UK’s Mychal Mulder: “To them, we’re superheroes”
Former Kentucky player Mychal Mulder made a big impression in the NBA’s G League this past season. He no doubt will hope to again impress in the NBA G League Elite Camp, which is being held in Chicago beginning Sunday.
Mulder is one of 80 players invited to the G League Elite Camp, which features players from the developmental league plus second-tier college players in sort of a prelude to the annual NBA Combine. Based on performance, a select number of players from the Elite Camp will “graduate” to the Combine.
Other players invited to the G League Elite Camp include former UK Wildcat Marcus Lee, Auburn’s backcourt duo of Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, and North Carolina forward Luke Maye.
Mulder, who averaged 2.9 points and 7.6 minutes in his two-season UK career (2015-16 and 2016-17), starred in several games this past season for the G League’s Windy City Bulls. This was especially true on Groundhog Day when he scored 37 points in a 120-77 victory over the Canton Charge.
Mulder made 14 of 16 shots in that game. After missing his first three-point attempt, he made seven of the remaining eight shots he took from beyond the NBA-length arc.
Scott Zurilla, the radio play-by-play announcer for the Charge, said Mulder could have scored more points if he had been passed the ball.
“When he got 37, he probably could have had 50,” Zurilla said. “I have never spoken to him, but he doesn’t strike me as a guy (saying), ‘I’ve got to get mine.’ He plays in the flow of the offense.”
This scenario played out again when the teams played on March 23. This time, Mulder had 26 points in the first half, then went scoreless the rest of the way.
The first half inspired Zurilla to repeat a trademark line used by long-time Cleveland Cavaliers and Indians announcer Joe Tait.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” Zurilla told listeners. “We know what Mychal Mulder can do once he gets rolling.”
A scoreless second half for Mulder did not surprise Zurilla, who said that G League players can adopt an attitude of, “Well, he’s got 26. I’m going to get mine, now.”
Mulder, who averaged 13.7 points and made 41.3 percent of his three-point shots this past season, could not be reached. If such games were frustrating, he would be unlikely to say so publicly, his father said.
Randy Mulder said that two Kentucky seasons helped instill a circumspect approach to public comments. Plus the elder Mulder said his son’s “Canadian manners” made complaining bad form. The Mulders are from Windsor, Ontario.
Randy Mulder said that his son has improved in two G League seasons. He has learned his use his left hand, and he has become more than a jump shooter.
Of course, the ultimate goal of G League players is to advance to the NBA. “They call it touching the league,” Zurilla said.
Mulder gets a chance to advance toward that goal in the Elite Camp. Zurilla said Mulder had the potential to be a “3-and-D” NBA player, that is a player who can contribute as a three-point shooter and defender.
Randy Mulder said of his son’s NBA ambitions, “He wants to get at least a taste of it anyway.”
With the coming week’s NBA Combine, the never-ending evaluation of players enters the ultra-intense pre-draft period.
One key to keep in mind: All evaluations are preliminary in nature. Players change. The player you evaluate today might be a dramatically different player in a year. Or two. Or three.
The caution required (if not usually employed) in assessing a player applies even to the most heralded. Today’s question mark can be tomorrow’s exclamation point.
Even Duke star Zion Williamson, the consensus choice as the first pick in the June 20 NBA Draft, was not always so highly thought of.
“Zion, a year and a half ago, was very questionable,” said Ryan Blake, a long-time consultant to the NBA. “We knew he was an incredible athlete. But he really couldn’t shoot the ball.”
Opinions of Williamson’s potential improved as he showed better shooting and ball-handling, first in marquee events on the recruiting circuit and then in his at times awe-inspiring freshman season for Duke.
Blake’s updated assessment of Williamson? “You just go wow,” he said.
Then there’s Amar’e Stoudemire. He made the jump from high school to the NBA in 2002. Because he was so much better than the competition, Stoudemire “dogged it” as a high school player, Blake said.
Stoudemire ended up being the ninth pick in the 2002 NBA Draft.
“‘I wanted to prove to all the naysayers I should have been drafted higher,’” Blake recalled of Stoudemire’s attitude. To which, Blake added, “Problem was he didn’t prove it earlier.”
Stoudemire was the 2003 NBA Rookie of the Year and a six-time NBA All-Star.
No secret that a foundational piece of Kentucky’s program is preparing players for the NBA. In the nine NBA drafts since John Calipari has been UK coach, 35 of his players have been selected.
For comparison sake, Duke has had 20 players selected in the last nine NBA drafts.
Included in Kentucky’s 35 picks were 19 lottery selections. Duke has had 10 lottery picks in that time.
Tyler Herro’s father credited UK for helping his son prepare for what’s expected to be an NBA future.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Chris Herro said of the mystery that hovers over the pre-draft process. “That’s all I can tell you. You want good things to happen. These kids put a lot into it. (They put in) their hearts and souls.”
Players must “believe in the process,” the elder Herro said. “Believe in why we went to Kentucky. We came to the best, and that’s why we got to where we’re at.”
PJ Washington is going through the pre-draft process for a second straight year. He expects 2019 to contrast with 2018.
After his freshman season, Washington worked out for several teams prior to the NBA Combine. He was one of several players participating in what amounted to group workouts.
This year he has no workouts/visits with teams planned until June. He expects few, if any other, players present when he works out for teams.
“So it’s a big difference between a first-round lottery projection and just trying to make a team and trying to get drafted,” his father, Paul Washington, said. “It’s a big difference.”
Keldon Johnson’s participation in the NBA Combine will not be the only eventful happening for his family this week.
One of his older brothers is giving the Johnson family something else to celebrate. Kaleb Johnson is graduating from Georgetown University with a degree in finance on Friday. He averaged 4.4 points as a 6-foot-7 guard for the Hoyas this past season.
The family is planning a party for Kaleb next Saturday, and hopes Keldon can return from the NBA Combine in time to attend.
Thrill of victory
The parents of Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro and PJ Washington attended the Kentucky Derby. Chris Johnson (Keldon’s father) said he bet $4 on Maximum Security. When he went to the window to collect his winnings, he learned that the horse had been disqualified.
This did not dull the thrill, however temporary, of victory.
“It was really neat,” Chris Johnson said of betting on Maximum Security, “because, clearly, he was truly the fastest horse. By far.”
With an apology for taking so long, here’s a look at how some familiar players fared at the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational Tournament, which was played in mid-April. The annual event gives players not perceived to be prominent on NBA teams’ draft lists a chance to showcase their skills.
Nick Mayo of Eastern Kentucky averaged 14.3 points and 4.0 rebounds.
Aric Holman of Mississippi State (by way of Owensboro) averaged 12.3 points.
LSU’s Kavell Bigby-Williams (he of winning tip-in fame or infamy, depending on your point of view) averaged 9.7 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Quinndary Weatherspoon of Mississippi State was the fourth-leading scorer (17.3 points).
And Wofford guard Fletcher Magee, who missed all 12 of his three-point shots against UK in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, led all PIT players with an average of 3.7 three-pointers per game. In three games, he made 11 of 21 (52.4 percent). And that’s from three-point range.
To Jon Hood. He turned 28 on Thursday. … To former UConn coach Jim Calhoun. He turned 77 on Friday. … To Quade Green. He turns 21 on Sunday (today). … To Keith Bogans. He turns 39 on Sunday (today). … To Kevin Grevey. He turns 66 on Sunday (today). … To former Missouri coach Kim Anderson. He turns 64 on Sunday (today). … To Merion Haskins. He turns 64 on Monday. … To John Adams. He turns 76 on Wednesday.