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Top seniors strut their stuff at Portsmouth Invitational this week

POSTED: Apr 16, 2013 4:30 PM ET

By Rob Reheuser, for


The Bulls' Jimmy Butler opened eyes at last year's PIT.

It wasn't flashy.

On the sizzle vs. steak scale, Jimmy Butler's performance at the 2011 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament was pure porterhouse with a side of mashed potatoes.

In three games, Butler averaged 18.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists, shot 62 percent, didn't miss a free throw (18-for-18), took what the defense gave him, defended with vigor, and had a great rapport with teammates.

Oh, and his team won the tournament, which welcomes 64 of the nation's top college seniors to be evaluated by decision makers from all 30 NBA teams, and tips off for the 61st time on Wednesday.

The dessert came on Draft Night in 2011, when the Chicago Bulls wisely used the 30th overall pick to select Butler, whose greatest skill is knowing who he is and how to make himself valuable to his team.

"Jimmy has a great demeanor," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau recently told the Chicago Sun-Times. "He just competes. That's huge. He doesn't take any plays off. If he makes a mistake, he plays so hard he can overcome it. He brings energy. You don't have to wind him up, he brings energy every day."

Though there wasn't much playing time for a rookie on a veteran squad with championship aspirations last season, Butler has become a key contributor for Chicago this year, averaging 8.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in 24.8 minutes per contest. During an eight-game stretch in late January, with the Bulls besieged by injuries, Butler averaged 15.1 points and 7.4 rebounds, while Chicago went 6-2.

In an era in which NBA teams often reward potential over performance when making draft-day decisions, Chicago has received a great return on its investment in Butler, who was viewed as a marginal second-round prospect before competing in the PIT.

Butler is one of many recent PIT standouts to find success in the NBA. Jeremy Lin, who took the basketball world by storm last season with the New York Knicks, before signing as a free agent with the Houston Rockets this past summer, got his first serious NBA look at the 2010 PIT. This season, Lin is averaging 13.2 points, 6.1 assists and 3.0 rebounds, helping the Rockets secure a return trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Kim English (Detroit, 44th overall), Kevin Murphy (Utah, 47th overall) and Kyle O'Quinn (Orlando, 49th overall) were all drafted after strong performances at the 2012 PIT, and have logged minutes with their respective teams this season. Kent Bazemore, who went undrafted, has spent the entire season with the Golden State Warriors after impressing at the PIT last year. Chris Johnson (Memphis Grizzlies) and Henry Sims (New Orleans Hornets) have crossed the NBA threshold on Call-Ups from the NBA Development League.

The majority of the 64 college seniors invited to take part in the action likely will begin their careers overseas or in the NBA D-League. Ricardo Ratliffe, who earned All-Tournament honors at the PIT in 2012, is currently averaging 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds for Mobis Phoebus in South Korea. JaMychal Green, also an All-Tournament selection in 2012, is averaging 12.0 points and 8.0 rebounds for the Austin Toros of the NBA D-League.

When the 2013 NBA Playoffs kick off on April 20, the San Antonio Spurs will rely heavily on the floor spacing and three-point shooting of Gary Neal, who competed at the PIT in 2007. Golden State, back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, will look to Carl Landry, another PIT standout in 2007, to provide frontcourt scoring off the bench.

NBA starters like Wes Matthews of Portland (2009), Alonzo Gee of Cleveland (2009) and Jason Maxiell of Detroit (2005) all played in the PIT. So did NBA supersubs Jose Juan Barea of Minnesota (2006), DeMarre Carroll of Utah (2009), Landry Fields of Toronto (2010), Steve Novak of New York (2006) and C.J. Watson of Brooklyn (2006).

As much as it's been a springboard for professional basketball players, the PIT is more than just a basketball tournament. All of the proceeds go toward providing scholarships for local high school students and assisting local charities. The contributions and scholarships have risen significantly over the years thanks to the support of local sponsors, advertisers, ticket sales, the City of Portsmouth and the NBA. None of this is possible without the selfless efforts of the more than 100 volunteers involved in producing the tournament each year.

This year's tournament carries added significance, as it's the first since the passing of Marty Blake, the former NBA general manager and super scout who died Sunday at the age of 86. Blake is credited with expanding the format and scope of the PIT in the early 1970s to include full-scale NBA participation, with NBA general managers and scouts making it a yearly stop on the calendar to see players like Dave Cowens, John Lucas, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman begin their NBA journeys with outstanding play at the PIT. Today, Blake's son Ryan, a consultant for the NBA, is still heavily involved in the planning and execution of the tournament, helping to carry on a great tradition.

Here are some players to keep an eye on this week:

(Note: It's common for players to withdraw from the tournament at the last minute.)

Richard Howell, N.C. State -- It was a tough season from a team perspective, as the Wolfpack greatly underachieved, eventually losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Howell, however, had a very strong senior campaign, averaging 12.7 points and 10.9 rebounds (tops in the ACC), while shooting 57 percent from the field. Though he lacks some of the physical attributes NBA teams covet at the power forward position in terms of height (6-8) and lift, Howell makes up for it with strength and desire. He also has a knack for being around the ball, along with a good pair of hands.

Elijah Johnson, Kansas -- Johnson had to wait his turn at Kansas, coming off the bench his first two seasons before taking on an expanded role on a team that lost in the NCAA Championship game to Kentucky last season. This year, he averaged 9.9 points and 4.6 assists as the Jayhawks won the Big 12, but eventually fell to Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen. Johnson's physical tools are intriguing from an NBA perspective, as he has the requisite size, speed and quickness teams crave at the point guard position. The question is, can he be a full-time one at the NBA level, having played off the ball for long stretches of his college career.

James Southerland, Syracuse -- An academic suspension cost Southerland six games during the heart of Syracuse's conference schedule, but he returned in time to help lead the Orange to the Final Four. In the East regional final against Marquette, Southerland made six three-pointers and scored 16 points as the Orange advanced to Atlanta. A bit of a late-bloomer -- he averaged 6.8 points and 3.1 rebounds as a junior -- Southerland upped those numbers to 13.3 points and 5.3 assists, while shooting 40 percent from behind the arc as a senior. An above-average athlete with a good body, Southerland has a real chance to stand out this week.

Carrick Felix, Arizona State -- Felix began his collegiate career at the College of Southern Idaho before eventually moving on to Arizona State, where he developed into one of the better players in the Pac-12, averaging 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 50 percent. Felix looks the part of an NBA wing, with an outstanding physical profile to go with a solid motor and an improving feel for the game. He's developed into a more than adequate perimeter shooter, and has real upside as a defender given his physical tools.

Khalif Wyatt, Temple -- Aside from the final score, which showed Temple losing a heartbreaker to Indiana in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, Wyatt went out in style, nearly beating the top-seeded Hoosiers singlehandedly, scoring 31 of his team's 52 points. Wyatt also hit for 31 points in the previous round against N.C. State. In case you haven't gotten the gist, Wyatt has a knack for putting the ball in the hoop. He led the Atlantic-10 in scoring (20.5 ppg) this past year, earning Player of the Year honors. A below average athlete by NBA standards, Wyatt is tough and plays with a swagger that's undeniable.