Editor's Note: Since this article was originally published, Trevon Bluiett and Vince Edwards have elected to withdraw from the NBA Draft and to return to school for their senior seasons.
Monday's pre-draft workout was a homecoming of sorts. Four of the six players auditioning for the Pacers had some sort of tie to the state of Indiana.
Purdue forward Vince Edwards was in attendance, fresh off leading the Boilermakers to the Sweet 16.
Xavier wing Trevon Bluiett was back in the building where he helped Park Tudor High School capture three state championships.
Former Ben Davis and Ohio State center Trevor Thompson also returned to his hometown.
And of course, there was Bryce Alford, the sharpshooting son of former Indiana University All-American Steve Alford, who starred for his father for four years at UCLA.
Suffice it to say, there were plenty of storylines at play on Monday and that's without even mentioning the two other participants in the workout, UCLA center Ike Anigbogu and Miami (Fla.) guard Davon Reed, who were the only players to receive an invite to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago earlier this month.
PHOTOS: More About Monday's Prospects »
Four of the attendees at Monday's workout are early entry candidates for the 2017 NBA Draft, which will be held on June 22 at the Barclays Center (the Pacers currently own the 18th and 47th overall picks).
Anigbogu and Thompson are definitely staying in the draft, as both players have already signed with an agent. Anigbogu elected to turn pro after just one season at UCLA, while Thompson made the leap after his junior year at Ohio State.
Bluiett and Edwards, both juniors, have not signed with an agent, leaving the door open for a possible return to school. The NCAA deadline to withdraw from the draft is Wednesday, so both players will be making their ultimate decisions soon.
Both Bluiett and Edwards said on Monday that they were still undecided about whether they would stay in the draft or return for their senior seasons. Neither is considered a lock to hear their name called on draft night. DraftExpress.com currently ranks Edwards as the 80th best prospect in this year's draft class (only 60 players get drafted), while Bluiett is unranked.
This is the second year that Bluiett and Edwards have tested the draft waters and both maintained the lessons they've learned during the pre-draft process can help them regardless of whether they turn pro or stay in school.
"Just learning more about yourself...the adversity that you can face through these workouts and finding out who you are," Edwards said. "Can you take criticism and the truth and really help develop this game or (will you) let it destroy you?"
Bluiett steadily increased his production in each of his three seasons at Xavier, earning First Team All-Big East honors as both a sophomore and a junior. The Indianapolis native averaged 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists last season while shooting 37.1 percent from 3-point range. He scored 40 points and went 9-of-11 from beyond the arc in a loss at 19th-ranked Cincinnati in January, but arguably his best performances came in the NCAA Tournament.
Bluiett was outstanding as he led the 11th-seeded Musketeers on an unexpected run to the Elite Eight. He had 21 points in a first-round win over sixth-seeded Maryland, tallied 29 points and six rebounds in a convincing victory over third-seeded Florida State, then led all scorers with 25 points in a Sweet 16 win over second-seeded Arizona.
Bluiett's standout play during the tournament most definitely got him some extra attention, but there are questions about his ability to fit in at the next level. He is listed at 6-6, but isn't blessed with exceptional athleticism and is perhaps a bit undersized to play on the wing. On Monday, Bluiett argued that the challenges adjusting to the next level aren't just physical.
"There's a lot of stronger guys, more athletic," Bluiett said. "You've got to think the game more, whereas in college you really didn't have to think too much. I kind of consider the NBA being like a chess game — you've got to read a lot more as opposed to college."
Edwards was a jack of all trades last season for Purdue, helping the Boilermakers capture the Big Ten regular season title while averaging 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per contest. A knockdown shooter, Edwards had a .486 field goal percentage, .423 3-point percentage, and .820 free throw percentage as a junior.
Like Bluiett, Edwards raised his game in March. He had 21 points, five rebounds, and three assists in the Boilermakers' first-round win over Vermont and then posted 21 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists in a second-round victory over Iowa State.
"To be able to win a Big Ten championship and then be able to get to the Sweet 16, it was an unbelievable feeling," Edwards said. "It was kind of hard to look back at it during the year, but now that the season has kind of faded away and it's starting up to new chapters, you can go and look at it."
Edwards is hopeful that his versatility will be enough to impress an NBA team. He has good size at 6-8 and though he doesn't do anything exceptionally well, his all-around skill could help him find a roster spot.
Recent history has shown that being drafted is not a requirement to make an NBA roster. Last season, Indiana University stars Troy Williams and Yogi Ferrell (Bluiett's former teammate at Park Tudor) went undrafted and still had successful rookie seasons.
Williams, who turned pro after his junior season, made the Grizzlies out of training camp and started 13 games. He was later waived but then picked up by the Rockets, where he finished the season.
Ferrell, an All-American in college but undrafted primarily due to concerns about his smaller stature, saw action in 10 games for Brooklyn and then flourished after he signed with Dallas midseason, starting 29 games and averaging 11.3 points and 4.3 assists.
Stories like those might be enough to convince Bluiett and/or Edwards to turn pro, even without a guarantee of being drafted. Bluiett said he talked to Ferrell earlier this spring to get advice about how to approach the pre-draft process.
"He told me to take it all in and be confident, never let your confidence waver," Bluiett said. "I think that's the reason why he's successful, because throughout the whole process he's been confident and eventually it paid off for him."
With their decision deadline quickly approaching, both Bluiett and Edwards plan to spend the next couple of days consulting with their families and coaches and weighing all their options. Neither would reveal whether they were leaning one way or the other on Monday, but both promised that they would be confident in their final decision.
"At the end of the day, whatever it is, don't live with any regret," Edwards said. "You've got to go and never look back."
Different Paths Lead UCLA Teammates Alford, Anigbogu to Pros
Bryce Alford and Ike Anigbogu could not have had more different college careers.
Alford amassed nearly 2,000 career points over his four seasons at UCLA, where he established himself as one of the nation's elite shooters and made 327 3-pointers, the most in the history of the storied program.
Anigbogu appeared in just 29 games for the Bruins, putting up modest averages of 4.7 points. 4.0 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 13.0 minutes per game off the bench.
It is Anigbogu, however, that is considered a likely first-round pick in next month's draft. Alford's shooting prowess will likely make him plenty of money over the next decade, but his chances of making an NBA roster are seemingly slim.
Anigbogu's age and length make him an intriguing option for NBA teams. Anigbogu was one of the youngest players in college basketball this season and doesn't turn 19 until Oct. 16, making him younger than many seniors in high school.
Even more enticing to scouts are Anigbogu's measurements. While he measured out at just 6-9 3/4, tied for 14th tallest among players at the NBA Draft Combine, Anigbogu has a staggering 7-6 1/4 wingspan, the second longest of any player in Chicago.
For perspective, current Pacers center Myles Turner measured out at 6-11 1/2 with a 7-4 wingspan at the combine two years ago.
Playing on a deep UCLA roster that featured Alford, lottery pick Lonzo Ball, and another surefire first-round pick T.J. Leaf, Anigbogu was asked to play a very specific role this season for the Bruins. He was an energy big man off the bench, blocking shots and running the floor. Most of his points came off lobs or offensive rebounds (Synergy Sports' data says that he only attempted eight jump shots all season).
That experience might have actually prepared Anigbogu well for the NBA game, as he will most likely be utilized in similar ways at the next level.
"Coach Alford played me to my strengths and put me out there," Anigbogu said. "I think I did pretty good in my role. I think that's going to translate as I go on to the next level."
When asked what game he would submit to scouts as the best evidence of what he can bring to an NBA team, Anigbogu chose the Bruins' 82-79 win over fifth-ranked Oregon on Feb. 9. The freshman played 15 minutes off the bench and amassed nine points, seven rebounds (four offensive), and three blocks to help UCLA rally from a 19-point first-half deficit.
It is performances like those that highlight Anigbogu's potential. His offensive skill set is still quite limited and he said on Monday he is working on his post-up game and jump shot, but Anigbogu's raw athleticism might be enough to get him on the court as a rookie.
"His ceiling is high," Alford said. "He's so young. He just turned 18 during the year and he's got a ridiculous wingspan. He blocks a ton of shots, he's crazy athletic, and he's probably still going to grow a couple inches, I think.
"He's very raw and he's going to be a skilled guy in a couple years, but the way he can defend, he can change the game in a lot of ways."
As a prospect, Alford does not have the same upside as Anigbogu, but few players in this year's draft class accomplished as much as the UCLA sharpshooter. He did it all while playing for his father, an experience few players get to have at that high of a level.
"Everybody always asks about the bad (times) and how that was dealing with him on the sidelines when he got mad at me, but the good times outweighed the bad by so much that it made it worth it," Alford said.
"And just having him on the sideline for every single one of my games, that was part of the recruiting process for me — if I went anywhere else, he'd never be able to see me play. That was the best part, just having him there."
Alford averaged between 15.4 and 16.1 points in each of his final three seasons with the Bruins. He mostly played point guard in his first three years on campus, averaging 5.2 assists per game as a junior, but slid over to shooting guard as a senior with the arrival of Ball.
Playing alongside an NBA-caliber point guard, Alford flourished. His shooting took a significant leap up his senior season, with Ball helping create better looks for him spotting up on the wing.
Alford's field goal percentage climbed from .385 to .447 and his 3-point percentage jumped from .367 to .430 even as he took over 71 more attempts as a senior.
At just 6-3, Alford is still probably too small to play a major role in the NBA, but his experience playing alongside Ball suggested more possibilities for him to carve out a role at the next level.
"With the way the league is going, it's not so much about positions nowadays," Alford said. "Sometimes you'll have five guards on the court, sometimes you'll have three bigs on the court.
"Being able to be the 1 (point guard), being able to play the 2 (shooting guard), that's definitely a big deal nowadays. For me to be able to show that I can play the 2 at an elite level this year, I think (it) definitely helps."
Another Homecoming for Thompson
Trevor Thompson has embarked on quite the journey since he graduated from Ben Davis High School in 2012. He did a post-graduate year at St. John's Northwestern Military Academy, played for a season at Virginia Tech, sat out a season after transferring to Ohio State, then played for two seasons with the Buckeyes.
On Monday, he was back in Indianapolis for his first workout with an NBA team.
"It's a blessing," Thompson said. "When I first walked in the gym, I just had a flashback from all the times that I've been in here since I was like 14."
Thompson demonstrated considerable improvement from his sophomore to junior seasons before electing to turn pro. He improved his averages from 6.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game in 2015-16 to 10.6 points, 9.2 boards, and 1.5 rejections this season. Thompson's field goal percentage also increased from .522 to .571 and he recorded 11 double-doubles for the Buckeyes.
Having spent four years in college and five years out of high school and nearing graduation, Thompson decided it was in his best interests to pursue basketball professionally rather than return to Ohio State.
Listed at 7 feet tall and 250 pounds, Thompson has the size to earn a roster spot. He is working on his jump shot in hopes of broadening his skill set. Thompson did not attempt a 3-pointer in his college career, but was hoisting shots from beyond the arc during shooting drills following Monday's workout.
Thompson has an interesting background, as his father Ryan played nine seasons in Major League Baseball. An outfielder, Thompson had 52 career home runs and won a World Series with the Yankees in 2000. Trevor spent a lot of time in clubhouses as a kid, including serving as a bat boy.
"I've definitely grown up around professional sports my entire life," Thompson said. "I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of athletes and pick their brains."
Reed Hoping Defense, Shooting Earn Him Spot in NBA
Davon Reed knows what his role will be in the NBA. Some players shy away from labeling themselves as a specific type of role player, but Reed is doing the opposite.
In interviews with teams, Reed is telling teams he knows exactly how he can contribute.
"Initially, I've been kind of pitching that '3-and-D' role," Reed said. "I think that's two things that I do really well and I'm willing to embrace that."
"3-and-D" players — wings with the ability to knock down 3-pointers and play lockdown defense — are becoming more and more prevalent in the modern NBA game. Those two attributes definitely play to Reed's strengths.
Reed shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range over his four years at Miami, where he averaged 14.9 points per game as a senior.
On the defensive end, Reed is blessed with a 7-foot wingspan that far exceeds his 6-5 1/2 frame. He averaged 1.3 steals per game in his final season with the Hurricanes and would seem to have the length and athleticism to potentially develop into an elite defender.
Playing at Miami under head coach Jim Larranaga, Reed has experience playing in an NBA-style offensive system that relies heavily on pick-and-rolls. He handled the ball more as a senior (increasing his assists from 1.2 per game to 2.4) and feels that his time in Larranaga's system helped prepare him for the NBA game.
"I think it definitely did," Reed said. "This year was the first year that I really got to show what I can do in the pick-and-roll. I'm continually showing teams and scouts that I can do that."
One of Reed's close friends at Miami was Sheldon Mac. Mac, another scoring wing, went undrafted a year ago but still managed to make the Wizards' opening night roster. He has offered his old teammate plenty of encouragement going through the pre-draft process.
"I talk to Sheldon like every day," Reed said. "He just told me just don't hold anything back and don't worry about the draft process as far as where you're going to land. That'll handle itself, but once you get your opportunities, make the best of them."