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Chris Dortch

Florida big man Vernon Macklin is one player whose talent might outpace his draft status.
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Players who could surprise based on where they're drafted

Posted Jun 18 2011 10:42AM

With just days to go before the NBA Draft, here are a few more players to consider who could surprise because of how high they're selected, or that they're selected at all. I'll list them by position:

Point guard: Julyan Stone, UTEP

Stone has been busy since his final season at UTEP ended, working out at the IMG Academy in Florida, playing in the Portsmouth Invitational and embarking on a cross-country tour that would make Marco Polo look like a homebody. He's worked out for half the NBA and has attracted attention because of his size (6-foot-6 in shoes), court awareness and rebounding ability.

You could probably count on one hand the number of Division I players who led their team in assists and rebounding last season. Stone is among them. His average of 5.3 assists per game was impressive, but -- and here's where that court awareness thing comes in -- his assist-to-turnover ratio was and off-the-charts 2.8:1.

Stone also scarfed up 7.5 boards, yet another atypical statistic, at least for a point guard. Speaking of atypical, he was the only player in UTEP history to collect more than 500 points, rebounds and assists in his career.

The only glaring weakness that pops out in Stone's game is free-throw shooting; he shot just .561 from the line as a senior. His three-point stroke could stand to become more consistent, but shooting can be taught. The ability to see the floor and make teammates better, that's quite a different subject. Add in the fact that Stone's a willing defender, and the entire package becomes intriguing.

"He's got a real chance," said former UTEP assistant Tony Madlock, who's now at Auburn along with head coach Tony Barbee. Madlock and Barbee signed Stone when they were at UTEP together.

"You could see the potential," Madlock said. "Even as a 17, 18-year old kid. With his size and the fact that he's a true point guard, we thought if he just worked hard, he could blossom. And that's what he did. He's an extremely hard worker and a tough-minded kid. He's a big-time defender, and he looks to get everybody involved. The kid really knows how to play."

Shooting guard: Mustapha Farrakhan, Virginia

Farrakhan isn't showing up on any mock draft boards, but he's worked out for several teams and has held his own.

Farrakhan had to make up ground to even give himself a chance to get drafted. As a senior, the 6-foot-4 Farrakhan scored 418 points, more than the total of his first three seasons (309). All five of his career 20-point games and 24 of his 38 double-figure efforts came last season.

Farrakhan is a decent 3-point shooter who made eight in a row against Howard in 2010, and he can also get to the rim.

Until last season, Farrakhan's claim to fame was being the grandson of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. But that's changing, because of his willingness to be coached by Tony Bennett, who took over at Virginia in 2009 after Dave Leitao wasn't retained, and his ability to keep his emotions in check.

Small forward: Jimmy Butler, Marquette

I've written about Butler before, but that was before his attention-grabbing performance at the Chicago combine, before NBA teams began interviewing him and before his personal testimony began to circulate in the media. Suffice it to say Butler has gained a whole new measure of respect around the league.

At 13 years old, Butler was tossed out of his home in Texas and forced to fend for himself. He slept wherever he could and was spared from a life on the streets when he moved in full-time with the family of a friend. He was accepted into the family, taught the value of hard work and a good education and turned himself into a college basketball player.

Butler's first stop was a junior college, further testing his mettle, and after signing with Marquette and not playing much his first season, Butler considered leaving. But thanks to the support of his surrogate mother, Michelle Lambert, Butler stayed and became one of the more versatile players in the college game.

One of the reasons Butler has progressed to the point of being an NBA Draft pick is his intelligence and his willingness to perform whatever blue-collar task is required to win.

"He just absorbed the defensive scouting report," Marquette assistant coach Tony Benford said. "He guarded everyone from the one to the five. Most times, a kid will guard one position and try to learn [the opponent's] tendencies. Jimmy not only knew the tendencies of the kid he was guarding, but maybe the point guard, too, and the three man.

"There aren't many kids who can absorb all that, but Jimmy did. He's a student of the game. He lives in [the film room] watching tape on every player on every team."

Let's see: smart, tough, perseverant, guards, and his athletic measurables in Chicago were impressive. No wonder NBA GMs have raved about Butler's interviews.

Power forward: Vernon Macklin, Florida

Like Butler, Macklin made the most of his appearance in the Portsmouth Invitational, finishing as the third-leading scorer in the tournament. That didn't earn him a spot in Chicago, but he's proven in team workouts that he's got the skill level to go along with size: 6-foot-9, 245 pounds and a 7-foot-3 wingspan.

"His right-hand jump hook is automatic," said former teammate Alex Tyus, an opinion seconded by ex-Gator Chandler Parsons.

"Not many people can guard him one-on-one," Parsons said. "And he's one of the best passers I've ever played with. With the attention he draws, he makes everyone else better."

Macklin transferred to Florida from Georgetown, where he learned a jump hook while sparring with Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert but lost his confidence when he couldn't earn many minutes playing behind them. It took a couple of seasons in Florida's program for Macklin to return to the form he showed in high school, when he was a McDonald's All-American.

"He had to go to college in the first year of the rule [that prohibited NBA teams from draft players until after their freshman year in college]," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "He'd even tell you now that he went in there thinking he was one and done.

"He probably would have been a lottery pick otherwise, but he couldn't get on the floor [as a freshman]. And all of a sudden, he's thinking, 'am I good enough?' "

Macklin will find out how far he's progressed on June 23.

Center: Nikola Vucevic, USC

I've known USC coach Kevin O'Neill for years, and he's nothing if not a straight shooter. So when O'Neill told me in early April that Vucevic "has got a chance to be in the league for a long time," I wrote that down and underlined it twice.

Remember that O'Neill isn't just a college coach trying to pump up the rep of one of his players. He's also been a head coach in the NBA.

O'Neill did preface that remark with a big if: If Vucevic works hard, he'll be in the league for a long time. Vucevic's workouts with NBA teams would indicate that he has put in the time. Some general managers think there's not a nickel's worth of difference between Vucevic and projected top-five pick Enes Kanter. And unlike Kanter, who was declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA and couldn't play for Kentucky this season, Vucevic had the forum of college basketball to prove he can perform in games.

Last season, Vucevic was the first USC player since Jaha Wilson in 1994-95 to average a double-double (17.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg), and some of his best games came against the Trojans' toughest opponents: 28 points and 14 boards against Washington, 25 and 12 against Arizona, 24 and nine against Texas and 13 and eight against Kansas and its front line of Marcus and Markieff Morris, both certain No. 1 draft picks next week.

NBA teams love Vucevic's combination of size (7-foot, 260 pounds, 7-foot-5 wingspan) and skills. He can score in the paint but also shot an acceptable .345 from 3-point range and was a 75 percent free-throw shooter last season. To top it off, he's a good passer from the high post or out of double teams in the paint.

There's one more thing Vucevic has going for him as it relates to what O'Neill said about career longevity. Vucevic's father Borislav played professional ball in Europe for 24 years, and even in his final season, at age 44, he averaged about 20 points. Maybe longevity is in the genes.

Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. You can email him here, follow him on Twitter and listen to the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Hour.

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