As Will Barton assessed his predraft workout at Pepsi Center, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl interrupted with a handshake and a friendly verbal jab.
“This guy’s a little bit of a question mark,” Karl said with a smile. “The coaches down there (at the University of Memphis) are a little questionable.”
Karl was referring to former Nuggets video coordinator Jack Murphy and former Nuggets media relations director Eric Sebastian.
Murphy, who was on Karl’s staff from 2006-09, recently was named men’s basketball coach at Northern Arizona after three years as a Memphis assistant. Sebastian just completed his third year as director of basketball operations at Memphis.
“Those guys, they’re young and they’re real passionate about the game,” Barton said. “That’s what I liked the most.”
Barton, 21, excelled in his two years under Memphis coach Josh Pastner and his staff. He was named the 2011-12 Conference USA Player of the Year after averaging a league-leading 18 points and eight rebounds as a sophomore.
“Will had an All-American-type year for us because of his preparation,” Sebastian said. “He approached the game like a pro and it paid off for him and for us. He was the best rebounding guard in the country and he has a mid-range game that few can match.”
Long and athletic, the 6-foot-6, 175-pound Barton is projected as a mid-to-late first-round pick at the June 28 NBA Draft. Denver holds the 20th overall pick, as well as the 38th and 50th selections.
After working out for about 10 teams over the past several weeks, Barton has no idea where he will land.
“I try not to think about my projection,” he said. “I go into every workout thinking about competing, doing my best and just seeing what happens. Everybody projects this and projects that. You never know until June 28. It’s just about a team falling in love with you.”
Barton believes he will be able to contribute to an NBA team, regardless of location, because Memphis employed a pro-style offense and played man-to-man defense almost exclusively.
Denver, of course, would provide an additional comfort level because of his Nuggets connections. He has been talking to Murphy and Sebastian periodically during the workout process.
“They check on me all the time,” Barton said. “I like to hit them up sometimes to get advice. They just tell me to keep working hard and go into every workout with a good mindset and be ready to compete.”
In addition to his competitive nature, Barton carries himself with a self-confidence that was instilled by his mother at an early age.
“My mom always told me to believe in myself,” he said. “If you don’t think you’re the best, you’re probably not going to last long in whatever you do. You have to have that confidence to compete and make plays and try to be the best each time you’re on the court.”
With three more predraft workouts on his schedule, Barton is close to fulfilling his NBA dream.
“I’m just trying to push through it and get to June 28,” he said. “Then we’ll see what happens.”