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Mavunga, Young Showcase Talents

by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive ||

June 19, 2012

For guys like Julian Mavunga and Alex Young, the road to the NBA isn't a superhighway. There are plenty of twists, turns and chuckholes along the way.

The two Indianapolis products are trying to make the journey from mid-major to the highest level of the game this year and hope to use pre-draft workouts like the six-player session Monday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse as showcases.

"Even guys I went in the workout with, guys that go to bigger schools, they're on national TV all the time, they get opportunities to be out there and be seen," said Mavunga, a 6-8, 240-pound forward from Brownsburg. "All you want is an opportunity to showcase and compete against those guys and show just because you went to a smaller school doesn't mean you're inferior to what they are.

"A lot of it is just the competition aspect. They want to see what type of competitor you are. Usually when you get invited to these types of workouts they know you can play, they know you're skilled, they know you can score. They want to see how hard you work, how much you defend. You just want to show you're a true competitor when you get an opportunity to go against guys like this."

Mavunga, who teamed with Gordon Hayward to lead Brownsburg to win the 2008 state championship game in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, spent his workout banging with Missouri's Ricardo Ratliffe, an impressive battle of biceps.

The 6-6, 212-pound Young, a former Northwest standout who ranked third in IUPUI history in points (2,286), frequently matched up with Georgetown forward Hollis Thompson.

Another Indiana prospect was on hand, as Evansville's Kyle Kuric, a 6-4 guard who averaged 12.6 points a a senior at Louisville, squared off with Oakland's Reggie Hamilton, who led the nation in scoring at 26.2 last season.

"Being at the school I come from, we play two or three big games," Young said. "We had a chance to play Hollis Thompson this year and Ricardo's from Missouri so playing against guys that are ranked above you or maybe played for a higher (level) school, it's always good to go up against them and play good against them and it lets the scouts know you can play on that level on a consistent basis."

Both players also have inspirational examples close at hand. Hayward went on to a stellar career at Butler, leading the Bulldogs to the NCAA championship game in 2010 and leaping to the NBA as the No. 9 pick of Utah. They remain close friends.

When both were freshmen at Brownsburg, neither was sure he wanted to stick with basketball. Hayward was contemplating a shift in focus to tennis. Mavunga, who did not begin playing basketball until his freshman season, wasn't sure he liked the game enough to make the commitment.

Mavunga encouraged Hayward to stick with it, while Hayward did likewise for his teammate.

"I almost quit my freshman year but as far as basketball has taken me, I'm really glad I stuck with it," said Mavunga, who led the MAC in scoring (16.4) and rebounding (9.0) as a senior. "I was terrible when I started but I was able to develop and hopefully I'll continue to develop. If I can keep doing that, I'll have a shot at something."

From a guy that almost walked away from the game during his first season, Mavunga has become, in his own words, "a basketball gymrat" willing to make the sacrifices necessary to extend his career.

"I don't want to do this just for a job, just to make money," he said. "I have a passion for basketball and I think I have great upside because I only started playing when I was a freshman in high school so I think I have a lot of room to develop as long as I continue to work hard.

"I'm ready to put in the work and continue to get better every single opportunity I get. If that road takes me five years to get into the league, I'll take it because it's a passion."

Young draws inspiration from George Hill, the first player from IUPUI to make it to the NBA. The former first-round pick of San Antonio is now entrenched as the Pacers' starting point guard, so Young doesn't have to go far to see how far he could go.

"It's inspired me since I enrolled at IUPUI," said Young, who averaged 20.4 points as a senior. "Of course he was the first to get to the league from IUPUI so I've looked at it like 'Why not?' I can be the second guy. He's been a huge inspiration in what I've been doing and I keep in touch with George and I want to be here."

Despite their strong college resumes, both Mavunga and Young are trying to play their way onto the NBA's draft radar. Both could go undrafted, which would only add another obstacle to their journeys.

They remain undaunted.

"(The Pacers) have guys that went to smaller schools, worked their way up, separated themselves and showed they were the cream of the crop," Mavunga said. "That's basically what I'm trying to do, just trying to show guys I can play, I'm skilled, I can compete.

"At the end of the day it's on you. When you get opportunities like this to come in and work against other guys, it's up to you and what you do. Every single time I get a chance to go to a workout I try to show what I can do."

As Young put it:

"I definitely think it's a league I can play in. It's a league I know I can make my impact in. It's just a matter of just getting in the league first. There's some negatives, some positives from everywhere but if you believe in yourself, you believe in your ability, no one should be able to stop you."

Seems like both are in it for the long haul.

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