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NBA camping trip worthwhile
by Gery Woelfel / June 11, 2006

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and that’s how many NBA officials viewed the just-completed pre-draft camp.

For some NBA folks, the pre-draft was practically an exercise in futility. Approximately 30 of the top draft prospects shunned the event, which was held at Disney’s Wide World Sports.

For some other NBA folks, though, the pre-draft camp provided an opportunity to perhaps find a player who could plug a hole in their roster or to discover someone with untapped potential, someone who could be of value down the road.

“If you were looking at this camp as a make or break situation for your team, that’s the wrong attitude,’’ said Jimmy Cleamons, an assistant coach for the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. “It wasn’t a great camp, but I think there were some good players here.

“I think if you had a particular need, if you were looking for one type of player to help your team, you had the opportunity here to see if anyone could do that.’’

Wayne Embry, a former NBA player and front office executive who is now a consultant for the Toronto Raptors, echoed Cleamons’ sentiments. Embry acknowledged that while the pre-draft camp lacked star power it didn’t necessarily mean it was a fruitless ordeal.

To Embry, the Orlando pre-draft mirrored in many ways camps that were held in the past in Chicago.

“I don’t think the talent level was as good as past years,’’ Embry said. “But we always say that at this time of the year. Then, you look at the rosters the following year and there are always players who came out of the pre-draft camp on them. And you’ll probably see some of them go in the first round.’’

There have been several times in the past where players who showcased their skills at the pore-draft camp made quantum leaps in the minds of the talent evaluators. One of the classic examples was Lindsey Hunter, now a guard for the Detroit Pistons. Hunter played at Jackson State and was generally regarded as a high second-round pick. But after a lights-out performance at the Chicago pre-draft camp in 1993, his stocked soar. He wound up being chosen by the Pistons, the 10th overall pick.

You aren’t going to see that type of high riser in this year’s draft coming. However, there is a spate of players who spruced up their portfolios and several who may have ascended from second-round picks to first-round selections.

An Eastern Conference player personnel official said he felt four players may have moved into first-round territory based on their Orlando camp showing. They are UCLA’s Jordan Farmar, who impressively displayed his point guard skills; Washington small forward Bobby Jones, who showed exceptional defensive abilities, particularly on the perimeter, and Nevada-Las Vegas forward Louis Amundson, who drew raves for his toughness and energy, not to mention a sterling 17-point, eight-rebound game.

“Farmar has the best chance of that group to get into the first round,’’ said the player personnel official who requested anonymity. “But Amundson and Bobby Jones have a chance, too. All three of those guys have legitimate shots of moving into the bottom part of the first round.’’

Another player who made a distinct impression on NBA personnel was Renaldo Balkman, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard/small forward from South Carolina. Balkman averaged a pedestrian 9.6 points a game last season as a junior but gained admirers with a strong showing in the National Invitation Tournament.

“I love the kid,’’ an NBA coach said. “When he put his name into the (draft) hopper, I was happy. He knows how to play the game. He doesn’t have to shoot the ball every time he touches it to make a name for him.

“He reminds a little bit of Tayshaun Prince, but he plays with more energy than Tayshaun.’’

Some other players who drew praise for their performances included Connecticut guards Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson, South Florida power forward Solomon Jones, San Diego forward Marcus Slaughter, Oklahoma forward Taj Gray, Memphis guard Darius Washington, Hartford forward Kenny Adeleke and Iowa State guard Curtis Stinson.

Bucks general manager Larry Harris, whose scouting staff has found several second-round keepers, including center Dan Gadzuric and All-Star guard Michael Redd, said the camp proved beneficial for nearly a dozen players.

“There are 10, 12 guys who helped their status of either getting drafted higher or at least getting drafted,’’ Harris said. “Overall, you’re going to miss the 30 or so guys (who didn’t compete) like every year, and that’s the unfortunate part of the business.

“But at least there were 64 kids here who really tried their best to earn a job.’’

Added Jeff Bower, New Orleans/Oklahoma City’s general manager: “Coming here and competing, right off the top, helps them. It shows a competitive nature and a willingness to perform on a state that is surrounded by heavy, heavy scrutiny.

“So just by competing they showed an aspect of their mentality that we in the NBA appreciated.’’

Gery Woelfel covers the Milwaukee Bucks and the NBA for The Racine (Wis.) Journal Times

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