There's something familiar yet different about the pre-draft process for Ayo Dosunmu.
The Illinois All-American guard declared for the NBA Draft in 2020 after a standout sophomore season. COVID-19 altered the pre-draft setup a year ago, but prospects were able to meet with teams via Zoom. During those discussions, NBA scouts gave Dosunmu an honest assessment of his draft stock and told him where he needed to improve.
Dosunmu ultimately decided to withdraw from the draft and return to Illinois for his junior year, where he excelled on the court while leading the Illini to their best season in 15 years.
The 6-5 guard averaged 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.1 steals in 2020-21, earning numerous accolades, including first-team All-Big Ten and consensus first-team All-American honors and the Bob Cousy Award given to the best point guard in college basketball. He was the only player in the NCAA over the last 11 seasons to average 20 points, six rebounds, and five assists for a season and recorded two triple-doubles in February to join Magic Johnson as the only two players in Big Ten history to have multiple triple-doubles in conference games.
Scouts wanted to see more from Dosunmu, so he simply went out and had one of the best seasons in all of college basketball.
"I took constructive criticism and it helped me become a better player and a better person," he said. "Being able to find out where I'm not good at the time and to go into the lab and get better, I definitely applaud myself for that and the people around me for helping me make the best decision."
This year, Dosunmu is in the draft for good. His stock has risen significantly over the past season. While he might well have gone undrafted a year ago, he now has a strong chance of hearing his name called in the first round.
The pre-draft process has also returned to a more "normal" schedule this year, as teams can once again conduct workouts and interview prospects in person. Thus, Dosunmu was at the Ascension St. Vincent Center on Wednesday auditioning for the Pacers.
Dosunmu tested well at the NBA Draft Combine last month, where he measured at 6-5 and 194 pounds with just 4.9 percent body fat and a wingspan of over 6-10. He also had a 39-inch vertical, fifth best among the guards at the combine. The Chicago native said a lot of his focus over the past year was improving his strength and explosiveness to better prepare himself for the next level.
He thrived in college with the ball in his hands, converting 48.8 percent of his attempts and using a combination of his skill off the dribble and his strong frame to get into the lane and convert shots. Dosumnu improved his scoring average by 3.5 points per game as a junior, but his most noticeable growth was as a creator (increasing his assists from 3.3 as a sophomore to 5.3) and a shooter (improving his 3-point percentage from .296 to .390).
Dosunmu said that while he is "having fun" with the pre-draft process, he is also treating each stop like a job interview. He then outlined why he thinks a team should draft him.
"I'm proven of what I can do now, but I still have more potential to tap into," he said. "I'm 6-5, I can playmake, I can guard multiple positions. The NBA right now is really starting to become positionless basketball. You have so many ballhandlers out there at one time. At my size, I can guard the one, the two, or maybe even the three depending on how small the team is.
"And I also can make plays. I can isolate. The NBA is a lot of isolation and pick-and-rolls, a lot of late-shot clock situations. I thrive in those situations. So just being able to beat my man off the dribble and just go out there and playmake, I think that's my pitch to NBA teams."
Kentucky's Isaiah Jackson (left) and Villanova's Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (right) each have skillsets that could entice a team to select them in the first round. (Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images)
While Dosunmu might be the most familiar name to Pacers fans from his days dominating the Big Ten, two other prospects at Wednesday's workout were also potential first-round picks. In fact, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor's latest rankings list Dosunmu as the 25th-best prospect in this year's draft class. The two players ranked 24th and 26th are Kentucky's Isaiah Jackson and Villanova's Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, a pair of big men who also worked out in Indiana on Wednesday.
The 6-10 Jackson turned pro after one season at Kentucky where he averaged 8.4 points on 54 percent shooting and 6.6 rebounds in 25 games. But the Michigan native's most obvious skill is his ability to block shots.
Jackson averaged 2.6 blocks per game despite playing just 20.7 minutes per night and had some of his best defensive performances against the toughest competition. The freshman swatted eight shots against Kansas in the Champions Classic in just his third collegiate game. He also had seven blocks in 23 minutes against eventual SEC champions Alabama on Jan. 23.
Though he still needs to refine some areas of his game, including his penchant for getting into foul trouble (he fouled out of six contests last season), Jackson has the tools to be a high-energy big man. He lists Kevin Garnett as his biggest inspiration and hopes to bring a similar fire every time he takes the court.
"Shotblocking, bringing that energy, getting tip dunks, hustle plays," Jackson said of how he envisions himself contributing.
To stick in the modern NBA, Jackson will also need to expand his shooting range. He attempted just two 3-pointers at Kentucky, but hopes to show teams that he is confident in his stroke during the pre-draft process.
Kentucky has produced countless draft picks in the John Calipari era. Jackson believes he is well equipped to follow in their footsteps after a year in Lexington.
"It taught me a lot of things (like) playing tough because every game we play is like the other team's championship," he said. "So bringing it all every game and just playing with fire."
Robinson-Earl was the Big East Freshman of the Year in 2019-20, when he averaged 10.5 points on 45.4 percent shooting, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists. He took on a larger role last season as a sophomore and was named co-Big East Player of the Year following a campaign where he averaged a team-high 15.7 points on 49.7 percent shooting, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.2 assists.
The 6-9, 242-pound forward's most notable attribute is his versatility on both ends of the floor. A strong defender capable of banging with bigger bodies in the post or switching onto smaller guards, Robinson-Earl also has comfort on the offensive end playing in the post or on the perimeter. He attempted nearly 150 3-pointers during his two seasons at Villanova and also possesses good passing skills for a player of his size.
Robinson-Earl is the latest player to come out of a Villanova program that has produced five first-round picks over the past four seasons, all of whom spent multiple years on campus learning from acclaimed coach Jay Wright.
"I think he's done a great job teaching me all the details, just how to be a professional on and off the court," Robinson-Earl said of Wright's influence. "Just being prepared for the most difficult situations (for) when I'm (in that) position in my future career."
As for what he can bring to an NBA team, Robinson-Earl highlighted his all-around skillset and his work ethic.
"I take a lot of pride in defense and rebounding," he said. "So being able to be out there to guard pick-and-roll, one through five. Being able to stretch the floor, be versatile on the offensive end. Being the ultimate team player and I love to win so just bringing a winning mindset."
Indiana Wesleyan Star Works Out for Home Team
Growing up in Warsaw, Ind., Kyle Mangas dreamed of one day having the chance to put on a Pacer uniform. That dream became a temporary reality on Wednesday, when the 6-4 guard from Indiana Wesleyan took the floor at the Ascension St. Vincent Center.
"It means everything," Mangas said. "Growing up watching the Pacers and coming down to games at Bankers Life is one thing. But then actually being here and getting to work out for them and see the coaching staff and the facilities...being from Indiana, we're really passionate about basketball, so it was awesome."
Mangas may have spent four years playing at the NAIA level, but he is one of the most decorated players in college basketball. He was an All-American as a freshman at Indiana Wesleyan, when he averaged 21.5 points per game and led the Wildcats to a 2018 national championship. Mangas only got better from there, increasing his scoring and assists averages every season.
He was the NAIA National Player of the Year as both a junior and senior. He amassed an absurd 3,453 career points, shattering the school record. His senior season, Mangas averaged 29.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists while shooting 60.3 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3-point range.
"There were a lot of championships and awards and that type of thing," Mangas said of his accomplished collegiate career. "But just the relationships I built with my coaches and teammates and people at the school, Indiana Wesleyan's a really special place and I'm proud to have gone there."
While he could have potentially transferred to an NCAA program, Mangas stayed four years at Indiana Wesleyan and flourished. But on Wednesday, he finally had the chance to prove that even though he played in the NAIA, he can compete with NBA-caliber talent. For most of Wednesday's workout he was matched up with Dosunmu, one of the most decorated players in Division I and a possible first-round draft pick.
"It was awesome," Mangas said. "You know we don't get the national spotlight at IWU even though it's some really good basketball. It was just fun coming in today and competing against those guys, but also having those guys on my team. It was just awesome to get the opportunity."
Mangas recently signed on to play for Men of Mackey in The Basketball Tournament, the annual single-elimination competition with a $1 million prize that draws a number of former college standouts each year. Men of Mackey is a team of primarily Purdue alumni, including Robbie Hummel, Isaac Haas, and A.J. Hammons, but they recruited Mangas to add some additional in-state talent.
As for his professional goals, Mangas will be able to make a good living playing somewhere, whether that's overseas or potentially in the G League. Or just maybe, Wednesday's workout could be the start of an eventual NBA career.
"I want to play at the highest level that I can," Mangas said. "And just prove to us that small college kids can make it, they have skill, they have talent, too. Because often times they get overlooked."
Boise State's Derrick Alston Jr. (left) and Austin Peay's Terry Taylor (right) are both turning pro after successful college careers. (Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images)
Athletic Wings Alston Jr. and Taylor Also Audition in Indiana
The final two prospects at Wednesday's workout were Boise State's Derrick Alston Jr. and Austin Peay's Terry Taylor. Though they may not be household names to many Pacers fans, both had accomplished college careers.
The 6-5, 230-pound Taylor was a two-time Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year and finished his career as Austin Peay's all-time leading scorer with 2,488 points. The lefty scored over 20 points per game in each of his final three seasons, including 21.6 points per game as a senior.
Despite his modest height, Taylor was arguably the best rebounder in college basketball last season. He collected 11.1 rebounds per game and led the entire NCAA with 20 double-doubles.
Taylor credited his coaching staff with helping him improve as a rebounder after hammering home his freshman year that he should always go to the opposite side of the rim than where the ball is shot. That positioning adjustment combined with his motor allowed him to excel on the glass.
"Overall it's just wanting it more, having the heart to just go in there and rebound with the big trees," Taylor said.
Alston, meanwhile, initially walked on at Boise State and scored a total of just seven points over 11 appearances as a redshirt freshman in 2017-18. But he moved into the rotation the next year, averaging 13.4 points per game and led the Broncos in scoring each of the past two seasons.
The 6-9, 190-pound forward averaged 17 points and 3.7 rebounds as a senior while shooting 38.2 percent from 3-point range on over six attempts per game.
"I think my shooting ability is something that can translate right away," Alston said. "I think my length and athleticism will definitely help me stand out on the defensive end and also on the glass."
While he is still lanky, Alston has bulked up considerably over the past few years. He entered college at just 148 pounds, but has steadily added to his frame, something that he will need to continue to do to make it at the next level.
Alston does have a good mentor during the pre-draft process. His father was drafted by the 76ers in the second round in 1994 and enjoyed a lengthy professional career in the NBA and overseas. After retiring in 2012, the elder Derrick Alston served as an assistant both with the Houston Rockets and in the G League and is currently the head coach of the Westchester Knicks, New York's G League affiliate.
"He's been great for me, just giving me a little insight to how this process is," Alston Jr. said of his father's advice. "But he's just been telling me to be myself and just have fun and not put too much pressure on myself. Obviously you're kind of in the fight for your life right now, but at the end of the day it's still basketball."