By Rob Reheuser, for NBA.com
Posted Apr 11 2012 10:36AM
Before Linsanity there was the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.
Residing at opposite ends of the basketball spectrum -- one, a cultural phenomenon, the other a tranquil but meaningful stop on the NBA's pre-Draft circuit -- they are forever linked, thanks to a brief moment in April 2010, when Jeremy Lin planted the seeds of a movement that would take the NBA by storm not quite two years later.
There were other ports in between for Lin following a standout performance at the PIT, which welcomes 64 of the nation's top college seniors to be evaluated by decision makers for all 30 NBA teams, and tips off for the 60th time on Wednesday.
A successful summer league stint with the Dallas Mavericks in 2010 led to a two-year contract with the Golden State Warriors. Lin played sparingly as a rookie, spending a portion of the season on assignment with the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League. He was eventually cut by the Warriors prior to the 2011-12 season, signed by the Houston Rockets, cut again, and then claimed off waivers by the New York Knicks on Dec. 27, 2011.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Still, it's a history lesson that isn't complete without examining an important early chapter in Southern Virginia, where the Harvard-graduate-turned-folk-hero took the first step in his professional career.
Chris Ekstrand, a longtime NBA employee, scout and now a consultant with the league, said at the conclusion of the 2010 tourney: "Seeing is believing. He has an aptitude for the game, and great court vision. You could sense that his teammates quickly realized that he could play and that he would get them the ball on time if they got open. He showed he could score and averaged 10.3 points per game while shooting 60 percent from the field, but he was all about finding teammates opportunities to score. He will have to get stronger to compete with big-time point guards, but he is a clever true point guard with a good shooting touch. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, he has an excellent chance to play in the NBA."
Lin is one of many recent PIT standouts to find success in the NBA. In 2011, Marquette's Jimmy Butler turned in a sterling performance, averaging 18.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists, while shooting 62 percent from the field over three games. He didn't miss a free throw (18-for-18), played stifling defense, and his team also won the tournament championship.
Considered a marginal second-round prospect heading into Portsmouth, the Chicago Bulls selected Butler in the first round (30th overall) of the 2011 NBA Draft. Though a young player on a veteran-laden team with championship aspirations, Butler has played well when given extended minutes.
Andrew Goudelock (L.A. Lakers) and Vernon Macklin (Detroit Pistons) were both drafted in the second round in 2011 following strong performances at the PIT, while Malcolm Thomas (Houston Rockets) and Julyan Stone (Denver Nuggets) are currently on NBA rosters. Thomas also had stints with the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs this season.
In 2009, Wesley Matthews suited up at the PIT, then worked his way into training camp with the Utah Jazz. He appeared in all 82 games in 2009-10, averaging 9.4 points. Matthews was quickly scooped up by the Portland Trail Blazers, who signed him to an offer sheet Utah was unable to match. In his second NBA season, he averaged 15.9 points, and is viewed as an integral part of Portland's future.
The majority of the 64 college seniors invited to take part in the action likely will begin their careers overseas or in the NBA Development League. Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who earned All-Tournament honors at the PIT in 2011, is currently averaging 12.4 points and 5.0 rebounds for Hacettepe University of the Turkish Basketball League. Donald Sloan, an All-Tournament selection in 2010, honed his craft in the NBA D-League, before earning three NBA call-ups this season.
The PIT remains a viable NBA launching pad. When the 2012 NBA Playoffs kick off on April 28, the Bulls will rely on the steady hand and scoring punch off the bench of C.J. Watson, who stood out at the PIT in 2006. The Knicks, still in the hunt for a playoff spot in the East despite injuries to key players, including Lin, have had major contributions this season from Steve Novak (2006) and Landry Fields (2010), who both excelled in Portsmouth.
As much as it's been a springboard for professional basketball players, the PIT is more than just a basketball tournament. All of the proceeds go toward providing scholarships for local high school students and assisting local charities. The contributions and scholarships have risen significantly over the years thanks to the support of local sponsors, advertisers, ticket sales, the City of Portsmouth and the NBA. None of this is possible without the selfless efforts of the more than 100 volunteers involved in producing the tournament each year.
Here are some players to keep an eye on this week:
(Note: It's common for players to withdraw from the tournament at the last minute.)
Henry Sims, Georgetown -- Sims saved his best for last, averaging 11.6 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Hoyas in assists (3.5 apg) on his way to earning All Big East Third Team honors. Like many Georgetown big men before him -- most recently Greg Monroe -- Sims is an exceptional passer from the high post, and plays a cerebral game. A late bloomer who saw limited minutes for much of his career, Sims' size, length and emerging offensive game have planted firmly on the NBA radar.
Ricardo Ratliffe, Missouri -- A shocking loss to Norfolk State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament notwithstanding, Ratliffe was a revelation for the Tigers this season, providing excellent play on the interior to balance Frank Haith's perimeter-oriented attack. Ratliffe averaged 13.9 points on a robust 69 percent shooting from the field, and added 7.5 rebounds per contest. Though slightly undersized (6-8) from an NBA perspective, Ratliffe's chiseled frame, length, motor and soft hands make him one of the more intriguing prospects in this year's field.
Alex Young, IUPUI -- A bit of sleeper heading into the season, teams have flocked to Indianapolis to get a gander at one of the top scorers (20.4 ppg) in college basketball last season. Young passes the eye test, checking in at 6-6, with an NBA-ready frame to match his aggressive scoring mentality. A capable deep shooter with a flair for making tough shots, Young was recently mentioned as a possible late first-round pick by ESPN.com's Chad Ford, which has enhanced his profile. He has a chance to really stand out this week.
Dee Bost, Mississippi State -- It's been a bit of a roller coaster for Bost over his four seasons at Mississippi State. He initially declared for the NBA Draft following his sophomore season, a move that wound up costing him nine games of his junior season due to violation of NCAA early entry requirements. Bost also had some academic troubles, which cost him more games along the way, but had a productive senior campaign for the Bulldogs, averaging 15.8 points and 5.5 assists. Bost has NBA-caliber quickness and solid court vision.
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh -- Gibbs flirted with the NBA following an extremely productive junior season for the Panthers in which he averaged 16.8 points and shot a blistering 49 percent from three-point range. Forced to play out of position for much of his senior season, Gibbs never got it going, shooting a career-low 35 percent from distance, as the Panthers missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade. His game is predicated on making shots. When he does that, he has some upside as a designated shooter off the bench, in the mold of a Roger Mason or Gary Neal.
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