CHICAGO – James Whitford's hope is that his experience in sending guys to the NBA Draft Combine each spring isn't a thing of the past now that he has left his position as associate head coach at Arizona for the top job with Ball State.
Not only would a future Cardinal player participating in such an event be a sign that Whitford's staff is doing a nice job of recruiting, but Whitford himself has an abundance of experience in helping young players prepare for the workout.
“I've had many of them,” Whitford said of his former players earning invites to the elite training sessions. “I think that the workouts tend to be a little overrated. When the NBA teams see you face-to-face, I do think that makes a difference. But at the end of the day, you are being drafted primarily for the body of work that you've put together.”
The 2013 NBA Draft Combine will begin Thursday with two days of measurements, interviews, and physical tests on the court at the renowned Attack Athletics in downtown Chicago.
Several players familiar to Midwest fans are participating, including former Bishop Luers High School standout Deshaun Thomas and Indiana's Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo.
Two of Whitford's players from the 2012-13 Arizona squad (Solomon Hill and Grant Jerrett) will be taking part in the workouts, which are performed in front of team personnel from every NBA squad.
The NFL Combine has become a major event, and it seems that often a player's performance at the Combine weights more heavily in his selection than does his career performance. But Whitford thinks that doesn't necessarily apply to basketball.
“That is less the case in basketball,” Whitford said. “In football, so much has to do with the watch. How fast are you in the 40-yard dash? In basketball, there is so much more skill that is involved. Not to say that the Combine isn't important, I think that it all matters, but what you did on the court during the course of the year is what matters the most.”
Also what matters is a college program getting players invited to the 60-plus player event. Whitford was quick to point out that the Wildcats are among the top two programs in the country in getting players into the NBA Draft since 1988.
“It's really important for any program that kids want to go where there are examples of players having success before them,” Whitford said. “When you are recruiting elite players, they want to go to the NBA. You want to be able to show them a path that they can make it at your place.”
In the case of Whitford's two players participating in the Combine this week, they are a microcosm of today's college basketball environment. Hill (6-foot-7, 220 pounds) is a physically mature four-year Wildcat who is trying to take the next step in his athletic career after milking every second of his college experience. Jerrett (6-foot-10, 235 pounds), on the other hand, is just a year removed from high school and is banking on a team drafting him more so on potential than actual ability.
“Solomon has the size for the position that he plays,” Whitford said. “He'll be able to play both the 2 (shooting guard) and the 3 (small forward). He's got long arms and is a great athlete. He'll physically fit in just fine.”
And then there is Jerrett.
“I think Grant is going to be a very good NBA player,” Whitford said. “He chose to come out at a time which was a little earlier than a lot of people expected. Definitely earlier than I expected. But with that being said, he has the talent to play at that level. He's long and really skilled.”
Whereas Hill started his final 78 games at Arizona, Jerrett only started two times this season and averaged less than 18 minutes per game.
“Grant's greatest strength is that he has one specific skill that the NBA teams really want, and that is size – and he can shoot the ball.”
Jerrett took 154 shots this season and more than half of them (79) were from three-point range (he connected on 40.5 percent of those shots).
“He is going to be a good big guy that can stretch the floor,” Whitford said. “That can pick-and-pop. Other parts of his game have to develop and will develop with time. When those do, that's when you'll see him really be ready to be a good NBA player.”