Posted Mar 8 2011 8:40AM
The college basketball regular season that has turned the NBA Draft into an ever-changing race for the top five prepares to give way next week to the NCAA Tournament and the inevitable Draft turbulence.
There hasn't been this kind of unsettled buildup to a Draft in years. The 2010-11 season began without any college or international player holding a firm grip on the No. 1 spot. That uncertainty has only increased. North Carolina incoming freshman Harrison Barnes was generally considered the top prospect. But, as scouts and executives said all along, it was an early read more than a consensus belief. That belief was proven out when a slow start, not a major pratfall of a nonconference schedule, knocked him from the coveted top ranking and maybe even from the top five.
Some teams moved Duke's Kyrie Irving to No. 1, others preferred Perry Jones of Baylor, some Jared Sullinger of Ohio State, some Terrence Jones of Kentucky, and by late in conference play, Arizona's Derrick Williams had continued his meteoric rise from deep-in-the-pack first-round pick to potential top choice as well.
It's been that kind of turnover, unusual after John Wall (No. 1 in 2010 Draft) and Blake Griffin (No. 1, 2009) spent entire seasons on path as the likely selection.
Irving's impressive freshman season was derailed by a toe injury that put him in a walking boot and limited him to just eight games, a problem that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has said could keep Irving out of the NCAA Tournament as well. Another college rookie being mentioned as high as the top three, Enes Kanter, was ruled permanently ineligible at Kentucky for receiving impermissible benefits two years ago while playing in Turkey. Yet another potential first-round pick, Robbie Hummel of Purdue, missed 2010-11 after tearing a knee ligament in October.
The flurry of changes has turned the race to be the No. 1 pick into a true race and the NCAA Tournament into a proving ground. We have't seen this since 2008, when Derrick Rose finally locked down the top spot with a scintillating showing of speed and power as Memphis' point guard.
This time, the top five is even more wide open, with NBA teams wanting to weigh the entire season -- and entire careers for non-freshman -- but also anxious to judge prospects in the pressure moments of March and possibly all the way into the Final Four in Houston in April.
The Draft process gets very busy, starting now.
March 13: Selection Sunday. The 68-team field is announced.
March 15-16: The "First Four," the new format of first-round games at Dayton, Ohio, to determine the schools that will advance to join the traditional brackets.
March 17 and 19: Second- and third-round games in Denver, Tampa, Tucson, Ariz., and Washington.
March 18 and 20: Second- and third-round games in Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland and Tulsa, Okla.
March 24 and 26: The Southeast Regional in New Orleans and the West Regional in Anaheim, Calif.
March 25 and 27: The East Regional in Newark, N.J., and the Southwest Regional in San Antonio.
April 2 and 4: The Final Four in Houston.
April 6-9: Portsmouth Invitational in Portsmouth, Va. Once a gathering of relative unknowns hoping to play their way into late in the first round, the games with invited players have become a gathering place of NBA personnel departments lamenting a lack of talent good enough for the second round.
April 9: Nike Hoop Summit, Portland, Ore. An unofficial stop on the Draft trail. The United States team is comprised of high school seniors who can't be picked for another season. The opponents on international rosters are also at least a year away. But it's still a valuable unofficial stop. Executives and scouts get to chart the next wave against very good competition of the same age.
May 17: Lottery. The order of the first 14 picks of the Draft is determined. The playoff teams are automatically put in order according to record.
May 18-22: Chicago pre-Draft camp. The best prospects are given a pass from playing, to the great frustration of NBA teams, who long ago tired of players being afraid to hurt their stock and agents driving the overcautious agenda. But a few potential first-round picks will make the outrageous decision of actually playing basketball in front of talent evaluators. The mass gathering of front offices, coaching staffs and some medical staffs is valuable for the physicals and skills testing -- and because teams get the chance to learn about prospects' personalities in an informal setting.
Many individual workouts will follow. Some prospects will say that they will go through the drills only for the teams picking in the top three -- and then open things up if their stock is dropping. Others will go anywhere and everywhere to show their skills in what, essentially, end up as three-on-three games. A couple teams may host much larger sessions, designed to reduce travel for the players and costs for the teams. Some prospects still could be invited to a city for a second, more-intimate showcase that also includes the chance to interact with club officials.
June 23: The NBA Draft, held this time in Newark, N.J.
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