May 31, 2008

Few top prospects hit floor at pre-draft camp

KISSIMMEE, Fla. Just when their research seemed complete, NBA executives learned something new about potential No. 1 draft pick Michael Beasley on Friday.

The kid is punctual.

Actually, maybe a little too punctual.

Because he caught the wrong bus from the players' hotel, Beasley arrived at the Milk House 60 minutes early for his weigh-in and measurement session at the NBA pre-draft camp. Rather than spend the downtime relaxing in the locker room, Beasley shot baskets while other draft hopefuls scrimmaged on an adjacent court.

"I want to play so bad right now," said Beasley, pausing to watch the game. "I want to get on that court right now."

Would've been nice.

Instead, NBA scouts, coaches and general managers spent the final day of the camp watching a batch of players who have almost no chance of being selected in the first round of the June 26 draft.

"This camp," one scout said, "isn't what it used to be."

Of the 62 names on the participant list, only a handful namely North Carolina's Ty Lawson and Cal's DeVon Hardin are receiving significant mention as potential first-rounders.

The rest are players fighting for one of the 30 spots in the second round or, at the very least, a shot to make a team as a free agent.

"In the past you'd have guys here trying to move up in the first round of the draft or trying to jump from the second round to the first," one general manager said. "But now the kids don't want to come any more. Some of them are so scared of hurting their stock that they end up not doing anything to help it."

Chris Douglas-Roberts and Bill Walker. D.J. White and Jason Thompson. Roy Hibbert and Marreese Speights. All of them are projected as either late first-round or early second-round selections yet each of them skipped the camp.

One of the factors is a new rule that allows NBA teams to pay the travel expenses of underclassmen who want to "test the waters" by entering the draft without hiring an agent.

In the past, a player such as Gonzaga junior Jeremy Pargo would've been responsible for his own costs if he wanted to come to the camp and then travel the country to work out individually for various organizations. But under the new rule, the NBA teams who bring in Pargo for a workout can pay his expenses without jeopardizing his college eligibility.

The result is that more underclassmen such as Pargo who has virtually no chance of being a high selection are entering the draft just to get a feel for the process so they'll be more prepared the following year.

"And that, in turn, waters down this camp," the general manager said. "You've got more of those second-tier guys here. A guy with first-round potential doesn't want to come here and play against them, because they know a bad game or two against second-level guys could really hurt their chances."

One player in that situation is Kansas guard Mario Chalmers, the hero of last month's NCAA championship victory against Memphis.

Most mock drafts have Chalmers, a junior, going late in the first round or early in the second. So some folks were shocked when Chalmers declined an invitation to play at the camp, where he seemed to stand a chance at improving his position on the draft board.

Russell Robinson, Chalmers' former teammate at KU, said he believes Chalmers made a wise move by staying home.

"In his position, I would've said no, too," said Robinson, who participated in this year's camp. "He had nothing to gain by playing here and everything to lose. If you come in with a high reputation like Mario would've all you can do is damage it unless you show up and play like Kobe."

A few moments after his final game of the week, Robinson said he couldn't name one player who consistently stood out at the pre-draft camp.

"You're playing with guys that you've never played with before. You don't know how they play. At Kansas we're used to winning. Some of the guys here are great players, but they don't come from winning teams, so they don't have the same mindset.

"It's very hard to separate yourself in this environment."

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

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