Friday, June 19, 2009

Hoop Dreams

With Ater Majok officially pulling his name out of the 2009 NBA Draft, there are four players with UConn ties who will be waiting to hear their names called next Thursday night – Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien and Nate Miles (remember him?).

Thabeet is likely to be the No. 2 overall pick; Miles will almost certainly not be selected at all. In between are Price and Adrien, who will await hearing their names with the most suspense.

With less than a week before the draft, here's how the four players size up, and what they can expect on draft day:


***Will probably end up at Memphis with the No. 2 pick, though Grizzlies' GM Chris Wallace hasn't settled on anybody yet, and Thabeet has yet to work out for the team. He will work out for the Grizzlies on Saturday. Memphis is also considering dropping down in the draft, which is considered a pretty weak one.

According to the UConn coaching staff, Memphis and Oklahoma City have had the most inquiries about Thabeet.

***There are some worries about a shoulder injury. Not sure if this is related to the infamous DeJuan Blair flip-over. (Maybe this explains why Thabeet seems to have a Johnny Damon-esque throwing arm).

***An NBA director of player development on Thabeet: "He's never going to be a guy you can throw the ball in the post and run your offense through, like the Houston Rockets do with Yao Ming. He's just not that skilled … he's got an advantage with his size and length, but can he make the elbow jumper? … If he gets with a very good point guard who sets him up for dunks, like Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul in New Orleans, he has the ability to roll to the rim pretty much every time."


***Probably a mid-to-late second round pick. First round? "I don't think he's there," said an NBA source.

***Same director of player development on Price: "With A.J., people like his leadership, his ability to get in the lane, make jumpers, pull up around the elbow. The big concerns with A.J., are, defensively, will he be able to slide and stay in front of guys? Can he go side-to-side and keep quicker guys in front of him? Guys got by him fairly regularly in the zone, but the difference is he had Thabeet to protect the rim … (Also), in college he was primarily a shoot-first guy. He got some assists, but it seemed he'd look for his shot first, and it was contested, he'd find someone under the basket for a dunk. Some guys drive into the lane looking to set up their teammates."

*** Reports that Price had an aneurysm in his brain were "misleading," according to the NBA official. "Our team doctor went through the whole medical process (at the pre-draft camp in Chicago) and red-flagged a few guys. A.J. was not one of them."

In fact, a source close to Price said that Price underwent an MRA (Magnetic Resonance Angiography) that revealed no aneurysm.

***Price has had about seven workouts so far -- including Detroit, Sacramento, Cleveland, Washington, Minnesota – and still has two more lined up, with Denver and with the world-champion Lakers. The Nuggets and Miami Heat have shown the most interest in him thus far.


***Late second round, or could go undrafted.

***Our NBA guy on Adrien: "Teams like the kind of player Jeff is. Every team would like a player who rebounds that efficiently, who's that tough, who's not afraid of contact."

The source also noted that Adrien's measurements were "freakish." Though measured at 6-6 ½, Adrien has a 7-2 wingspan.

"That's way more valuable than a guy's size. Guys who are 6-6 with 6-6 wingspans, that doesn't do you much good. Guys like Jeff who are 6-6 with a 7-2 … you don't play basketball to the top of your head. Length is very useful."

***Adrien "needs to work on his shooting," said the source. "He's kind of got a long wind-up, he takes the ball behind his head. He needs to work on shortening his stroke."

***Adrien had also been slowed by tendonitis in his knee recently. "I don't know how serious it is, but it's hurting him right now," the source said last week, noting that at a group workout in Houston last month, Adrien was wearing a brace on one of his knees. "His stride was a little off. He was not running like he was at UConn, when he was healthy."

***If Adrien goes undrafted, it might not be such a bad thing. Second-round draft picks are non-guaranteed, anyway, so a team that drafts him could still cut him by early January. If he goes undrafted, Adrien could pick and choose a better fit for him as a free agent.

The typical route to take would be playing for a team in an NBA summer league, either in Orlando July 6-10 or Las Vegas July 11-20. If the team likes what they see, they'd extend him an invitation to training camp in the fall.


***No chance he gets drafted. Miles has had workouts with several NBA teams recently, however.

Said our NBA source: "He's a skilled offensive player, pretty quick … his shooting is pretty special. He's got a good-looking stroke, a quick release."

But …

"Physically, he's weak … he looks like a high school kid … and defensively, he's bad right now. He'd be a below-average college defender."

Character concerns could also scare teams off.

***The economy is also an issue. In the past, most teams were allowed to keep the maximum 15 players on a roster. Now, there's a good chance most teams will be down to 13 or 14. The minimum is 13, and that can go down to 12 for a while. In other words, teams don't have the luxury of drafting guys who are few years away and can languish on the end of the bench for a few years. A couple of years ago, a guy like Miles may have been drafted. This year? No chance.

***Miles will likely end up having to decide whether to play in the NBA Developmental League for lousy money, but with the chance to get called up midseason by the NBA, or play overseas and make better money, but have virtually no chance of getting called to the NBA during the season, since the NBA and FIBA honor each others' contracts.

Most likely, Miles will get selected by a D-League team next fall and work his way to "The League" through that route.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hasheem the Draft Dodger

Hasheem Thabeet is likely to be the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA Draft next Thursday night. He's a two-time national defensive player of the year and an All-American. He's also quite skilled at soccer (his father, we're told, was one of the great players in Tanzanian history). Thabeet is a two-sport star.

Baseball, however, is not his game. See for yourself on this YouTube clip where Thabeet and Brandon Jennings throw out the first pitch at a Los Angeles Dodgers game recently. (P.S. -- I apologize for the R-rated rap song playing in the background, but nothing I could do about it. Keep this out of earshot of kids, however).

Thabeet's warm-up throws with Jennings won't make anyone forget Sandy Koufax (or Randy Johnson, if you're looking for someone nearly the same height). And while squatted behind home plate to catch Jennings' first pitch, big Hash won't make anyone forget Roy Campanella or Mike Piazza, either. He gets all Rich Gedman on us and drops the ball!!!

At least Thabeet and Jennings got to pose for pictures with Joe Torre, and seemed to be having a great time. Hash was recently on the Jim Rome Show, as well. He's working out in L.A., but will be in New York for next week's draft.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Majok Pulls Name out of Draft

Ater Majok has pulled his name from the 2009 NBA Draft. As explained in the previous post on this blog, that doesn't necessarily mean he will play for UConn next season.

Majok could still opt to go to Europe, where supposedly teams from Italy, Spain and Greece have shown interest in the 6-foot-10 forward. By pulling out of the draft, he affords himself the chance to stay at UConn if nothing materializes in Europe.

It's hardly a surprise that Majok has pulled out. Here's what an NBA director of player personnel had to say about him earlier today, before we knew whether he'd be in the draft or not: "I've never seen the kid, but guys on our staff have said, 'No. Don't even worry about him. He's not a legit NBA player at this point … maybe never.'"


There's no doubt Majok has great potential, but he obviously needs a lot of work on his game. If you ask me, the best tutoring he can get is under Jim Calhoun at UConn -- even though he won't be able to play until December. Think about where Hasheem Thabeet was a couple of years ago, and where he'll be in a couple of weeks -- one of the top five picks in the draft.

It's that kind of tutelage that Majok needs. Even though Europe can offer decent money right off the bat, it says here Majok is better served at UConn for at least a year or two, after which he could be in a position to earn a lot more money.

Just one man's opinon.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Decision Time for Majok

Ater Majok must decide by tomorrow (Monday) whether or not to pull his name out of the NBA Draft pool, and by all accounts it appears he will do so.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean he will stay at UConn and play for Jim Calhoun next season.

Professional teams in Spain, Greece and Italy have shown some interest in Majok, according to his former coach, Ed Smith, and he may opt to play overseas. Pulling his name out of the draft would simply give the 6-foot-10 forward the option of returning to UConn if he decides against playing in Europe.

Still, it appears likely that Majok will remain at UConn, where he will be a sophomore next season. A Sudanese native who has lived in Australia for several years, Majok was finally cleared by the NCAA to enroll at UConn last January but won't be eligible to play until December.

Majok had his final NBA workout on Thursday in Chicago, and scouts apparently liked his mobility, length, 7-foot-4 wingspan and speed. But they were also in agreement that Majok needs to improve his core strength, and needs some experience under his belt before he becomes a "big-time prospect."

"Their advice," according to Smith, "is to head back to school, or head where you will play. He needs to play games, games, games, games."

Majok was slated to speak with his parents, who are still in Australia, over this weekend. He also received input from Smith, who seems to think Majok should stay at UConn.

"Jim Calhoun is a proven developer of NBA talent," Smith said. "For him to go over there (to Europe) would have to be something on a par with the coach and system at UConn, something extraordinary like that."

Calhoun said last week that expects Majok to pull his name out of the draft, and that entertaining any offers from European teams would be a mistake.

Majok does have financial concerns. His father helps with the resettlement of refugees in Sydney, and his mother just gave birth to a baby boy – Majok's fifth brother.

"(Money) would be a factor, the type of deal he would get," Smith acknowledged. "But my advice to the family is basically to evaluate it as a long-term investment into your son. You don't want to jump at the first thing you get. There's a lot to say for Coach Calhoun and the University of Connecticut."

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Calhoun Released From Hospital

Jim Calhoun was released from the UConn Medical Center at about 4 p.m. today and is currently resting at home, according to his wife, Pat.

"He has to take it easy for a few days," she said. "Time will tell what he can do (after that)."

Pat Calhoun said her husband will "absolutely not" play in the Travelers Championship pro-am on June 24, as he was scheduled to do.

"I'd hide his golf clubs," said Pat, who added that her husband's physical activity will likely be limited to a stationary bike for a while.

Calhoun collapsed shortly after finishing a 50-mile ride at his annual charity bike ride on Saturday in Simsbury. He had fallen off his bike during the race and broke six ribs, but continued riding without even realizing it until the end.

"Jim has a higher threshold of pain than most people," said Pat. "I assume it's much more than I would be able to tolerate."

Calhoun's collapse appears to be a result of dehydration, although Pat says that media reports that her husband didn't drink enough water while riding were false.

"Jim's a very smart rider," she said. "Jim has always been very aware of drinking while he's out riding. I think (the collapse) was, to some extent, the injuries he didn't realize he had, and the long bike ride. He talked to the media afterwards, and perhaps he should have had more fluids when there. But it certainly wasn't because he didn't take any fluids."

Calhoun was given some mild medication for pain upon his release from the hospital, according to his wife.