Column: Combine Is Not Your Typical Day At The Office

NBAE/Getty Images
by Mark Remme
Web Editor

If you’re an athlete at the NBA Draft Combine, it’s not your typical day at the office. It’s a collection of workouts and eyeballs and the presence of basketball immortality that many of these players have never quite experienced before. And at its very core, it’s a job interview. These players are competing to show that they indeed to belong in the league.

And it’s really a one-and-done type situation. You need to have the right mindset.

“I’m not scared of competition, man,” UCLA guard Zach LaVine said. “I want to go through here and not have any doubts about myself. I’m not scared of anything. It’s my first time. This is going to be my only Combine, so I want to have fun out here.”

There is no shortage of pressure—at least presumably—when you’re out there at center court at the Quest Multisport Complex on the west side of Chicago. This is your opportunity to seize your moment. There are people that have molded the game into what it is today and have collected their fair share of rings along the way that are watching you and evaluating you—it’s no small deal having Jerry West, Scottie Pippen, Mike Dunleavy and Danny Ainge in attendance.

Yet you can’t let that affect you. In some ways, you need to take an approach like Ohio State’s Aaron Craft—he didn’t take the time to look in the stands. If he did, he might have seen some faces that altered his mindset. For him, how he played and finished drills was the most important thing.

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You can prepare for what you know. You know you are going to be evaluated on your physical skills, so you work with trainers in the offseason trying to improve your measurable—your speed drills, vertical, etc. You know they’ll evaluate you on you on-the-court presence, so you work on your jump shot and your lateral quickness. And you know they’ll measure you on how you handle yourself through adversity, so you have the opportunity to employ a mental strength coach to help you bounce back from a tough shooting day or any other hardships that could happen on the court.

You can even prepare for the type of demeanor you want to showcase to the teams when you meet with them. Nik Stauskas, the sharp-shooter from Michigan, said he really emphasized his background when talking with coaches and front office executives in order to show the type of person he is off the court.

“Just that I’m a good person. I come from a good family,” Stauskas said. “I think that’s important for people to know.”

But the one thing you can’t prepare for is what the executives might ask you.

The NBA Draft Combine has similar qualities to the NFL’s Combine—players are measured by their physical abilities, but they’re also measured by their aptitude. The NFL Combine is well-documented to fans, and people generally know that players take the Wonderlic Test. On the NBA side of things, players meet face-to-face with teams’ front office members and get interviewed for about 30 minutes to learn about their character and their aptitude.

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That’s where it gets interesting—and unpredictable.

Some of the questions are light-hearted but require some quick thinking. For instance, one prospect said he was asked how many pennies are in $1 million.

Then there’s the abstract—the ones that really can’t possibly be quantified unless you have someone measuring intricate square footage and volume.

“[They asked me] how many ping pong balls can fit into this room,” Arizona State guard Jahii Carson said. “I’m like, ‘Ah, you know I didn’t know.’ It was like 7,129. Crazy question, but hey, they knew and I didn’t.”

The best part of that exchange was the team actually DID have an answer.

And finally there are the real-life experience questions that the player may or may not need to guess about. Glenn Robinson, III, the son of “The Big Dog” Glenn Robinson, said one front office person asked him about a conversation he had while watching him play at Michigan.

“He asked me, ‘I sat next to a season ticket holder at one of your games, and I asked him about you.’ That was pretty tough to answer,” Robinson, III, said. “I told them, ‘It’s a mystery fan, so I hope he said some great things.’ I told them I thought there were times where I played when I thought I was kind of relaxed, and maybe some times when I was involved with athleticism.”

Turns out Robinson, III, answered the questions pretty much spot on with what the fan said. Or that’s what he told the media, at least.

The bottom line is this particular weekend is the starting point for many of these athletes who hope to one day become NBA athletes. They’ve officially put their college careers behind them, and they’ve embarked on a journey that will hopefully help them achieve their dreams. It’s not easy, and it’s certainly not a given, but the Draft Combine is one of the first stops on a rigorous journey between now and late-June that will help these athletes get where they’re hoping to go.

It’s a tough road, and it’s so very uncertain. But you ask these guys and they’ll tell you it’s worth every second.

“It’s going to take some time [to sink in],” said Louisiana Lafayette guard Elfrid Payton. “I’m just trying to live through it right now. But when I look back, I think it’s something I can be proud about.”