that I could run the team and be a true point guard.
ZL: Are you glad that you stayed in school?
RB: Yeah, I’m glad I did that.  A few wins and a few losses this year could have made my draft position a little bit different but I don’t have any regrets.
ZL: I’m sure that you enjoyed playing alongside Shabazz Napier, but did you also enjoy getting to take on more of a leadership role in your final year?
RB: I’ve always been a leader.  I’ve never been a follower in my entire life and that role just came naturally to me.  I shared it with Shabazz when he was here; we were co-captains.  This year, though, it was just totally different.  This year I had to lead a young and inexperienced team and that was exciting.
ZL: In your freshman year at UConn, you made headlines in the New York Times Op-Ed section after the NCAA held you out for several games due to what they felt were improper benefits.  In actuality, it sounds to me like you didn’t really do anything wrong.  What was that experience like?
RB: It was extremely tough.  It was one of the hardest situations or things that I went through in my life. But, it made me stronger as a person and as a player and made me more hungry and determined to succeed.  To have something snatched away from you for no reason, when you did nothing wrong, it was devastating.  I couldn’t play basketball and that was the whole reason I went to UConn.  Still, I got through it and persevered and made the best of it.
ZL: This year, you shot 41.6% from three-point range, the best showing of your collegiate career.  What led to that major improvement?
RB: Teams were just more scared of me getting into the paint and creating havoc for myself and others.  They really contained me to keep me out of the paint.  I knew that in order to be efficient on the floor, I had to improve my three-point shot off the catch and dribble.  I just focused on practicing hard and knocking it down.

ZL: What would you say to critics who fear that you’re too small for the NBA?

RB: Everyone is going to have their opinion.  I’ve been doubted my whole life.  No one thought I’d go to UConn, let alone start and win a national championship.  The same people I’m playing in college, those are the same people I’m going to be playing in the NBA.  Even if they’re bigger and stronger, I’m going to get bigger and stronger.  I’ve held my own my whole life.  I came up in Chicago playing against pros.  If a team takes a chance on me, I’m going to hold it down for the guys that are 6’0″ and under.

ZL: Why did you choose Aaron Goodwin to represent you?
RB: Part of it was family ties, but he’s just a good guy.  I trust him.  I don’t think he’d do anything to steal from me or harm me in any way.  He takes his job seriously.  I believe that he’s going to work hard for me.  Some agencies, they only want the guy who is going in the lottery or top 20.  I feel like Aaron believed in me as much as I believe in myself.  That sealed the deal for me.

Q&A With First-Round Prospect Kevon Looney

Leading up to the draft, Hoops Rumors will be talking with some of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s class. Today, the Hoops Rumors Draft Prospect Q&A series continues with UCLA forward Kevon Looney, who is ranked No. 19 in this year’s class by Chad Ford of ESPN.com and No. 20 by Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.

Coming out of high school, scouting services collectively had Kevon Looney as the No. 11 player in the nation and he had offers from just about every elite program under the sun.   Now, after one year at UCLA, Looney is making the jump to the pros and is widely projected to be a first-round selection.

Looney is blessed with great size for the power forward position at the next level.  Standing at a shade over 6’9″ in shoes, Looney boasts an almost freakish wingspan of 7’3.5″.  With that length, Looney can grab loose rebounds with the best of ’em and has the potential to grow by leaps and bounds on the defensive end.  On offense, Looney showed last season that he’s getting more and more comfortable with his jump shot, a skill that helped to spread out the floor for the Bruins.

On Saturday, Hoops Rumors caught up with the very busy 19-year-old between flights to talk about his stock heading into June 25th, and his NBA future.

Zach Links: What was it like coming to UCLA as a freshman and immediately jumping into a starring role?

Kevon Looney: It was a great experience for me and a great learning experience for me. I think I got better as both a player and as a person. I made a lot of strides and I made a lot of friends while I was there.

ZL: What were some of the strides you made on the court?

KL: I would say my biggest improvement was probably my shooting. As the year went on, I shot better and it continued to get better. I don’t know if I got better at rebounding, but I showed that I could do it for sure. I proved that I could do it in high school but to show that to the world in college was important to me. That was probably my greatest strength this year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

ZL: Did you consider staying for another year?

KL: Yes, a little bit. I figured I could stay at UCLA for another year and get better. I mean, everyone wants to win a college National Championship and I felt like if I came back, we could have won even more as a team. But, at the end of the day, I wanted to pursue my dream and become a first-round draft pick.

ZL: You’ve shown that you can rebound over bigger and stronger opponents. What’s your secret?

KL: It’s just something I always had a knack for. I’m really long and I have good timing for it. I’ve always been good at it and I’ve always wanted to be the best at it.

ZL: Are you looking to add muscle to your frame? How much weight are you looking to put on?

KL: I’m not sure what my goal weight is. Right now I’m playing so much that it’s hard to get in the weight room. But, as soon as I’m done with the draft, I’ll talk to whatever team drafts me and get a plan for my body. I’ve never had a problem putting on weight before, so I think I’ll be able to put on weight pretty fast.

ZL: What workouts have you had so far and what workouts are coming up?

KL: So far, I’ve worked out for the Thunder, Suns, Jazz, and Pistons. Coming up, I’ve got the Hawks, Heat, Bucks, Raptors, Hornets, Celtics, and Knicks.

ZL: Do you have an idea of where you might get drafted?

KL: My agent tells me anywhere from No. 7 to No. 20. That’s my range right now.

ZL: What NBA player would you compare yourself to?

KL: I don’t know if I’m all that similar to anyone but I can tell you that I try to play like Anthony Davis and LaMarcus Aldridge. I don’t know if I’m exactly like them but I’m trying to be [laughs].

ZL: You shot the ball well from three-point range (41.5%) last season, but you only attempted 53 three pointers in total. Could you see yourself shooting from outside more at the next level?

KL: Yeah, I think I’m comfortable shooting from NBA range and I think I’ll be called upon to spread the floor out. That’s one of my strong suits, and I really zoned in on that this offseason.

ZL: It seems like there’s a perception that you have a good amount of upside but that you’re still a little green and won’t make a big impact right away.  Do you disagree with that assessment?

KL: I think so. I don’t think I’m that far away from making an impact at all.  I know I have a lot of work to do, but once I get stronger, I’ll be much better.  I know I can gain weight fast and once I get stronger, I know that I can make an instant impact.

ZL: What kind of things are you doing day to day to get ready for what’s ahead?

KL: Before I got busy with all these team workouts, I was doing yoga in the morning and then going to the track to do sprints. Then I would run a couple miles and come back and play some basketball.

ZL: How long have you been doing yoga?

KL: I did yoga in high school, I did some at UCLA, and I’ve been doing it every day ever since the season ended.  It helps me a lot.  I do hot yoga all the time and that helps me to keep my core strong and helps my breathing for some reason.  I learned how to breathe and get rid of tension pent up my lungs.

ZL: What led you to choose Aaron Goodwin and Todd Ramasar to represent you?

KL: I let my parents pick out a few people that would be the best for me and I met with the people that they picked.  Those two guys were the best fit for me. … When you look at someone like Aaron, he has some big-name people there but he also has time for me.  He’s a great guy with vision and I really feel like I’m going to benefit from his experience.

ZL: What are your plans for draft night?

KL: Hopefully I’ll get an invite to the green room! Even if I don’t, I’ll probably end up going to New York to get the full experience.

Q&A With Duke Guard Quinn Cook

Leading up to the draft, Hoops Rumors will be talking with some of the most intriguing prospects in this year’s class. Today, the Hoops Rumors Draft Prospect Q&A series continues with Duke guard Quinn Cook, who is ranked No. 62 in this year’s class by both Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress and Chad Ford of ESPN.com.

After helping Duke win the National Championship, Quinn Cook couldn’t have asked for a better way to end his collegiate career.  Now, he’s busting his tail on the draft circuit in order to solidify his place on draft boards around the league.  Cook told Hoops Rumors (Twitter link) that he has the Nets, Knicks, Jazz, Lakers, Clippers, and Thunder all on his workout schedule and there could be even more to come.  The speedy point guard spoke with Hoops Rumors recently about Coach K, making funny faces during games, and his draft stock heading into June 25th.

Zach Links: How much did it mean to you to end your college career in the best way possible, with a National Championship?

Quinn Cook: It meant a lot to me to end my college career as a champion.  I had some tough losses in my four-year career at Duke.  To leave winning the tournament, that’s the best thing you can do as a college player.  I’m just really proud of my team.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

ZL: Do you think you might be better prepared for the NBA than other guys in this year’s class thanks to your time spent playing for Mike Krzyzewski?

QC: Definitely. He’s the best coach of all-time and for him to have the respect of guys like Michael Jordan, Kobe BryantLeBron James, KD [Kevin Durant], it just shows how great he is.  He has coached everybody, but he has also learned from these guys.  He learns from other coaches too like Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams.  He prepares us very well.  Guys who leave our program have a leg up going into the pros because we’ve been around Coach K.  He’s a pro’s pro.

ZL: At 6’2″, you’ve shown that you can give taller opponents trouble.  Is that something you pride yourself on?

QC: That’s going to be my niche in the league.  I think I’m going to be a guy who comes off the bench and causes havoc for the guys on the other side of the ball.

ZL: At your banquet ceremony this year, you spoke a bit about becoming the leader of your Duke team. When did you really start embracing that leadership role and what do you think makes for a great leader in a locker room?

QC: I started embracing that after we were eliminated from the tournament in my junior year.  From March 2014 onward, I was determined to be a leader.

To be a leader I think you first have to lead by example.  Some guys are more vocal than others, but I think the leader has to be there every day and lead by example more than anything.  You can be a “rah rah guy,” as we say at Duke, but the leader has to be the first one in and the last one to leave, setting the tone for everybody.

ZL: What’s the main thing you want to work on?

QC: Everything.  I want to just get better in every aspect of the game.  I want to be a more consistent shooter off the dribble, finish around rim better, and defend the ball better.

ZL: Do you have an idea of where you might be drafted?

QC: I’m a second round guy.  It could be anywhere in the second round. I was a champion and an All-American at Duke, I think I have a solid resume and I think I performed really well at the combine.  Hopefully, I’ll get my name called.

ZL: You spent your first three years of high school at DeMatha before transferring to another high school powerhouse in Oak Hill Academy. What was the reason for that change?

QC: I just wanted a new challenge.  My best friends, Jerian Grant and Victor Oladipo, they were at DeMatha with me and that was a lot of fun, but I needed a new challenge.  My mom had a great relationship with [Oak Hill head coach] Steve Smith so I decided to go there and team up with Ben McLemore.

ZL: You enjoyed some internet attention during the tournament for your unique facial expressions. What was your reaction to inadvertently walking into a new kind of fame?

QC: It was fun! You kind of forget how big the NCAA tournament is and how many people pay attention to it.  It was cool to see a few pics go viral and for me to become Instagram and Twitter famous.  My teammates kept sending me new pictures that popped up and my friends were too, so that was funny.

ZL: Why Tandem and Jim Tanner?

QC: They’re first class.  Jim is first class and everybody in the office is first class.  I was comfortable with them…It was a tough decision but I made the right one.

Q&A With San Diego State Forward Dwayne Polee

Over the next few weeks, Hoops Rumors will be talking with some of the most intriguing prospects in the 2015 NBA Draft. Today, the Hoops Rumors Draft Prospect Q&A series continues with San Diego State forward Dwayne Polee.  

A product of Los Angeles powerhouse Westchester High School, Dwayne Polee arrived at St. John’s in 2010 with a great deal of hype.  The small forward thrived under first-year head coach Steve Lavin, but an illness at home prompted him to relocate back to the West Coast.  Leaving St. John’s was a difficult decision for Polee, but he landed with another solid program in San Diego State, where he enjoyed multiple appearances in the NCAA tournament.  The 23-year-old is now auditioning for teams in hopes of hearing his name called later this month.  Recently, Polee took some time out of his schedule to chat with Hoops Rumors about his career going forward.

Zach Links: This year, San Diego State made the NCAA tournament and your first game was against St. John’s. Was it strange facing your old teammates in such a high stakes game?

Dwayne Polee: No it wasn’t awkward or anything because I still keep in touch with so many of those guys. I loved my time at St. John’s. I have a very close bond with my teammates that I played with in that year.  Steve Lavin and that whole coaching staff was great to me.  It was just a great experience all around.

Mar 7, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego State Aztecs forward Dwayne Polee II (5) dunks during the second half against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports Images.

ZL: Have you bumped into Phil Greene or any of your former Red Storm teammates on the draft workout circuit?

DP: Nope, not yet. Could happen over the next few weeks though.

ZL: What do you feel like your greatest strengths are on the court? What do you want to work on?

DP: I think my greatest strengths are probably my defense, athleticism, and length. With my wingspan I can clog the passing lanes and pressure ball handlers a lot more than other guys can.  I want to become a more consistent shooter and a more consistent ball handler.

ZL: Your father played professionally and was drafted in the third round by the Clippers. What sort of advice has he given you about the draft process?

DP: He just told me just go out there and play like you’re in the backyard.  He told me to play as though there are no GMs or scouts are watching me, because that can be a big distraction.  I just go out there and play my hardest like nobody is watching.

ZL: What NBA player would you compare yourself to?

DP: I think I would compare myself to a Jeff Green or a Tony Allen type of player. They play great defense and they’re solid athletes. They can nail the open shots and they just bring their team a lot of energy.

ZL: What workouts have you had so far?

DP: Dallas and the Clippers.

ZL: What are you hearing about your chances of getting drafted?

DP: I haven’t really talked about that with my agent too much just yet, but [Jim Tanner] is just telling me to go out there and play hard. He’s pretty sure that I’ll be able to shock some teams.

ZL: Late last year in a game against UC-Riverside, you had a scary moment where you collapsed mid-game and had to be taken off the court on a gurney.  I know that doctors held you out of practice for a while and you weren’t allowed to return to the court until February.  We’ve heard players talk about their trepidation in cutting on a surgically-repaired knee or ankle for the first time – what was it like coming back from this incident?

DP: It was kind of weird mentally because you got to get back to the business of basketball. Being with your teammates, running the plays, the rhythm and everything…I would say that was the most challenging part for me. The rest of it didn’t stress me out too much. The way I play is that even if I don’t score a single point, I still go out there and play hard and give it my best.

ZL: What led you to choose Jim Tanner as your agent?

DP: For me, everything is just based on vibes, you know. Jim, when I met with him, he just gave me a great vibe and I just felt comfortable signing with [Tandem Sports and Entertainment]. Since then, everyone I’ve come across tells me that I picked the best agency. I’m very comfortable with the decision that I made.

Q&A With Harvard Guard Wesley Saunders

Throughout the spring and summer, Hoops Rumors will be talking with some of the most intriguing prospects in the 2015 NBA Draft. Today, the Hoops Rumors Draft Prospect Q&A series continues with Harvard point guard Wesley Saunders.  

Many notable figures in U.S. history have cut their teeth at Harvard, but there haven’t been a ton of high-level professional athletes to come out of Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Point guard Wesley Saunders, however, could be an exception.  After leading the Crimson to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and two memorable upsets, Saunders is now looking to continue his career at the highest level.  Saunders, who is racking up serious frequent flyer miles as he auditions for teams all across the country, spoke with Hoops Rumors at the airport before heading to Atlanta to work out for the Hawks.

Zach Links: What workouts do you have scheduled?

Wesley Saunders: When all is said and done I’ll have worked out for the 76ers, Hawks, Mavericks, Clippers, Bulls, Magic, Bucks, and Knicks.  Wesley Saunders (vertical)

ZL: Do you think it’ll be tough bouncing around from city to city so quickly and giving 100% for each of these?

WS: I don’t necessarily think it’s too much pressure, really.  In the Ivy League we used to play games back-to-back on the weekends, so I have a bit of an advantage over some of the other guys from different conferences because I’m used to it.  I’m used to going out there one night and giving my all on the court and doing it all over again the next night.

ZL: How did the 76ers workout go?

WS: It went well.  It was my first one so I was a little bit nervous.  I didn’t know what to expect going in but I think that those guys have a really great workout plan laid out.  It was fast-paced, quick, and efficient.  I did a lot of shooting drills, some 1-on-1, some 3-on-3.  This is fun for me, we’ve been working out and getting ready for these workouts so I’m well prepared.

ZL: Where are you working out of?  Are you working out with other players?

WS: I’ve been in the Los Angeles area, mostly at USC and Westchester High School.  I’ve mostly been doing it solo but I’ve also worked out a bit with Dwayne Polee since we’re in the same agency.

ZL: If you had to compare yourself to an NBA player, who would it be?

WS: I’d say Wesley Matthews.  I think that coming out of college we have some similar skill sets.  We’re around 6’5″ and 220 pounds.  A lot of people say we’re not super athletic, but we’re certainly athletic enough.  [Matthews] was by no means a lights-out shooter like he is now.  He developed that later on and I think I can develop in the same way that he did.  He created a great career for himself and he’s one of the best shooting guards in the league right now.

ZL: What do you think makes you stand out over other point guards in this class?

WS: I think it’s my versatility.  I have the ability to make plays for myself or for others and I have a high basketball IQ.  I’m good at playing out of the pick-and-roll and that’s like 80 or 90% of the game in the NBA right now.  I can defend against 1s, 2s, or 3s on defense and I just think that I have that jack-of-all-trades quality.  I can fit into a lot of different roles.

ZL: What do you want to work on?

WS: I definitely want to work on my shooting consistency from three-point range.  I shot about 42% from outside this year, but that’s the college three.  The NBA three is a whole different animal.  I also want to improve my lateral quickness and my explosiveness so that I can really stay in front of those quick 1s.

ZL: In the last three years your Harvard teams have wound up on the national stage in the NCAA tournament.  What was your anxiety level like going into each tourney?

WS: I was the most nervous for the first one against New Mexico. I think that was because we had never been there before, so everything was kind of brand new.  We were playing against a really good team and people said they were a possible FInal Four team.  They were a really popular tournament pick.  We were an underdog.  Nobody really knew about us.  We just got into a rhythm and we were able to pull out the win.

The next year against Cincinnati was a little bit different.  Going into it we were really confident.  We felt like with the type of team they were, we could definitely have some success against them.  We went in, we executed our game plan and came out with a victory.

This year against North Carolina, that was another one where we had a lot of nerves.  That’s obviously a program with a storied history and so many great players have come through there.  Obviously we were all familiar with Roy Williams and all the great players they had; at the same time, we’ve been there before.  We’ve been the underdogs, so we knew we could get it done.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull it out, but we gave them a good battle.

ZL: I imagine that the academic pressures of playing at Harvard can be pretty overwhelming for some guys.

WS: Honestly, it really wasn’t for me because I went to a great high school and that prepared me for the academic load at Harvard.  It all just came down to time management.

ZL: Was that a concern for you before you committed to Harvard?

WS: I don’t think I had any hesitations about Harvard from that standpoint.  The real hesitation for me was from a basketball standpoint: Was Harvard good enough athletically for me to really achieve my dream in the NBA?  But, after talking to Coach [Tommy] Amaker and getting a feel for his vision of the program and where I would fit in, I felt comfortable that if I worked hard and believed in his system that I would be able to achieve my dream.

ZL: What led you to choose Tandem Sports and Entertainment to represent you?

WS: I just felt like I really fell in line with the players that they have already in their agency.  They have some really high character guys and I really felt like they do things the right way.

Everybody in the agency is honest and trustworthy and they’re people that really want to help me with my career going forward.  I think they’re very professional and, at the same time, they really have a vested interest in my success.  They’re helping me to have not only a great basketball career, but a great life just moving forward, so I definitely felt comfortable with them.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Q&A With Michigan St. Forward Branden Dawson

Throughout the spring and summer, Hoops Rumors will be talking with some of the most intriguing prospects in the 2015 NBA Draft. Today, the Hoops Rumors Draft Prospect Q&A series continues with Michigan State forward Branden Dawson, whom Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress ranks No. 87 in this year’s class (Chad Ford of ESPN.com does not have him ranked in his top 100 list).

No. 7 seed Michigan State upset a number of teams this spring on its way to a Final Four appearance thanks in large part to the play of forward Branden Dawson.  Throughout his career at Michigan State, Dawson has been a key cog on the team, ascending from a ~20 minute per night player to a starring role.  Now, after earning his degree, Dawson is turning his attention to the NBA.  Dawson spoke with Hoops Rumors last week about his collegiate career and how his skill set will translate at the next level.

Zach Links:  At 6’7″ with a 6’11” wingspan, you have size that could translate to either playing small forward or something of an undersized power forward.  What position do you think suits you best in the NBA?

Branden Dawson (vertical)

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Branden Dawson: I would say the small forward position is my best position.  I can play either the 3 or the 4, but I think I do better at the 3.  I played small forward for the first three years at Michigan State and I find that I can use my strength and my size as an advantage there.  Still, if you put me at the 4, I’m going to be faster than most other power forwards.

ZL: Between your athleticism and your wingspan, do you feel like you’re equipped to guard multiple positions at the next level?

BD: Yeah.  I have the length and the mobility to do that.  I can be strong and physical but also speedy enough to stay in front of smaller guys.  I feel like I’m pretty versatile in that regard.

ZL: With serious leaping ability and speed, do you feel like you can out-rebound taller opponents pretty regularly?

BD: That’s something I was able to do in college a lot, but that’s not how it’s going to be in the NBA because you’re going against other elite athletes.  I’m not going to be able to rebound how I did in college every single night, but I can definitely do quality work on the glass.

ZL: This year you helped lead Michigan State, a seven seed, all the way to the Final Four. What was it like to go out on such a high note?

BD: It meant a lot to me.  Just to make it to a Final Four, it meant so much.  Last year we had Adreian [Payne] leading the way and we still came up short of the Final Four, so we wanted to accomplish that.  At the same time, a lot of people questioned whether we’d even make it to the tournament.  There was a lot of pressure on us and a lot of adversity and to do it the way we did was amazing.

ZL: Back in April, Magic Johnson tweeted out that he’s looking forward to seeing you in the NBA. What did it mean to get that kind of endorsement and support from one of the game’s all-time legends?

BD: It was huge.  He’s just a great guy.  Magic always comes around when we’re in the tournament and he comes back and talks to us.  It gives me a lot of confidence and really motivates me to succeed.  If he sees great potential in me then other people will see it, too.

ZL: How often do you speak with him?

BD: Every so often, usually around tournament time.  This year he checked in on us before the Sweet 16 and [again before] the Final Four.  He gave us some great Dodgers hats and gear. … Just him coming back and showing his support, that means a lot to us.

ZL: How has playing under Tom Izzo prepared you for the challenges of the NBA?

BD: It has prepared me very well, I think.  He’s the type of guy that just wants to see you succeed.  We have a million plays and we run an NBA-type offense, so i think that’ll help my transition.  When I went to the NBA combine and had my first workout with the Suns, we ran a lot of plays and drills that were exactly like what we do at Michigan State.  I was like, “This is not new to me,” and I think that helped me out a ton.

ZL: How long did it take for your to rehab from your freshman year left ACL tear?

BD: It was about six months from when I tore it to when I got back on the court.  I came back faster than I thought I would.  Everyone was calling me Superman and the doctor said that I healed really fast, I had a quick recovery.

ZL: Did you ever consider declaring for the draft as an underclassman?

BD: No, I don’t think I ever seriously considered that.  In my junior season I asked around about what I should do, but I always told my mom I’d get my degree.  I’m the first in my family to graduate college and that was important to me.  No one around me ever pressured me to go pro early.

ZL: Any individual team workouts coming up?

BD: I have about seven more to go. I [worked out] for the Celtics on June 1st and I have the Timberwolves coming up.

ZL: What teams have shown interest in you so far?

BD: My agent mentioned that the Lakers really like me.  The Pelicans and the Clippers like me, too.  I interviewed with a lot of different teams at the combine, so we’re gonna see what happens.

ZL: What led you to choose Jim Tanner and the folks at Tandem to represent you?

BD: Just the kind of people that they are.  They’re great people and my mom liked them and it just made sense for me.  I had that same feeling as when I committed to Michigan State. … I met with other agencies too, but they stood out to me the most.  I think I made the right decision.

ZL: Defense is what you’re known for but it looked like your jump shot improved in your senior season. Was that the case? What changes did you make to improve your shot?

BD: Over the summer I was putting in more reps. People have been surprised by my progress. It all comes from repetition and building confidence, I think.

ZL: You mentioned wanting to play the small forward position and to do that, you have to have a bit of range.  Are you working to develop an outside shot?

BD: If I’m gonna play the small forward position, it’s something I’m going to have to do.  I see a guy like Tony Allen; he’s the type of guy who is not the best shooter, but he works hard and does everything else for his team.  He goes around and just gets it done on both ends.  I look at guys like him and they motivate me a lot.

ZL: In the DraftExpress recap of the combine, they noted that you displayed some ball-handling ability, which we didn’t see much of at Michigan State. Do you feel like you’re a better ball handler than most people realize?

BD: Yeah, definitely.  At Michigan State our offense didn’t call for me to handle the ball a whole lot.  Now I get to show that off a little bit and I think that’ll be important in the NBA.

Q&A With Lottery Hopeful Jerian Grant

Throughout the spring and summer, Hoops Rumors will be talking with some of the most intriguing prospects in the 2015 NBA Draft. Today, the Hoops Rumors Draft Prospect Q&A series continues with Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant, whom Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress ranks No. 14 in this year’s class and Chad Ford of ESPN.com rates 17th.

A team in need of a playmaking point guard would do very well to wind up with Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant.  Blessed with tremendous size for the position, the 6’5″ athlete is a tremendous passer with exceptional ball handling skills.  Grant also offers a level of maturity that the younger guards in this year’s class might not possess right out of the gate.  Through five years with the Fighting Irish, Grant has developed on and off the court, blossoming into a high-upside NBA prospect.  Last week, Grant took time out of his busy schedule to chat with Hoops Rumors about his strengths, where he might wind up getting drafted, and much more.

Zach Links: Your older brother, 76ers forward Jerami Grant, went through the draft process last year. What kind of advice has he given you?

Jerian Grant: Just do what you do.  Don’t go out there trying to do things that you’re not supposed to be doing.  They already know that you can play the game.  Just go out there and reinforce what you do best. Jerian Grant (vertical)

ZL: What would it mean for you to play alongside him at the next level?

JG: It’d be great. We got to play together a bit when we were younger.  Both of our games have developed so much, so I think that we can be a dynamic duo together.

ZL: What teams have you worked out for so far?

JG: Just the Pacers on Monday [May 18th].

ZL: What team workouts do you have coming up?

JG: I have one scheduled with the Hornets on June 8th but that’s it for now.

ZL: You’ve been on the NBA radar for some time now and it seems like you could have gone pro earlier if you wanted to. Why was it important for you to stay in school and graduate?

JG: A few things, one is that I wanted to graduate.  Also, I wanted to come back and take on more of a leadership role and I did that too.  In the previous years I was at Notre Dame, I felt like I was one of the better players on the team but maybe not the No. 1 leader.  As a point guard that’s a role you want to fill and I’m glad I got to do that last season.

ZL: You took a seismic leap forward in your senior year.  What do you attribute that to?

JG: I think stepping into a leadership role really helped make me a more rounded player.  I practiced even harder than before, I worked even harder than before, and I was more vocal.

ZL: Thanks to redshirting in your freshman year, you spent five total years in school. Do you think that allowed you to gain some additional maturity on and off the court as you look ahead to the NBA?

JG: Absolutely. i’ve been through a lot over those five years, I’m definitely seasoned.  Now I know that I can go into the NBA and help right away.  It’s not gonna take two or three years for me to acclimate myself.

ZL: You had a ton of memorable moments at Notre Dame, including leading your team to an Elite Eight appearance this past season. If you had to pick your favorite game or one highlight from your career at Notre Dame, what would it be?

JG: I think just winning the ACC championship.  We went down there to Carolina and to beat Duke and Carolina to win the ACC championship – the first conference championship for our school – it meant so much.

ZL: At 6’5″, what kind of things can you do on the court that smaller point guards typically can’t?

JG: I think my vision is definitely helped by my height.  I can see over defenses and make better passes on certain players.  Smaller guys can’t do it because they don’t have the length.  My vision and my playmaking ability at 6’5″ is that much better because of my height.

ZL: What’s the ideal kind of offense for you to thrive in at the NBA level?

JG: It’s tough to say.  I definitely like to get up and down the court, I make a lot of plays there.  But, I think my strong suit is in the ball stance in the half court.

ZL: What specific areas of your game do you feel like you want to improve on most?

JG: Being able to knock down shots consistently, that’ll go a long way for me.  Being able to spot up and nail those shots. I also want to develop different types of one-on-one moves.  I used the step back a lot in college, but I want to have a wider variety of ways to attack the defense.

ZL: Where have you been working out since the end of the season?

JG: I’m back home in Maryland, working with my old teammate Victor Oladipo and my brother Jerami.  It’s real competitive.

ZL: What led you to choose IAM Sports to represent you?

JG: Victor is my best friend and he uses the same agency.  I met with them and felt like it was the right place for me.  I asked about them, Victor told me all about them and he only had positive things to say.  There are only like seven players in the agency, so it has a family feel and they give every client a ton of attention.

ZL: Do you have an idea as to where you’ll be drafted? What’s your floor and what’s your ceiling?

JG: My agent and I have been hearing anywhere from No. 8 to No. 20, anywhere around that range.  They don’t see me going past No. 22 and they say the ceiling is around No. 8 or 9.  It’s a wide range right now.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Q&A With Draft Prospect Chris Walker

Throughout the spring and summer, Hoops Rumors will be talking with some of the most intriguing prospects in the 2015 NBA Draft.  Today, the Hoops Rumors Draft Prospect Q&A series continues with Florida product Chris Walker, whom Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress ranks No. 52 in this year’s class and Chad Ford of ESPN.com rates 56th.

Chris Walker came to the University of Florida with a tremendous amount of hype behind him.  Offered by top programs all over the country – including Kansas, Louisville, UNC, Ohio State, and many many more – Walker was arguably one of the most talented recruits ever brought into the fold by coach Billy Donovan.

How good was Walker?  Top scouting services put the forward in their top ten nationally, ahead of names like Noah Vonleh, Joel Embiid, and James Young.  Walker wasn’t an elite collegiate performer at Florida, but he showed glimpses of his tremendous talent over two years and NBA scouts know that the skills are still there.  Now, Walker is gearing up for the workout circuit to convince a team to draft him and mine his vast untapped potential.  Walker, a client of Travis King at Relativity Sports, spoke with Hoops Rumors about his time at Florida and what he hopes to do going forward.

Zach Links: You came out as sophomore this year. Did you wrestle with the decision to go pro early? What went into the decision? Were you hearing from NBA people that you had an excellent chance of getting drafted?

Chris Walker: It was a tough decision, but I wanted to focus on basketball and put 100% of my focus on my craft.  Just from talking with my family and my agent, it was clear that everybody believed that I could do it and I did, too.  I felt like if I could focus on basketball exclusively, then I could achieve great things in this sport.

ZL: You have the ability to drive to the basket and you don’t see that too often in a 6’10” big man.  Have you always been strong at slashing to the hoop?

CW: That’s something that I’ve always done but I was actually told not to do that as much at Florida, because it didn’t fit in with the offense there.  I’m excited to show that off now.

ZL: Do you have any regrets about how things played out at Florida?

CW: Of course I wish I could have done better, but I don’t know, I just feel like if I wanted to get better, I needed to go up a notch in competition to get better.  I feel like everything happens for a reason and I have a great future ahead of me.

ZL: Are you a more mature person than you were when you came out of high school?

CW: I feel like I’m a way more mature person right now; I’ve grown physically and mentally. Mainly, I feel like I’ve grown a lot.  I think some of the struggles actually woke me up a bit and humbled me and made me a tougher guy both on and off the court.

ZL: You’re fairly skinny at 6’10”, 220 pounds. Do you plan on getting bigger? How much bigger?

CW: I plan on getting bigger and getting up to the 235-240 pound range.  At the same time though, I’m trying to keep my athleticism, explosiveness, and lateral movement.  Right now I’m just being disciplined with how I eat and how I work out and taking all my supplements.  I make sure that I take my creatine every day.

ZL: If you had to write your own scouting report, what would you say about yourself and what you can do on the court?

CW: I’m going to be a player in the NBA that is an energy guy.  I’m going to give 110% every time.  When the coach comes to me on the floor during practice I’m going to work out as hard as I can, pay attention to the veteran guys, and follow their lead.  I want to learn from the best guys out there and I really feel that the sky is the limit for me.

ZL: While you’re writing your own scouting report, how about an NBA comparison for yourself?

CW: Right now I think I’m sort of an Anthony Davis type player, even if i’m not as polished as he is.  He put on a lot of weight and I feel like we have the same frame and that’s who I want to pattern my game around.

ZL: So you must really pride yourself on your defense.

CW: I really enjoy playing D, even more than offense.  I like blocking shots, rebounding the ball, and helping.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the offensive end too and getting up and down the floor in transition.  I want to work on post moves even more though so that I can really be effective in the halfcourt set.

ZL: What are you hearing about where you might get drafted?

CW: I’m not really hearing much specifically, but whatever team wants to take a shot at me, they won’t regret it.

ZL: Why did you choose Travis King and the folks at Relativity Sports to represent you?

CW: They’re like family to me.  They have my back and it feels like a family connection, so that’s why I chose them.