By Paul Ladewski
CHICAGO – Much like last season, the Big East figures to be the big winners in the NBA draft next month.
The conference could have as many as seven first-round selections, more than any conference in the country. The list includes Pitt products DuJuan Blair and Sam Young, who will be among the 52 draft candidates at the NBA pre-draft camp that opens on Wednesday afternoon here.
Inside Pittsburgh Sports will be at the combine Thursday morning in Chicago covering the event and will provide daily updates and the latest buzz surrounding DeJuan Blair and Sam Young.
The three-day event will have an NFL-style look for the first time, as interviews, agility drills and medical tests will replace scrimmages on the agenda.
In addition to Blair, Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut), Jonny Flynn (Syracuse) and Earl Clark (Louisville) are expected to be lottery selections.
The New Jersey Nets (11th pick), Chicago Bulls (16th) and Utah Jazz (20th) are believed to have Blair in their sights at the moment.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Blair is taken in that area,” NBA assistant director of scouting Ryan Blake, told Inside Pittsburgh Sports. “If he goes higher than that, it would be a surprise to me. It’s about what a team needs.”
Second-round hopefuls Jeff Adrien (Connecticut), Dante Cunningham (Villanova) and A.J. Price (Connecticut) also accepted invitations to attend the camp, which moves back to Chicago after a three-year stay in Orlando.
Here is Blake’s take on the potential Big East first-rounders:
Hasheem Thabeet, center, Connecticut: “His upside his height. He’s 7-foot-3 and breathing and has been playing basketball for only seven years. Here’s a guy who has relatively no offensive game, but he absolutely dominates at the defensive end. He had 15 games of five-plus blocked shots, which is ridiculous. He’ll have to work to improve on offense, and a lot of it has to do with confidence.”
TIOPS projection: early first round
Jonny Flynn, point guard, Syracuse: “He’s one of the top three point guards in the draft. He has maturity and confidence. He has good anticipation, quick hands and playmaking skills. He’s a good passer in a variety of ways and runs the floor well. He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well last season, but he has range to the three-point arc. He has to improve his defense and decision-making, and when he does that, he’ll be an even better player.”
TIOPS projection: early first round.
DeJuan Blair, power forward, Pitt: “He’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the draft. He’s undersized, but the NBA has undersized power forwards. It has guys who can play a couple positions at his size. That’s what teams look for now – players. You don’t have to be that
6-foot-8 or 6-foot-10 power forward. Blair can do one thing and make a living. Of course, he has the ability to do more.”
TIOPS projection: mid-first round
Earl Clark, small forward, Louisville: “At 6-foot-9, he has unusual athleticism that creates matchup problems. Because of his wingspan and leaping ability, he plays bigger than his size. He does a lot of things well – defend, rebound, penetrate to the basket . . . He tends to be inconsistent and needs to improve as a ball-handler and three-pointer shooter, but there’s a lot to like here.
TIOPS projection: mid-first round
Terrence Williams, off guard, Louisville: “He has an NBA body and a great first step and quickness. He has the ability to be a defensive stopper, a guy who can average two steals per game. He has all the physical tools, and his basketball I.Q. has improved. He has never been a good shooter, and that’s a concern. If you have a pick late in the first round and time to work with a player, he can be a steal there.”
TIOPS projection: late first round
Sam Young, small forward, Pitt: “He could be an even better player in the pros. He always wanted to be a small forward, but he was forced to play power forward. He can score. He can play both ends. He knows how to make his teammates better. You can’t look into his heart, but you know what type of work ethic that he has.”
TIOPS projection: late first round.
DaJuan Summers, small forward, Georgetown: “He’s very similar to Jeff Green, another Georgetown player who was drafted two years ago. At 6-foot-8, he’s a guy who can play two positions. He’s athletic, physical and has good size. He has always been able to shot the ball from deep or inside. He’s a good passer but is a bit prone to turnovers and careless fouls.”
TIOPS projection: early second round