CHICAGO -- The 2012 NBA draft combine officially got under way on Thursday at University of Illinois-Chicago.
In the morning, with virtually every NBA GM, head coach and scouting staff in attendance, a number of the top prospects in the draft went through four hours of drills and measurements. In the afternoon, teams had a chance to sit down one-on-one with the prospects to interview them.
On Friday, players will do athletic and strength testing, and on Saturday, the league will give players physicals.
I was in the gym for all four hours and in the Marriott hotel lobby where the players were staying for most of the afternoon and evening. Here's what I learned:
• The NBA draft combine certainly isn't what it used to be. For years, the top prospects for the NBA draft played a series of five-on-five games for NBA GMs and coaches hoping to improve their draft stock.
Over the years, more and more top prospects refused to play, and three 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.
Two years ago, a whole host of players decided not to participate. Kentucky's John Wall, Ohio State's Evan Turner, Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors, Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins, Syracuse's Wesley Johnson, KU's Cole Aldrich, Wake Forest's Al-Farouq Aminu, Baylor's Ekpe Udoh, Georgetown's Greg Monroe, Marshall's Hassan Whiteside, Kentucky's Daniel Orton and Washington's Quincy Pondexter all skipped the drills portion.
Last year, the exodus wasn't quite as bad. Eight players skipped 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.
This year, things got a little worse. Eleven players, including Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Thomas Robinson, Andre Drummond, Harrison Barnes, Dion Waiters, Jared Sullinger, Jeremy Lamb, Austin Rivers and Arnett Moultrie backed out.
In fairness to players, their agents make the decision most of the time. One other player, France's Evan Fournier, withdrew because of injury.
• Of the players who showed, a handful really stood out. The drills aren't really designed to necessarily make one player look good or bad, but a few players made impressions.
Weber State's Damian Lillard received the most buzz. Lillard's agent gave him the choice to skip the event, but he decided he wanted to play. "I just wanted to show teams that I'm not afraid to compete with the best," he said. "I've been working really hard, and I wanted to show them who I am."
To read more of Chad Ford's blog on Day 1 at the Chicago combine, become an Insider today.