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Observations from NBA draft combine

Former Providence guard Marshon Brooks impressed teams with his play at the NBA draft combine. Chris Chambers/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- The 2011 NBA draft combine officially got underway Thursday at ATTACK Athletics and the first day was, for a third straight year, sort of a dud.

With virtually every NBA GM and head coach and scouting staff in attendance, a number of the top prospects in the draft went through four hours of drills in the morning.

In the afternoon, teams had a chance to sit down, one-on-one, with the prospects to interview them.

On Friday, the league will do athletic and strength testing, and Saturday players will get physicals conducted by the league.

I was in the gym for the four hours and in the Westin hotel lobby where the players were staying for most of the afternoon and evening. Here's what I learned:

The draft combine certainly isn't what it used to be.

For years top prospects, hoping to improve their draft stock, played a series of five-on-five games for NBA GMs and coaches. But lately more and more top prospects refused to play, and two years ago virtually everyone on the floor was a second-rounder. The NBA changed gears last year and decided to move to a combine format. The five-on-five games were eliminated in favor of a set of non-contact drills.

The idea was to get more players to participate. Slowly, that process is becoming a farce.

Last year a whopping 14 players decided not to participate. Kentucky's John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton, Ohio State's Evan Turner, Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors, Syracuse's Wesley Johnson, Kansas' Cole Aldrich, Wake Forest's Al-Farouq Aminu, Baylor's Ekpe Udoh, Georgetown's Greg Monroe, Marshall's Hassan Whiteside and Washington's Quincy Pondexter skipped the drills portion.

This year, the exodus wasn't quite as bad, but eight players ended up skipping the Thursday drills. Duke's Kyrie Irving, Arizona's Derrick Williams, Kentucky's Brandon Knight, UConn's Kemba Walker, San Diego State's Kawhi Leonard, Texas' Tristan Thompson, Colorado's Alec Burks and Brazil's Lucas Nogueira all decided not to participate.

Two other players, Boston College's Reggie Jackson and Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough, withdrew because of injury.

In fairness to players, most of the time the decision is made by their agents. If you watched Kemba Walker sitting on the sideline during the drills, it was pretty clear he wanted to play.

Irving, in particular, raised a few eyebrows with his agent's decision to pull him from the athletic testing Friday. Even top picks like Blake Griffin, Wall and LeBron James participated in the testing in the past.

But with Irving all but a lock to go No. 1 to the Cavs, his agent decided it would be best to minimize any risks of Irving re-injuring his foot. Given the poor participation yet again this year, league sources said there will be an attempt to make appearances by every player mandatory in the next collective bargaining agreement.

Of the players that did show, only a handful really stood out one way or the other.

The drills aren't really designed to necessarily make one player look good or bad, but a few players made impressions.

Turkey's Enes Kanter received the most buzz. Teams liked the fact that he decided to play despite his lofty draft status. "I think it shows he has confidence in his abilities," one GM told me. "That means something to us." Since most of the people in the gym had seen Kanter in person only once (if at all), all eyes were on him when he trotted out with the last group of the day. While Kanter didn't have one particular wow moment, he looked athletic, made a number of emphatic dunks and outhustled everyone else in his category. His performance here won't be enough to erase all the question marks teams had, but it was a start.

A number of teams remarked that Providence guard Marshon Brooks looked very smooth in the workouts. During one sequence he had a huge dunk over a defender and followed it with a block on the other end of the floor.

Teams loved Morehead State forward Kenneth Faried's hustle. Georgia Tech's Iman Shumpert drew some praise for shooting the ball well. Florida State's Chris Singleton played his signature tough style of defense.

Washington State's Klay Thompson had the most impressive shooting performance of the camp. UCLA's Malcolm Lee shot the ball well. Cleveland State's Norris Cole impressed with his speed. USC's Nikola Vucevic wowed with his skill around the basket.

Who didn't help themselves?

It's pretty hard to hurt yourself in a camp like this. But there were some negative vibes thrown Jimmer Fredette's way Thursday.

Fredette, as expected, shot the ball very well. But teams were grumbling that Fredette seemed to be playing at warm-up speed instead of going full speed.

Some speculated he was out of shape. Others said he just wasn't taking it seriously.

I wouldn't read too much into it. If you watched Jimmer play this season, the last thing you would say is that the kid doesn't play hard.

Physical transformations are a big part of the Chicago pre-draft camp every year.

If a player loses a lot of weight or tones up his body, he can get a slight bump in his draft stock.

A number of people were impressed with Maryland's Jordan Williams. Williams has lost about 15 pounds and looks much lighter on his feet. Illinois' Demetri McCamey also showed off a trimmed-down body.

This year's combine Man of Mystery was Jeremy Tyler.

Tyler is infamous for his decision to drop out of high school after his junior year to turn pro. He had a disastrous stretch in Israel before finally finding his stride a little bit in Japan. He impressed a lot of teams Thursday with his athleticism, motor and midrange shooting ability.

"If Tyler had gone the more traditional route, I think he would've been a lottery pick," one GM said. "He does some things that are pretty impressive. We're doing a lot of homework on him and we think he's a good kid who got some really bad advice. But as far as basketball talent goes, he has the chance to be really, really good."

Virtually every GM in the league will tell you that the most important parts of the process for them are the interviews and medical evaluations.

Teams spent up to four hours a day on Wednesday and Thursday doing sit-downs with individual players. A number of players, including Tristan Thompson, Fredette, Walker, Jordan Hamilton and Josh Selby, had great interviews according to team sources.

But not all of them went well. One NBA team told me of an interview with a prospect that was a bit rockier. They asked him if he had any friends in the NBA. He said he did. They asked him what his friends had told him about making it in the league. He said, "They told me it's going to be easy. The NBA is the easy life." Ummm ... not what the team wanted to hear.

Measurables

ESPN.com obtained a copy of the NBA pre-draft camp anthropometric measurements Friday morning. There weren't a lot of huge revelations in the measurements (you can check out the full list here), but there were some interesting highlights:

• Projected No. 1 pick Irving measured well. Irving was 6-foot-1.75 in socks and 6-3.5 in shoes with a 6-4 wingspan. That's good size for an NBA point guard.

• Arizona's Williams measured pretty well too. He was 6-7.25 in socks and 6-8.75 in shoes. That's a tad undersized for a power forward, but he had a 7-1.25 wingspan and a 9-foot standing reach. Both good numbers for a 4 and great numbers if he's a 3.

• Turkey's Kanter posted good measurables: 6-9.75 in socks and 6-11.25 in shoes with a good 7-1.5 wing and a 9-1.5 standing reach.

• Tyler measured with the biggest wingspan -- a whopping 7-5. He also had the largest standing reach at 9-4.5.

• Providence's Brooks had the biggest wingspan among guards with a crazy 7-1 span. He's longer than twins Marcus and Markieff Morris.