UK Men's Basketball

UK players carry questions into NBA Draft

Tyler Ulis, from Kentucky, participated in May’s NBA draft combine.
Tyler Ulis, from Kentucky, participated in May’s NBA draft combine. AP

Tyler Ulis’ hip. Jamal Murray’s defense. Skal Labissiere’s feel for the game.

Former Kentucky players will carry questions into next Thursday’s NBA Draft.

Chad Ford, ESPN’s analyst of NBA drafts, said Friday that he’s still trying to collect information on the supposed issue with Ulis’ hip or hips.

“It’s difficult to ascertain how serious these sort of things are down the road,” Ford said, “because they go through these prospects with such a thorough look that any little thing that has happened in your entire life will show up. If you broke your arm in the second grade, it’ll be there on a report. And there might be a certain level of concern.”

About 80 percent of NBA players experience muscle tightness in the hip area, Ford said.

Ulis’ size — Ford called the former UK point guard at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds — is also a factor. “There isn’t a lot of precedent of guys that size excelling in the NBA,” Ford said.

Speaking on a teleconference promoting ESPN’s telecast of the NBA Draft, Ford projected Ulis being selected somewhere after the first 19 picks of the first round or as late as the 39th pick (the first nine picks of the second round).

But I think he’s going to be drafted,” Ford said. “I don’t think (the hip issue) is going to torpedo his draft stock.”

Murray has been widely projected as being drafted as soon as the third pick of the first round. UK Coach John Calipari recently suggested that Murray be taken with the first pick. If that happened, Murray would follow John Wall, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns as UK players taken with the first pick since Calipari became coach in 2009.

When asked how much influence Calipari might have on an NBA team’s draft process, Ford said, “None. (Murray) is not going to be the No. 1 pick, and I don’t think (Calipari’s suggestion) carried that much weight.”

Calipari wields a “huge influence” because of Kentucky’s pro-style system and his willingness to give NBA personnel access, Ford said.

The terrible season Skal had and the fact he’s going to be a lottery pick is amazing,” Ford said. “And that has a lot to do with John Calipari.”

Ford assessed Murray as possibly the best perimeter scorer in the draft. “I think he’s going to be a 20-point-per-game scorer in the NBA,” the analyst said, “and one of the best shooters.”

But Murray’s defensive play for Kentucky last season concerns NBA people.

“Does Jamal Murray have lateral quickness?” Ford said. “I think he’s OK vertically and explosively. But does he have the lateral quickness to defend his position in the NBA? I know that’s what every general manager (picking) three to eight is trying to figure out.”

Ford projected Labissiere as a lottery pick: as early as the seventh pick, and no later than the 13th pick. The ESPN analyst said Labissiere was an elite prospect as a shooter who could stretch the floor and as a rim protector.

“The question is does he know how to play basketball?” Ford said. “Does he have a feel for the game? Does he have the toughness to play in the NBA?

“Those are huge questions.”

Labissiere could not begin to answer those questions in the pre-draft workouts he held for NBA teams. Ford described those workouts as “one-on-none,” meaning Labissiere did not compete against other NBA-caliber players.

Those kind of workouts are designed to gauge a prospect’s mental makeup.

“To extremely fatigue and stress players,” Ford said. “They’re consistently throwing things at them to confuse them. Trying to wear them out. Trying to get them tired. They want to see what is their resiliency. How do they respond? …

“Some players respond to that, and really take up the challenge. And other players — believe it or not — quit. You’d be shocked. Players quit (and) stop workouts. That’s not a good sign.”

Ford made sure to point out that he was not suggesting Labissiere stopped a workout.

The other UK player in this year’s draft is senior Alex Poythress. Ford said he had heard that Poythress shot well in workouts and had shown an ability to defend multiple positions.

“If he can do that, I think he has a long career in the NBA,” Ford said. “His question is will he be a great three-point shooter? That’s what teams are concerned about. …

“I think I see potential for him to become that. And you can’t teach his athleticism.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

2016 NBA Draft

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

TV: ESPN

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