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Chad Ford: Lessons learned in Vegas, Pt. II

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Posted May 20, 2010 - 01:40 PM

I spent two days this week with trainer Joe Abunassar, of Impact Basketball in Vegas, looking at a number of first-round prospects. Abunassar has a great track record with clients like Kevin Garnett, Chauncey Billups, Danny Granger, Rudy Gay and many others. This year he has a whopping 20-plus prospects in his gym preparing for the draft.

Below are the final five things I learned. (You can check out the first five from Thursday's blog entry right here.)

1. Stanley Robinson and Devin Ebanks remain enigmatic.

Robinson is every bit the athlete we thought he was in college. He's super bouncy, runs the floor like a guard and finishes strong at the rim. He also showed some of that inconsistency we saw at UConn. He'd drill five shots in a row and then throw up a couple of air balls. He was clearly distracted Tuesday (more on that later). But on Day 2 he played with much more confidence.

Ebanks was very different than the scouting report I had on him. He isn't nearly as long (a 6-foot-9 wingspan) nor is he as explosive athletically as I thought he'd be. He's not a bad athlete; he's just not a freakish one. He also didn't wow me in the individual drills Tuesday.

However, once we got to the 3-on-3 portion Wednesday, he was more skilled and more effective as a scorer than what I saw at West Virginia. Ebanks showed a very good midrange game, attacked the basket and played tough defense.

I'm still trying to get a handle on where both of these guys will go. Both players have their selling points and, at one time during the year, both were ranked in the late lottery on our Big Board. I think their personalities and off-court questions will ultimately determine their fate. If teams believe that they'll work hard and stay out of trouble, both are first-round talents. If they can't convince teams that they have the maturity they need, they could both slip into the second round.

What I saw from both of them in terms of professionalism and maturity in Vegas was promising. But two days isn't enough to definitively answer the questions for NBA teams.

2. Dwayne Collins is really long.

Miami's Collins gets the award for the most extreme measurements I've ever seen. Collins measured 6-6½ in socks yet sported an incredible 7-4 wingspan. I went back and checked our database of measurements from the NBA pre-draft camp and I believe he has the largest disparity ever (9½ inches) between his height and wingspan.

Collins isn't the most skilled big man you'll find, but he's a very good athlete and tries to rip down the rim on every possession. He goes at the basket so strong that players were yelling "Watch your head, Dwayne!" when he'd go up for a dunk. They weren't kidding. A couple of times he almost dinged his forehead on the rim.

3. Jeremy Lin isn't ready for the league.

At some point during the season there was a "Jeremy Lin for the NBA" movement afoot. Lin had a great career at Harvard and put up big numbers against some credible college opponents.

I wanted to like Lin coming in. He's an interesting guy with a good basketball pedigree who chose the path less taken (it seems like it's easier to get a Supreme Court gig than an NBA one coming out of Harvard these days).

But after watching him for two days, in both drills and in 3-on-3 action, I don't think he's ready for the NBA. He's a very good basketball player, but I didn't think he measured up athletically to the other pro prospects in the gym. I think he has the potential to have a good pro career overseas, but I don't think we'll see him in the NBA -- not yet anyway.

4. Here are your combine numbers.

Everyone loves the combine info, whether it's wingspans, vertical jumps or the infamous bench pressing numbers. (For the record, I have no idea how bench pressing a 185-pound bar translates to NBA success.)

My experience over the years is that the numbers aren't great predictors of NBA success. Remember three years ago when Kevin Durant tested as the worst athlete in the draft? Exactly.

But, I know you want the info anyway and Abunassar was kind enough to supply it. Here's a table breaking down all the info we were able to get. Have fun with it.

Posted Image

5. Stanley Robinson is good guy.

Finally, an anecdote -- one of my favorites in the past 15 years of covering the draft.

On Tuesday, Robinson really struggled. His nerves got the best of him when I walked into the gym, and in an effort to impress, he ended up pressing too hard and didn't look great.

Robinson, if you remember, lost his confidence at the end of his sophomore season at UConn. He left the team for a little bit and worked in a steel yard. Finally, coach Jim Calhoun rescued him, and Robinson went on to turn his career around during his junior season. Robinson said, "Coach Calhoun taught me how to be a man. I'll forever be grateful for that."

On Wednesday morning, Robinson grabbed me just before I was going to interview him. He stuck out his hand for a handshake and said, "Mr. Ford. I'm Stanley Robinson. I just want to apologize for yesterday. I played terribly. I was trying to impress you and, well, you saw what happened."

In all my years of doing this, I've never had a prospect apologize for a lousy performance. I found out later that Robinson had stayed up much of the night, worrying about how he had played. I was taken aback. I didn't really know what to say. But then something occurred to me.

"Did you see the Celtics-Cavs game last night?" I asked.

Robinson nodded.

"LeBron James was awful," I said. "I'm not sure why exactly. I'm not sure if it was an injury, or the pressure, or something else going on in his life. We don't know. But here's what I'm thinking. If LeBron James, the best player in the world, can have a bad night, so can you. Shake it off and show me what you've got today."

Robinson grinned from ear to ear. We sat down and talked for another 10 minutes or so. He's a super-nice kid. He was very thoughtful talking about what happened during his career. The theme was clear: When he has confidence, there isn't much he can't do on the court.

I'm happy to report Robinson put that shaky Tuesday performance behind him Wednesday. He came out and played with confidence. He shot the ball with range. He attacked the basket. His team -- Sherron Collins, Lin and himself -- went 7-1 in the 3-on-3 games. He looked like a lottery pick.

As I was pondering the experience on the way home, and in the midst of all the LeBron backlash that came after Game 5, it put things into perspective a bit for me. As a sportswriter, I've failed at times to see the humanity of the players I cover. I sometimes expect them not to have weaknesses, to perform like machines, to not make mistakes on and off the court. When they fail, I am disappointed, and on occasion overreact -- judging without having all the facts. I don't always give them the slack I'd give myself or any other normal human being I know.

Robinson reminded me Wednesday that pro athletes aren't that different from the rest of us. They have good days and bad days. They are proud when they succeed. Beat themselves up when they fail. But unlike us, they put themselves out there on a public stage for the whole world to see.

I for one, as a fan of the game, am grateful that they do. That they put themselves out there in the pursuit of greatness.

If one thing was clear from my time in Vegas it was this: Stanley Robinson is right -- Calhoun did teach him how to be a man.


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