CHICAGO — To say some Kentucky fans objected to Daniel Orton's decision to put his name in this year's NBA Draft would be a gross understatement.
"I got a lot of feedback from people saying it was the dumbest decision I've made in my life," Orton said Thursday as he and other prospects went through an interview process with NBA teams. "... They felt I really didn't do that well and needed to come back."
Those fans had a point, which is almost more than you could say for Orton this season.
Having to recover from the previous year's major knee surgery and beaten out by another freshman, DeMarcus Cousins, Orton got little playing time and scored few points. He averaged 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game.
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Yet the passion that some fans typically bring to UK basketball led them to insensitivity in Orton's case. Orton recalled a fan suggesting that he had used the death of his mother the previous year as an excuse for his low productivity.
"Using my mother as an 'escape-goat,'" Orton said before making sure reporters heard him clearly. "He said, 'escape-goat,' not scapegoat."
The accusation infuriated his older brother, who wanted to fight the fan, Orton said.
The criticism hurt, Orton added.
"I kind of shook my head," he said. "I tried to move on. That's what my mother always told me: Kill them with kindness."
Orton acknowledged that his contributions for Kentucky as a freshman defy logic. Fans flooded his Facebook page and Twitter account with observations that he hadn't done enough at UK to enter the draft.
Yet earlier this week DraftExpress.com projected him as a lottery pick at No. 13 (only two spots later than Patrick Patterson, who was a double-double low-post machine in his first two UK seasons and a player willing to sacrifice his own success for the good of the team as a junior). NBADraft.net saw Orton as the 18th player chosen.
"I couldn't see it myself," Orton said of these lofty projections.
When asked about the negligible statistics, Orton said, "Uh, yeah, I mean, shoot, it says what it says. I know what people are saying about me. That I couldn't dominate a college game. I couldn't do this. I couldn't do that.
"I feel it won't hurt to go to the next level."
Teammates DeMarcus Cousins and Patterson vouched for Orton's readiness for the NBA.
"Daniel's going to be very good," Cousins said. "He's a definite presence. He's big. He's strong."
Orton looked thinner and in better shape. He said he actually weighed 270, a bit more than his playing weight, and had transformed fat into muscle.
"He has a great physical presence," Patterson said. "From his ability to block shots and alter shots.
"And I truly believe he'll be an offensive scorer as well."
Orton acknowledged the frustration he felt this season coming off the bench.
"I got really mad at myself," he said.
Orton did not share his frustrations with UK Coach John Calipari. "I don't open up to people that much," he said.
As a result, Orton endured a season of unfulfillment. Or at least less fulfillment than he expected.
"I really didn't get a chance to prove myself," he said. "I really have a lot of things I didn't get a chance to show this year. Like my shooting ability. At times, I did a poor job of that. At times, I was real nervous."
Not that Orton regrets coming to Kentucky, a decision he had to make twice: once committing to former UK coach Billy Gillispie and then recommitting to Calipari.
"Not at all," he said. "I was happy I was there."
Noting how well he got along with his teammates, Orton said, "I truly believe I was blessed to be in that situation."
As the season began, Orton had no thoughts of turning pro. But as the season unfolded, he heard more and more projections of himself being a viable NBA prospect.
"At first I was doubting it," he said. "I was back and forth. Now, I'm really strong with the decision. I'm happy with it."
Of course, some UK fans are not so happy, and their misgivings might have had an effect.
"It didn't really affect my decision at all," Orton said. "It got to me. It really did. I'm a sensitive person. It kind of hurt me. I can't lie."