Raptors Host Competitive Workout With Finish Line In Sight
Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com
Nine days from the 2014 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors brought in another round of players for a closer look. Tuesday’s workout was the team’s ninth, with another lined up for Thursday. Between workouts and combine interviews, the Raptors are feeling confident about the players they are starting to hone in on, but know the work isn’t ever done, and selections aren’t ever guaranteed, until they’re on the clock for each of their three picks on June 26th.
“We’ve got a good feeling of the types of players we’re going to be looking at with each of our picks,” Raptors director of scouting Dan Tolzman said. “It’s kind of nice where we’re at — at 20, 37 and 59, they’re spaced out enough to where we’re looking at different groups of people at each one.”
While the home stretch can be the most difficult for players who have logged plenty of frequent-flier miles over the past few weeks, Tolzman said Tuesday’s workout was one of the most competitive the team has seen. That energy belies the grind of the pre-draft process.
“Right now, my body’s pretty worn out, a little bit from flying, and these workouts, they’ve been very intense,” Michigan State forward Adreian Payne said. “Mentally, the process has been long and at this point everybody’s ready for the draft. It’s a grind, like everybody says, so you know you gotta just finish your workouts strong and then wait for that night.”
Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes agreed with Payne and admitted that it’s hard to ignore just how high the stakes are as the finish line nears.
“Seems like the closer and closer I get to it the more nervous I get,” Stokes said. “The more I pay attention to details through workouts, the more you realize I only have five more workouts to fulfill my dream.”
A saving grace for players without their normal bounce or energy in a workout is that teams know fatigue is creeping in.
“This is such a gruelling process for them,” Tolzman said. “Some of them are dealing with injuries that they’re trying to mask, just so that they can get out in front of us. Other guys, they’re working so hard, they’re trying to fight through everything to put on the best [performance] they can.”
When workouts can be affected by the realistic physical limitations guys are experiencing so close to the draft, time spent with prospects can be key.
“The interviews are, in my opinion, the best part of the combine,” Tolzman said. “ The one-on-one opportunities with them, the chance to get the kid in front of our small group, and we get to really know them for a half hour, that’s invaluable.”
Stokes spoke highly of his time with the Raptors front office in Chicago. More than anything, he referenced how genuine they were. He also recalled measuring his hand — one or the largest in this year’s draft — against Wayne Embry’s in addition to going through the typical questions.
“I was amazed last night when I came to Toronto and I saw how pretty downtown was,” Stokes said. “I had no idea that the city looks this good.”
Trying to block out distractions is something every draft hopeful is learning to do. Most guys try to have a support system in place to help provide advice and motivation when necessary. For Stokes’ those words aren’t coming from current NBA players or former teammates, but from his younger siblings.
“I have a little brother who is 15 years old and he looks up to me almost like I'm his dad,” Stokes said. “It’s really motivation. I want to grow up with my brother, I have a little sister, I want to grow up with them. They’re growing up in a rough neighbourhood in Memphis. I would love to just grow up and be almost a second dad in their life right now.”
As Stokes tries to focus on each day as it comes, his brother doesn’t let anything pass him by.
“He types my name in on Twitter and Google,” he said. “He tells me things I don’t even want to know. It could be a bad article and he just…he’s all over it.”
With nine days remaining, the Raptors front office is all over it, too.