Thursday, June 27, 2013
Top 10 NBA draft recruiting stories
By Dave Telep
By now, the 2013 NBA draft class has been picked apart, upgraded, downgraded and over-evaluated to the highest degree. There are many, many outlets for you to get your fix for Thursday’s draft. How many places, however, can you come for the behind-the-scenes scoop on the players from before they were college stars?
Before they went through the draft process, they went through the recruiting process. And there are some fascinating stories of how several of the top draft prospects ended up where they did. Alex Len, for example, might not have ended up at Maryland without the help of social media. We'll tell you how it happened and share nine more tidbits from the recruiting trail on top draft prospects.
Here are our top 10 recruiting stories from the 2013 NBA draft.
Alex Len might not have ended up at Maryland were it not for Facebook.
1. Len, the assistant and Facebook
Current UAB assistant coach Robert Ehsan has a trump card that one day, for the right job, he’d be wise to play. You see, Ehsan knew about somebody before anybody else caught on -- and in the recruiting game, that’s the equivalent of a Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka.
A few years ago, then an assistant at Maryland, Ehsan was shooting the breeze with a buddy in the basketball business when the subject of European big men came up. I’ll let him tell you the rest.
“An NBA scout who I’m close with is the first guy who told me about [Alex Len],” Ehsan said. “From there, I just called. I [usually] call on overseas guys just in case there’s a chance they can come over here. So I Facebook Alex and he tells me it’s his dream to come play in college. I was shocked. From there, that’s how it all started. No one [in the U.S.] knew about him. I looked up his international stats and this NBA guy confirmed it for me. After that, I figured the kid must be pretty good.”
So, armed with a photo of the future lottery pick from Len’s Facebook page and his stats from FIBA basketball with the Ukrainian national team, Ehsan began recruiting Len. “He looked huge in the pictures,” Ehsan said.
The rest is history. Two years later Len leaves Maryland after his sophomore year and is in contention to go No. 1 in the draft. A young, eager assistant looking to land a big score for his team goes the extra mile, makes the extra phone call and turns in a lottery ticket.
2. Oladipo’s low output didn’t scare Crean
Victor Oladipo wasn’t a top-100 recruit coming out of high school. You could even argue he was anywhere between the third- and fourth-best player on his DeMatha Catholic (Md.) team. Indiana and Tom Crean beat Pittsburgh -- not Kentucky or North Carolina -- for Oladipo.
“We knew he was good, but every time we sent [our head coach] out to see him, he scored six points or something like that,” one former recruiter of Oladipo said.
The last time I heard a story like that, the subject was Andre Iguodala. The Illinois Fighting Illini once passed on Iggy because of the same scenario: He simply didn’t play well when the head coach went to see him during the high school season. Once Iguodala hit his stride later in his career, he became an NBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist. Can Oladipo replicate Iguodala’s path?
3. Revisiting McCollum’s final list
Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum sprouted three inches from 5-foot-11 to 6-2 during his senior year of high school. If you don’t think growing three inches and playing the point isn’t important, ask Trey Burke.
As for McCollum, it’s not like Lehigh beat Duke to get him, either. On Tuesday, McCollum said his finalists were Bowling Green, Fairfield, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Boise State and St. Bonaventure. Four years later, NBA teams may trade up in the draft to get him.
4. Green: Virginia Tech or George Mason?
Last summer, Erick Green made 20,000 shots in extra shooting sessions. On Thursday, the hard work could pay off. Green is listed as a second-rounder in Chad Ford’s latest mock draft.
When Green was making his college decision, he was faced with choosing between an elite mid-major in George Mason or playing in the ACC with Virginia Tech. He went for the chartered flights to games instead of taking buses in the CAA.
The way Nerlens Noel chose to announce for Kentucky is now part of recruiting lore.
5. Noel’s artwork remained hidden
Last spring, Nerlens Noel announced for Kentucky on ESPNU’s spring signing period special. How Noel announced the decision turned out to be a memorable moment in recruiting circles.
When it came time to make the announcement, Noel was on set and swiveled his chair so the audience could see the back of his head. That morning, Noel had a barber carve “UK” into his hair.
Here’s the deal: We had no idea what school Noel was going to pick beforehand. He sauntered into the studio wearing a black, hooded sweatshirt and not even his peers knew. The entire Jordan Brand Classic team was in the studio and Noel had told no one. I recall sitting in a meeting room while this 6-10 kid had his hoodie on. It was a little strange, like the elephant in the room. Not long after, we found out why.
6. Big day for BABC
The Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC) AAU program will produce two likely lottery picks this year. Noel and Michael Carter-Williams, both BABC alums, could go in the top 10 of the draft. The pair once had enormous performances at the Nike Peach Jam on the same day. In 2010, Carter-Williams scored 44 points and Noel blocked 16 shots in separate games.
Two other BABC alumni might get selected this year, as well. Former Missouri teammates Alex Oriakhi and Phil Pressey could sneak into the second round.
7. 17 former ESPN 100 recruits
There are 17 former ESPN 100 recruits projected to be first-round picks, according to Ford’s latest mock draft. Overall, 23 prospects who played prep basketball in the United States are on Ford’s first-round board. The ones who slipped through the cracks and didn’t make the top 100: Oladipo, McCollum, Isaiah Canaan, Jamaal Franklin, Gorgui Dieng and Tony Snell.
Four of the 17 former ESPN 100 prospects were top-10 recruits, all one-and-done players from the Class of 2012. Noel was No. 1 in 2012, while Shabazz Muhammad was No. 2, Steven Adams No. 6 and Anthony Bennett No. 7.
8. Oh, Canada
Fran Fraschilla will wow the TV audience on Thursday with his pronunciation of the biggest names in global basketball. I’ve heard him practice a few of the names already. However, some of the best international players are getting easier for Fraschilla to pronounce because they’re Canadians.
The 2013 draft marks the third year in a row a Canadian will be selected in the first round. Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph went in the first round in 2011 and Andrew Nicholson was selected by the Magic last year. This year, Bennett won’t last long on the board. But the big one will have to wait until next year: Andrew Wiggins is the likely No. 1 pick in 2014 as the Canadians are set to run their first-round streak to four.
9. Mr. Green Room
If Noel goes No. 1, then the legendary recruiting run John Calipari is on will have another chapter. In the previous five drafts, Calipari has coached the No. 1 overall pick three times! He had Derrick Rose (2008) at Memphis, then John Wall (2010) and Anthony Davis (2012) at Kentucky. (Blake Griffin was No. 1 in 2009, while Kyrie Irving was first off the board in 2011.)
Noel going No. 1 would mean Calipari has coached the top pick for the second year in a row and fourth time in six years. I don’t know who is in charge of Kentucky’s recruiting mailings, but let’s be honest: It’s not too difficult of a job these days.
The Kentucky Wildcats currently sit at 12 first-round picks in the past decade and can bank Noel to make it 13. If Archie Goodwin (currently projected as a second-rounder) sneaks into the first round, the Wildcats will tie North Carolina and then likely ascend to the top spot after next year’s draft, when the Cats could put as many as seven players in the first round. Kansas, which has 11 first-rounders in the past decade, would move into a tie with Kentucky if Ben McLemore (a lock) and Jeff Withey (borderline) come off the board in the first round.
After this year’s draft, North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas will be the top three NBA-player producing colleges of the past decade, with Duke and UConn rounding out the top five. That’s not a bad recruiting pitch.
In 2007, Angelo Sharpless was a 6-4 dunking machine from tiny Plymouth, N.C. He played in the inaugural Carolina Challenge that was headlined by John Wall, Miles Plumlee, Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry and C.J. Leslie. I hadn’t thought about Sharpless in a long time, but his name kept popping up recently as a possible second-round flyer and I finally put the pieces together.
Barely a midlevel prospect in 2007 largely because he had loads of athleticism but no skill, he gritted out a career as a Division II recruit at Elizabeth City State University. He was the CIAA player of the year this past season.
On Tuesday, I went back and pulled out the stats from the Carolina Challenge. Sharpless played three games that day and quietly averaged 14 points per content. In his final game he went for an event-high 27. Can he finish that strong on Thursday night and sneak into the second round?