Draper looking to make a name for himself

Point guard trying to emerge from Carmelo Anthony's shadow

Dontaye Draper has grown accustomed to the whispers.

They followed him from Baltimore to the College of Charleston and again from college to the pros.

“He’s only here because he’s one of Melo’s best friends.”

Yes, connections are nice, but they only take you so far.

Dontaye Draper knows how to play.

“Dontaye Draper, I love to death,” said Nuggets assistant Jamahl Mosley, who coached Draper on Denver’s summer-league team in Las Vegas. “There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be in the NBA.”

After three years of traveling the world playing pro ball in Australia, France, Belgium and Italy, the 25-year-old Draper is hoping to eventually fulfill his dream of playing in the NBA alongside his childhood friend Carmelo Anthony, a three-time All-Star with the Nuggets.

If the dream ever comes true, it will be on merit, but the whispers will never be completely silenced.

“Definitely it’s a big frustration,” Draper said of perceptions that he’s riding Anthony’s coattails. “I just try to get out there and show everybody I can play. People in the league are starting to realize it.”

Draper’s ability was evident in college when he averaged 18.5 points as a junior and 16.2 points and 5.3 assists as a senior. The Washington Wizards invited him to play on their summer-league team in 2008, while he has appeared on Denver’s summer roster three times.

“It’s just all about being comfortable and experienced,” he said. “I think I got better every year.”

Playing behind starting point guard Ty Lawson, Draper was solid for the Nuggets in Las Vegas, averaging 6.6 points and 1.8 assists as Denver went 4-1 in summer-league play. The performance earned him a couple of early offers to play again overseas.

“The more people who see your face, the better it will be,” he said.

The chance to play in front of NBA coaches, scouts and front-office executives came at a personal cost.

When the summer-league schedule was announced in mid-June, Draper immediately saw a conflict. The Nuggets were slated to play the Los Angeles Lakers on July 10, the same day Anthony was getting married in New York.

Draper looked into flying across three time zones to make it to the wedding, but it just wasn’t feasible.

“It was really tough,” he said.

Considering Anthony and Draper have shared the same dream of playing in the NBA since they first met when they were about 11, Anthony understood his friend’s dilemma and fully supported his decision to stay with the Nuggets in Las Vegas.

As Melo has always told Draper: “Keep working hard and everything will fall into place. Don’t stop working.”

Though he missed the wedding, Draper had a chance to work out with Anthony for a couple weeks in Los Angeles after returning from his season in Europe. Draper was in training camp with the Nuggets last fall and potentially could return again before the 2010-11 season if he declines to go overseas.

Even though the Nuggets are well-stocked at point guard, it’s an opportunity he would welcome.

“My dream is just to get into the NBA,” Draper said. “Someway, somehow.”

Whispers be damned.

Contact Aaron J. Lopez at alopez@pepsicenter.com