Ben Bentil
Former Providence standout Ben Bentil, who worked out for the Pacers on Monday, has a solid chance of being a first-round pick in next month's NBA Draft.
Celeste Ballou - Pacers.com

The Road Unexpected: Bentil Bound for the NBA

Point Guards Barber and Felder, Wings Moore and Sulaimon Also Vying for NBA Roster Spot
by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

The Pacers held their third pre-draft workout on Monday morning at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, welcoming six more prospects for next month's NBA Draft to Indianapolis for testing, drills, and interviews.

There was a nice symmetry to the six players who were in the building on Monday, as the Pacers' brass took a look at a pair of point guards, a pair of wings, and a pair of big men.

A large local media contingent was on hand to speak to one of those big men, 2015 Indiana Mr. Basketball Caleb Swanigan. Thanks to the new early-entry rules, Swanigan was able to declare for the draft without hiring an agent and has been able to take part in the NBA Draft Combine and workouts with teams over the past few weeks without making a decision as to whether he wants to remain in the draft or return to Purdue for his sophomore season.

That decision will be coming soon, however, as the deadline for Swanigan to make up his mind is this Wednesday. Pacers.com's Mark Montieth wrote about Swanigan, who said on Monday that he is still weighing his options.

But though most eyes were focused on the undecided Swanigan, the other big man in Indianapolis on Monday is the player with the best chance of getting drafted in the first round. That would be 6-9 power forward Ben Bentil, fresh off a spectacular sophomore season at Providence College.

Just like Swanigan, Bentil initially declared for the draft without signing an agent to leave his options open. But after a strong performance at the Combine and in workouts with teams, Bentil announced on Sunday night that he would remain in the draft rather than return to school. Most mock drafts have Bentil going in the late first or early second round. Jason McIntyre from The Big Lead currently has the Pacers taking him with the 20th overall pick.

"After the other workouts with other teams and after the Combine, I sat down with my family and I realized this is the best decision," Bentil said.

The past few years have been a whirlwind for Bentil, who moved to the United States from his home country of Ghana at the age of 15. While he was always an excellent athlete (he's also a gifted soccer player, earning first-team All-State honors in high school), Bentil came to America for academic purposes.

Bentil eventually wound up at St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Del., a prestigious boarding school (you may recognize the campus — it's where they filmed the Robin Williams classic Dead Poets Society). At St. Andrew's, Bentil challenged himself in the classroom and excelled on the hardwood, eventually earning a scholarship to Providence.

He enjoyed some success as a freshman with the Friars, averaging 6.4 points and 4.9 rebounds over 21.5 minutes per game. But Bentil's game really took off in his sophomore season, when he was arguably the most improved player in the entire country. His scoring average increased by 14.7 points per game to 21.1, making him the leading scorer in the Big East, even though he shared the court with All-American guard Kris Dunn, a potential top-five pick in next month's draft.

Butler fans are likely all too familiar with Bentil after he torched them in the Big East Tournament, scoring 38 points and collecting eight rebounds while going 16-for-24 from the field and 5-for-9 from 3-point range. That was arguably not even his best game of the year — his resume also includes a 42-point, 12-rebound performance at Marquette.

It's easy to see what scouts love about Bentil. At 6-9 and 230 pounds, he has more than enough size to play the power forward position in the modern NBA. He's a good rebounder and athletic enough to guard smaller players on the wing, but Bentil's best long-term attribute might be his shooting stroke.

He was a bit streaky in college, shooting just a hair under 33 percent from 3-point range, but Bentil has good mechanics and projects to be a solid shooter at the NBA level (it's worth noting that Myles Turner, praised for his shooting ability in last year's draft class, shot just 27.4 percent from 3-point range in his one year in college).

Bentil impressed once again at the Combine a few weeks ago, putting up solid numbers in a pair of five-on-five games. He buried a couple threes and tallied 15 points on just eight shots to go along with 11 rebounds on Thursday, then followed up with a team-high 17 points and six boards in another scrimmage on Friday.

Since declaring for the draft, Bentil has been working out with Providence legend God Shammgod. Shammgod teamed with future Pacers forward Austin Croshere to lead the Friars on a Cinderella run to the 1997 Elite Eight and is widely acclaimed for his handles (just do yourself a favor and YouTube "Shammgod crossover"). Bentil has leaned heavily on advice from Shammgod, who played in 20 games for the Washington Bullets before embarking on a lengthy career overseas.

"One thing he always taught me was to compete, follow your heart," Bentil said. "I can miss 100 shots out here and I'm going to still compete and I'm going to shoot the next one. That's one thing that I liked that he instilled in me, just to never let yourself down."

Bentil doesn't think he would let the Pacers down if they call his name on draft night, exactly a month from Monday. The 21-year-old could be a logical fit in between All-Star Paul George and rising star Turner in the Pacers' frontcourt.

"My versatility, my intensity, hard work," Bentil said when asked what he could bring to the Pacers. "This is a team that's relentless. They just pressure and try to play up-and-down and I think that that fits with my game."

It's been quite the ride for Bentil, who just a few short years ago left Ghana for a chance to better himself. He admitted on Monday he could never have imagined where that decision would lead.

"I didn't grow up dreaming to play in the NBA," Bentil said. "It's just an opportunity...I'll take advantage of it and I'm glad God helped me to this point."

Barber, Felder Engage in Increasingly Familiar Head-to-Head Battle

While Bentil and Swanigan battled in the post on Monday, a pair of prolific point guards had their own duel on the perimeter.

Anthony "Cat" Barber and Kay Felder were two of the NCAA's leading scorers in 2015-16. Barber's 23.5 points per game led the ACC and ranked seventh in the nation. Felder's scoring average of 24.2 tied for third in the country.

The two players are becoming increasingly familiar with one another's games. They squared off in a scrimmage at the Combine and have now been part of the same workout with two different NBA teams.

Both Barber and Felder elected to turn pro after their junior seasons and both are currently projected as likely second-round picks.

Felder is one of the shortest players in this year's draft class at 5-foot-9, but he's also an exceptional athlete. He set a Combine record with a 44-inch vertical leap and possesses tremendous speed.

"He's a great player," Barber said about his counterpart. "He's short, but he's got a lot of heart."

Though he starred at Pershing High School in Detroit (alma mater of several NBA stars including late Pacers great Mel Daniels, Spencer Haywood, Kevin Willis, and Felder's cousin Steve Smith), Felder wasn't a heralded recruit and wound up enrolling at nearby Oakland University.

Felder proved his doubters wrong early and often in his college career. His offensive numbers from his last year with the Grizzlies almost don't seem real — not only did he rank near the top of the NCAA's scoring charts, but he also led the country in assists, averaging 9.3 per game.

Felder isn't just an example of a player padding his stats against inferior competition, either. He had 38 points and nine assists in December when Oakland took then-number-one Michigan State to overtime in East Lansing. A week later, he dropped 30 points in Charlottesville against fifth-ranked Virginia's heralded defense.

Felder believes he has the game to succeed at the next level. He uses his speed to pull off a wide arsenal of moves to get off his shot, drawing comparisons to Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, another undersized player who has gone from the last pick in the 2011 draft to an All-Star in 2016.

"I can score the ball, I can pass with the best of them," Felder said. "I think I can do just about everything I did in college. It's a much faster game, but that's how my game is designed. I'm a fast, quick guy and that's how I like to play."

Felder's biggest focus in the pre-draft process is on being "a pest" on defense. He did that in spades at the Combine, tallying six steals in just 47 minutes between the two scrimmages.

At 6-3, Barber has a little better size than Felder, but still is having to answer questions about his ability to adapt to the next level.

He broke out in a big way as a junior, increasing his scoring average by 11.4 points. But he racked up his stats on an NC State team that struggled mightily, going 5-13 in the ACC.

Like Felder, Barber relies heavily on his speed to get his points. He thrives in transition and is an excellent ball-handler. He also demonstrated considerable improvement on his outside shot over his time in Raleigh, improving his percentage from .261 as a freshman to over 36 percent in each of his final two seasons with the Wolfpack.

Barber is most eager to prove that he is more than just a scorer at the next level. He averaged 4.5 assists in his junior season and demonstrated an ability to make plays for others in his one scrimmage at the Combine, where he dished out six assists in 22 minutes.

"I'm pretty sure (NBA teams) know I can score the ball from what I did in college," Barber said on Monday. "So I just want to show that I can do other things like get other people involved."

Athletic Wings Moore, Sulaimon Make Their Case

The last two players in Monday's workout were also the lone four-year college players in the group, Tennessee's Armani Moore and Maryland's Rasheed Sulaimon. Both players are athletic wings trying their best to earn a spot on an NBA roster.

The 6-4 Moore was a jack-of-all trades for the Volunteers. He was originally recruited to Knoxville as point guard by Cuonzo Martin. Two coaching changes and a ton of roster turnover forced Moore to move around for the Vols and he wound up logging a lot of time as an undersized power forward during his senior year.

Moore responded with an excellent all-around senior season. He led Tennessee in rebounding, assists, and blocks while ranking second in both scoring and steals. While he projects as a shooting guard or small forward at the next level, Moore said that the toughness he picked up playing in the post will serve him well at the next level.

The biggest knock on Moore is his shooting. He shot just 31.6 percent from 3-point range and 56.5 percent from the free-throw line as a senior. Fully aware of his deficiencies, Moore has spent most of his draft preparation working on fine-tuning his mechanics (one key is making sure he keeps his eye on the rim through his release).

"I think it starts with confidence," Moore said about his shot. "Once you have the confidence, I think the sky's the limit. I think reps has been a big key for me, just (being) in the gym on a consistent basis putting up tons of shots every day."

Moore is close friends with former Tennessee stars Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson, second-round picks from the past two drafts who have carved out successful careers in the NBA. McRae, the 58th pick in 2014, scored a D-League record 61 points in January and is currently gaining valuable experience with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Richardson, the 40th pick in 2015, averaged 27.6 minutes per game in the playoffs as a rookie with the Miami Heat, playing a valuable role as a combo guard off the bench.

As he embarks on the pre-draft process, Moore has leaned heavily on his former teammates' guidance, talking regularly via text and FaceTime.

"They just say once you get your opportunity, you've got to be ready," Moore said. "...That's what both of those guys did, so I'm looking to follow their footsteps."

Sulaimon seemed like a potential lottery pick after a stellar freshman season at Duke during the 2012-13 season, when he averaged 11.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. But his stock stalled over the next few years. After transferring to Maryland for his senior season, the 6-4 guard averaged a strikingly similar 11.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists.

Despite his static statistics, Sulaimon believes he has grown considerably in his breadth of knowledge.

"My first couple years in college, I was just playing off of raw talent," Sulaimon said. "As I got older, the way you see the game is different.

"I think what I can bring to the table is my versatility, both offensively and defensively. I can guard multiple positions, on the ball and off the ball. And I can also play on and off the ball offensively."

Sulaimon's strengths might be enough to earn him a spot on an NBA roster. He is an excellent defensive player, routinely guarding the opposition's best player both at Duke and Maryland. He is also a consistent outside shooter. He shot a career-best 42.3 from 3-point range last season, his third straight year with a 3-point percentage over .400.

With that skillset, Sulaimon seems tailor-made for a "3-and-D" role off the bench at the next level.

"I know that's going to be my ticket into the NBA," Sulaimon said. "...That's definitely a thing that I'm willing and capable of doing."

Watch one-on-one interviews with all six prospects at Monday's pre-draft workout in the video player below.

Draft Workouts: Caleb Swanigan

May 23, 2016 - Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss talks with Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan after his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

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Draft Workouts: Caleb Swanigan

May 23, 2016 - Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss talks with Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan after his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
May 23, 2016  |  02:09

Draft Workouts: Ben Bentil

May 23, 2016 - Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss talks with Providence forward Ben Bentil after his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
May 23, 2016  |  02:28

Draft Workouts: Kay Felder

Kay Felder, a point guard from the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, worked out with the Pacers on Monday afternoon. Felder broke the Horizon League record for career assists with 699 in just three seasons.
May 23, 2016  |  02:15

Draft Workouts: Rasheed Sulaimon

Maryland shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon worked out with the Pacers on Monday. Sulaimon talked about the experience of getting a look from NBA teams and the instruction of Pacers head coach Nate McMillan.
May 23, 2016  |  03:05

Draft Workouts: Armani Moore

May 23, 2016 - Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss talks with Tennessee guard Armani Moore after his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
May 23, 2016  |  01:57

Draft Workouts: Cat Barber

May 23, 2016 - Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss talks with NC State guard Cat Barber after his pre-draft workout with the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
May 23, 2016  |  01:21
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