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Scott Howard-Cooper

Iowa State combo forward Royce White has been compared to former NBA forward Anthony Mason.
Courtesy of Iowa State athletic department

St. John's Harkless gaining steam; centers highly sought

Posted Jun 23 2012 11:37AM

He was the laid-back Moe Harkless for much of St. John's season, maybe as a freshman worried too much about fitting in, and maybe because that's just his personality. But there was the signature moment of asserting himself in performance and passion Jan. 28 at Duke. Eighteen years old, a freshman, in the basketball cathedral of Cameron Indoor Stadium, and he flashed an attitude along with the 30 points and 13 rebounds.

That was his breakout moment.

That was nothing compared to what may come next.

Far from the spotlight in the NBA Draft, away from the top couple tiers of marquee prospects and potentially even outside the top half of the first round, Harkless has gone from a promising freshman season at St. John's to working his way up team boards with a series of workouts that has turned him into one of the risers heading toward selection night on Thursday.

One general manager, asked which player not getting a lot of attention and possibly destined for the second half of the first round, did not hesitate with an answer.

"Moe Harkless."

"Exactly who I was going to say," another GM said in a separate conversation, before adding, "Don't be surprised if he ends up in the lottery, though."

A clarification since the discussion was about players mostly projected outside the top 14 when the draft is held in Newark, N.J., but also an insight: Harkless is moving up some draft boards that much.

"He's incredibly long," the second executive said. "He's got a great release. He's a phenomenal rebounder for his position. He just turned 19, so you can get another inch, inch and a half out of him if he's still growing. He competes. He's a good kid. And he's one of those guys where, even though he's from New York City, he doesn't have that city edge to him. He's really polished. He's going to be really good."

Harkless, who turned 19 on May 11, played all the frontcourt positions at 6-foot-8 , but projects as an NBA small forward at 205 pounds while needing to develop a consistent jumper. He averaged 15.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.41 blocks in 36.1 minutes and shot 45.2 percent overall and 21.5 percent from behind the arc.

Elsewhere, with six days to go before the draft:

• The Hornets-Wizards trade that sent Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza to Washington and Rashard Lewis to New Orleans could have bigger implications for draft night than the Hornets also getting the 46th pick. With Okafor gone and Chris Kaman headed to free agency, the need to go center at No. 10 just jumped dramatically.

That's bad news for the Trail Blazers and Bucks, picking 11th and 12th, respectively, and also center hunting, with the chances of Portland taking Andre Drummond at No. 6 a long shot. Drummond, Meyers Leonard and Tyler Zeller could all be gone by the time the Blazers are on the clock the second time.

One interesting consideration: A Portland front-office contingent will be in Houston for an updated assessment of 2006 draftee Joel Freeland, now 25 years old, 6-foot-11 and 225 pounds, as the British national team plays an exhibition Sunday against Lithuania. The matchup makes it a particularly valuable measuring stick -- Lithuania's center is Jonas Valanciunas, the No. 5 pick a year ago who is expected to join the Raptors for 2012-13.

• That Bob Myers was hired as Golden State general manager with one year of experience in any front office is part of the reasoning why the Warriors will not turn away from risk-pick Drummond if he is on the board at No. 7. Owner Joe Lacob hired Mark Jackson as coach with no bench experience. He hired Myers to run basketball operations with very little experience. Lacob is a hands-on boss who encourages bold moves, and taking Drummond would definitely be bold.

Dion Waiters is a strong possibility to become the third guard behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as Golden State hopes Curry ditches the ankle injuries once and for all after they ruined his 2011-12. Oakland product Damian Lillard would be considered as well, but may not get there with the Blazers at No. 6 and needing a point guard. Terrence Ross is also in the mix, the Bay Area News Group reports.

• No prospect is getting trashed more than Mississippi State big man -- and too often very big man -- Renardo Sidney. On a potential path to the lottery a few years, he has off-court baggage, has been out of shape and is barely getting looks for the second round despite talent.

"And rightfully so," a personnel boss said.

• All indications are that the Clippers will go into the draft without a general manager. No big deal for a team that has only pick No. 53, but trade calls are always a possibility. The team was sure to point out the depth of decision makers still on board after Neil Olshey left for the Trail Blazers -- president Andy Roeser as the cap expert, coach Vinny Del Negro as a former assistant GM in Phoenix, Gary Sacks as director of player personnel -- so everything is obviously under control.

• Iowa State's versatile Royce White is still tracking to the 15-to-25 range and still drawing positive reviews for his unique game as a combo forward who will be a playmaker. Some teams may see a guy without a position who won't be able to duplicate the college success of going through power forwards or dribbling around small forwards, while others see someone who will create matchup nightmares with the ball. "He's Anthony Mason," one admiring executive said in a compliment.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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