Five players from last season’s Kentucky basketball team will be participating in the NBA Combine this coming week in Chicago: Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Hamidou Diallo, PJ Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt.
An important part of how they will be judged has nothing to do with shooting, passing, dribbling, rebounding, defending, vertical leaping and shuttle running. They and the other 60-some players at the Combine would be wise to think about showing poise, being personable and demonstrating grace.
This quaint-sounding throwback to yesteryear is no small part of the NBA Combine. “It’s a big factor,” Del Harris said.
Harris, a longtime NBA coach, said that how the players conduct themselves off the court matters throughout the pre-draft process. Specifically, the interviews with teams matter. The players should take them seriously because the teams do.
“The interviews are a factor, without question,” Harris said. “The guys who conduct those interviews don’t just dream up some questions at breakfast. They know what they’re looking for in responses. They’re well rehearsed in what they’re going to ask.”
Knox’s father, Kevin Knox Sr., said he had advised his son to be honest and try to relax during the interviews. His solid season for UK should help ease anxiety.
“If he missed every three-point shot and didn’t play any defense, they wouldn’t care if he answered the questions like a debater,” the elder Knox said. “You’ve got to put things in perspective. That’s how I got Kevin thinking.”
Bobby Marks, a former assistant general manager of the Nets, said the two most important components of the NBA Combine are the medical examination and the interviews.
“We always tell the kids when they come in that we already know the answers to the test,” said Marks, now a draft and NBA front office analyst for ESPN.
The interviews are not an IQ test. It’s more of a job interview for a candidate with a resume that’s been thoroughly examined.
For example, Marks recalled asking Klay Thompson about an arrest for smoking marijuana while a student at Washington State.
“Basically, what did you learn through that process?,” Marks said of the marijuana-related arrest. “Every player is different. Some are nice, and it’s a good conversation. Others, (the NBA asks) ‘You entered (college) with a No. 1 ranking and you lost in the first round. What happened?’ You go into the team element of that.”
The Golden State Warriors drafted Thompson with the 11th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.
“It just gives you a better feeling for someone you’ve seen,” Marks said of the interviews. “But now you are in a room talking to them for 25, 30 minutes.”
This getting-to-know-you process extends to something as seemingly insignificant as a ride from the airport to an NBA team facility when a player arrives for an individual workout.
Marks said he alerted players he counseled going into last year’s NBA Draft about the ride from the airport. Those players included Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Isaac, Tony Bradley and Frank Mason III.
“What I always tell them is the most important person that you will meet on your team interview is the person who picks you up at the airport,” Marks said.
This person is usually an intern, assistant manager of basketball operations or some other lower-level employee.
“The conversation you have will be translated back to the front office,” Marks said.
Visits for individual workouts usually include going out to dinner. “They want to see how they perform in a restaurant,” Harris said.
Is the player polite to the waitress? At ease in a social situation? Able to relate to people?
While it might seem like overkill for teams to assess a ride from the airport or how a prospect asks to see the dessert menu, too much is on the line to dismiss anything as unimportant.
“See, this is not like you’re just hiring a guy to mow your yard here,” Harris said. “It’s not a pool cleaner operation. This is millions of bucks.”
Given Kentucky’s reliance on one-and-done players, the intangible of experience is a regular topic of conversation within the Big Blue Nation.
Experience has also been talked about in the NBA recently, thanks to the just-completed playoff series featuring the veteran savvy of the Boston Celtics competing against the youthful flair of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Celtics forward Al Horford spoke of the value of experience. He credited his college career playing on back-to-back national championship teams for Florida with helping him gain valuable experience.
“You know, I was very lucky in college to play in meaningful games, in Final Fours and things like that,” Horford told the Boston Herald. “And going into my first playoffs, I was ve-ry confident.”
He drew out the word “very,” according to the newspaper account.
Of playing in the NBA playoffs, Horford said, “I was very relaxed. Even though it was a different experience and environment, I felt what I’d been through in college helped me.”
Of course, UK players regularly play in high-stakes games, so they are not devoid of experience upon entering the NBA.
In the May edition of Basketball Times, Hall of Fame columnist Bob Ryan wrote that the Final Four should be played every year in either Indianapolis, New Orleans or San Antonio.
San Antonio, which was this year’s site, has plenty of hotels near the stadium, warm weather and The River Walk, Ryan wrote.
As for New Orleans, “They do fun better than anyone,” he wrote.
Ryan called Indianapolis “the soul of college basketball.”
The next three Final Four sites are Minneapolis (2019), Atlanta (2020) and Indianapolis (2021).
The NCAA is accepting bids for 2022. Ryan wrote that San Antonio is now at a disadvantage because it’s believed its Alamodome needs more luxury boxes.
Sport of Kings?
The Sacramento Kings used the Kentucky Derby to highlight their connection to UK basketball.
The team’s Twitter account included a cartoon image of its three ex-Cats riding horses in what was called the “Kingstucky Derby.” De’Aaron Fox leads on the outside with Willie Cauley-Stein second on the rail and Skal Labissiere between horses running third.
One problem: the race is going in the wrong direction. With the Twin Spires in the background serving as a reference point, the horses are running clockwise around the track. Of course, the horses run counterclockwise around the Churchill Downs track in the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s not a fatal error, but still an amusing one ...,” sportswriter Michael McGough wrote in the Sacramento Bee. “Either a mistake or a very subtle commentary by the cartoonist on the current direction of the team, which finished 2017-18 with a 27-55 record. Indeed, that has some fans convinced that the franchise is heading in the wrong direction.”
McGough reported that Kings' fans liked the cartoon because the tweet was widely liked and shared.
And it appears that former UK players will play a big part in deciding whether the Kings are headed in the right direction. The three ex-Cats were all first-round draft picks and are young enough to potentially form the Kings’ foundation for several seasons. Fox is 20, Cauley-Stein 24, and Labissiere 22.
Speaking of last weekend’s horse race, Lexington’s WLEX-TV and the NBC network combined to televise 11 hours of coverage of the Kentucky Derby on May 5. That’s 660 minutes devoted to a two-minute event.
A question came to mind: Proportionally, how much coverage of a two-hour Kentucky basketball game would be needed to match the time WLEX and NBC devoted to this year’s Derby?
If the math skills remain functional, the answer is 27 and one-half days.
In case you missed it, ESPN announced a contract extension for Dick Vitale last week. The contract calls for Vitale, who turns 79 on June 9, to work college basketball games through the 2020-21 season.
“My goal is to be the first in broadcasting to open a hoops game at 100 years old saying, ‘This is awesome, Baby!, with a capital A,’” Vitale is quoted as saying in the news release.
Fans have an opportunity to make a charitable donation and get a chance to play against former UK star Karl-Anthony Towns.
To get this chance, fans should log onto omaze.com/towns to donate $10. Proceeds will benefit Kids 2 Camp, an organization that helps disadvantaged or disabled youth attend camps run by their sports heroes.
Two winners will be selected to play a two-on-one game against Towns at his camp in Metuchen, N.J. The fund-raising campaign ends on May 27.
To former UConn Coach Jim Calhoun. He turned 76 on Thursday ... To Quade Green. He turned 20 on Saturday ... To Keith Bogans. He turned 38 on Saturday. ... To Kevin Grevey. He turned 65 on Saturday. ... To former Missouri Coach Kim Anderson. He turned 63 on Saturday. ... To Merion Haskins. He turns 63 on Sunday (today). ... To retired Fayette Circuit Court Judge John Adams, who played for UK from 1961 to 1965. He turns 75 on Tuesday.