By Paul Ladewski
CHICAGO â€“ 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.
â€śI wouldnâ€™t be surprised if Blair is taken in that area,â€ť NBA assistant director of scouting Ryan Blake, told Inside Pittsburgh Sports. â€śIf he goes higher than that, it would be a surprise to me. Itâ€™s about what a team needs.â€ť
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 Blakeâ€™s take on the potential Big East first-rounders:
Hasheem Thabeet, center, Connecticut: â€śHis upside his height. Heâ€™s 7-foot-3 and breathing and has been playing basketball for only seven years. Hereâ€™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. Heâ€™ll have to work to improve on offense, and a lot of it has to do with confidence.â€ť
TIOPS projection: early first round
Jonny Flynn, point guard, Syracuse: â€śHeâ€™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. Heâ€™s a good passer in a variety of ways and runs the floor well. He didnâ€™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, heâ€™ll be an even better player.â€ť
TIOPS projection: early first round.
DeJuan Blair, power forward, Pitt: â€śHeâ€™s one of the best offensive rebounders in the draft. Heâ€™s undersized, but the NBA has undersized power forwards. It has guys who can play a couple positions at his size. Thatâ€™s what teams look for now â€“ players. You donâ€™t have to be that