A Busy Buckeye: Mullens recalls his pre-draft workouts

Somewhere along his nine-cities-in-eight-days excursion, Byron Mullens forgot where he was.

He remembered one night walking into his hotel, approaching his room and swiping his key card only to have it not work.

“I realized I’m at the room number I was at the night before,” he recalled. “You’ve been in so many rooms, it gets crazy.”

This was how Mullens spent his days this time a year ago, jetting across the country and living out of a suitcase just so he could make a strong impression on the 15 NBA teams he auditioned for during pre-draft workouts.

So Mullens can sympathize with what the more than 100 draft prospects are going through right now, as pre-draft workouts are in full swing after last week’s Draft Combine in Chicago.

There’s the commercial flights, the hotel hopping, the rapid-fire interviews and the workouts themselves, which of course vary by the organization and can be overwhelming.

“It kind of wears on you,” Mullens said. “But it’s an experience. On the first day you kind of get the feel for what they expect but you’ve got the high energy. Then you get the third or fourth workout so you know what to expect. And then you’ve still got that 15th one and you’re just tired. I just had to work out for so many teams. People in the top five only have to work out for two or three different teams, which is great.”

For Mullens, who the Thunder acquired on a draft day trade with the Dallas Mavericks, his pre-draft workouts actually began just before the draft combine. But coming out of the Chicago camp, Mullens started his trek throughout the Eastern Conference, working out for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, and later the Minnesota Timberwolves, among many other teams.

With the constant travel, flight delays and nonstop basketball, Mullens said it was important to stay mentally sharp, well nourished and rested. He admitted it wasn’t easy.

Before going into each workout, all he knew was who he would be working out against. How a team would work him out was another thing.

“I heard of teams doing crazy stuff like just putting you on the line and seeing how mentally tough you are and how conditioned you are and just running you the whole workout, which stinks because the next day you have another workout for somebody else,” Mullens said. “But that team wants to see what you’ve got. Some workouts are really good. I never got to one of those teams that ran us, so I guess I’m lucky on that end.”

Mullens said most workouts included 3-on-3s, 4-on-4s, shooting drills, footwork drills and agility tests. About the only intimidating thing he faced was his first sit-down interview in Cleveland.

“Everyone around you is asking questions,” he said. “They already know everything about your whole life so they just ask you about it. I guess they wanted to see how well you were spoken and if you could handle yourself under pressure in an interview. It was pretty tough but I got used to it after having a few of them.”

The only time Mullens felt pressure on the court was when Pacers president Larry Bird watched one of his workouts. Mullens did get called back for second workouts, one with the Bulls two days before the draft.

“I guess they really liked me and they just wanted to see how tough I was so they put me up against DeJuan Blair and we played one-on-one the whole workout for like 40 minutes,” he said. “Then they just did rebounding drills to see how you fight for rebounds. That’s really what most teams would do, especially if DeJuan Blair’s in the workout.”

Of course, Mullens did visit with the Thunder, and his high school coach who lives in the area showed him around town. Judging from what teams were telling him, Mullens didn’t think he’d fall any lower than the No. 15 or 16 pick. But when the Thunder got him from Dallas on draft day, Mullens considered it a blessing.

“God put me in this position,” he said, “and I want to take full advantage of it.”

Contact Chris Silva