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2009 NBA Draft Combine

Courtney Witte on the new NBA Draft Combine

A crucial component of the draft evaluation process takes place at the end of this month as the league unveils the first ever NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. An evolution of what was formerly known as the Pre-Draft Camp, the combine is a five-day event that draws front office personnel from all 30 teams.

One of the Sixers representatives who will be in attendance is Courtney Witte, the team’s director of player personnel since the 2002-03 season. Witte just finished his 11th year with the organization and his 22nd overall in the NBA.

Witte originally joined the franchise as a video coordinator prior to the start of the 1998-99 season. He played for Coach Bob Knight at Indiana University and has the distinction of being Knight’s first junior college recruit.

SIXERS.COM caught up with Witte and spoke with him about the new NBA Draft Combine:

Can you talk about the change of format going from the old Pre-Draft Camp to the new NBA Draft Combine?

In the past, it was in Chicago for a number of years and then it moved to Orlando for a couple years. Primarily, the format from Chicago to Orlando was the same: It consisted of testing of height, weight, lateral quickness, leaping ability, etc. Then there were skill workouts which consisted of NBA coaches putting players through various tests and then eventually a five-on-five format.

There were two sessions a day. The morning consisted of individual skills and the afternoon or early evening was the five-on-five format. On the back end of that, the medical representatives from each team are allowed to observe the more specific medical tests that are done on each player.

This year, it’s going back to Chicago and is now called the NBA Draft Combine and consists of the same standardized tests done in the past. There’s no longer a five-on-five format; it will be replaced by a light-skill workout with one-on-none situations.

The nice thing about this year is that each team can conduct a maximum of 18 interviews with players of their choosing for a 30-minute period each. That’s what we’re really looking forward to. The standardized testing is fine, it’s something we need, but we have obviously seen a majority of these kids play numerous times. However, to be able to sit across from a young man and get a feel for him as a person, to see what’s inside his head, what his goals are, what his objectives as a basketball player are and what type of interaction there is between him and us, is very important.

You mention how important the interviews are, but since they players go through so many of them, how do you keep the answers fresh?

You can certainly tell the players who’ve been doing it after a while … they’re more relaxed and more used to the standard questions that are going to be asked. I think the way we get around it as an organization is that we have an experienced management team, led by Ed [Stefanski] as well as Tony [DiLeo] who has been around forever. We’re asking very genuine questions not only about kind of basketball player they foresee themselves being, but what kind of people are they. We’re looking for quality people that happen to be quality basketball players.

What are your thoughts the five-on-five games being dropped from the event?

In the last couple years at the camps in Orlando and Chicago, there were roughly 75 players invited. Out of that 75, the Top 30 players perception-wise did not participate in that camp. Instead the top players would conduct separate skill workouts. That was the reason the changes for this year was instituted.

Being a basketball purist, I would love to see the top players competing in that venue but it’s just not feasible. I think you can gain a lot from it. It’s a cumulative process. We’ve seen all these players multiple times. If you could just add another 3-4 days of evaluation, I think you’re going to make a better informed decision on that particular player’s strengths and weaknesses.

Do you think dropping the five-on-five from the NBA Draft Combine will have a positive effect on the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament since just about every player who thinks he will get drafted skips the event?

I think so. I certainly hope that’s the case. The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament is another evaluation tool. Whether you’re a four-year player or a first-year player, you’re used to playing the same system and most likely the same coaching staff and philosophy.

Whenever you can take somebody out of their comfort zone and put them out in front of every NBA team, you’re going to see some things you’re normally not going to see watching that kid play in a regular season game.

You can also see the mental aspect of it from a pressure standpoint. You can’t always judge a player by his height, weight, jumping ability or scoring ability. It’s in certain circumstances that you can only have environments like the PIT or private workouts that you see a kid taken out of his comfort zone and how he performs.

Can you learn anything from watching players go through the light skill drills?

Absolutely. There are a lot of things you can learn. One of the things most people don’t think about is a player being able to take instructions from a new coach in a different environment with every team in the NBA watching and then execute. How quickly can you pick up a drill or instruction from a coach? That’s one of the important things our staff will be looking for is how quickly a player can adapt to change. Primarily these players have been doing the same things.

And there will be plenty of shooting drills, which is always important. Now that the collegiate season is over, these players have been working with individual instructors and they’re working on improving their physical strength and conditioning. They’ve also been working on some of their weaknesses as well. Just watching them shoot from the NBA range is quite a difference from watching them shoot from the college 3-point line.

Do you think teams are getting away from the trend of putting an emphasis on the physical tools of a player (i.e. height, wingspan) and looking more at the end result of their contributions on the court?

I don’t think it’s really a trend, I just think with the rule changes that were implemented by the league with respect to defense. You’re not able to hand-check like you used to or guide people through the lane… that has opened the game up. It’s allowed for a more versatile player or a more agile player to still have a place in the league. I think we’re utilizing all those things now with the current rules and will only continue to do so.

What challenges come along with picking 17th? Is it difficult to convince players who think they’re going to be picked higher to come in for a private workout?

Everyone thinks they’re in the lottery in early-mid May. That’s every year. As the days go on and the draft gets closer, we will get the players we want to get into Philadelphia to work out and evaluate both on the floor and off the floor. Right now, every agent I’ve talked to thinks his client is in the lottery. As we go along, there’s only a certain amount of players who are going in the lottery, so while picking at 17 presents some challenges, I feel very confident we will get the players we want to see in here.