Pre-Draft combine interviews bring interesting tidbits

NBA.com Global on May 22, 2018 08:16 AM
Pre-Draft combine interviews bring interesting tidbits
CHICAGO, IL - MAY 15: NBA Draft Prospect, Mohamed Bamba poses for a portrait during the 2018 NBA Combine circuit on May 15, 2018 at the Intercontinental Hotel Magnificent Mile in Chicago, Illinois.(Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

By David Aldridge, TNT Analyst

Last week, a team interviewing West Virginia guard Jevon Carter at the Chicago pre-Draft combine had what seemed an innocuous question for the hard-nosed point guard: you gonna be ready to play every game, every night, 82 nights a season.

“Yeah,” Carter said, defiantly. “That’s what I do.”

The combine is certainly for measuring the heights and weights and wingspans of players likely to be taken in next month’s Draft—such as Texas freshman big Mo Bamba’s insane 7-10 wingspan, which will do nothing to harm his Lottery prospects. It is certainly for seeing the guys who do deign to play against one another compete, and potentially change some minds, such as last year, when the University of Utah’s Kyle Kuzma shot the ball from deep better than he had in three seasons with the Utes and became a definite first-round possibility.

But the Combine is also for the interviews—each team can interview up to 18 players. Teams interview players in different ranges, from those they’re very interested in taking in the first round to those who likely would just be training camp and/or summer league team invitees.

Last week provided some impressive interactions between players and teams, and a lot of funny ones, as happens every year. So we asked a bunch of teams to share some of the best answers they got from players during the interviews, to provide a sense of who at least gave some thought to what they wanted to say beforehand, and who displayed an acuity to think on their feet.

Among those who came across as the best interviews, per league sources, were Bamba (“hands down,” one source said), Alabama guard Collin Sexton (“edge and confidence came through in his interview,” another team’s official said, Duke’s Wendell Carter, Maryland forward Bruno Fernando (“impressive,” per another source), Tulane’s Melvin Frazier (“very honest,” one team official said) and Missouri forward Michael Porter, Jr.

Then, there were the more light-hearted exchanges.

One player quizzed his prospective team, going down the line asking “who are you guys? And describe what you do for your organization?”

“First time I’ve heard that question from a player in 25 years,” a longtime team executive said.

The Suns, according to a source, interviewed a player who is a projected top five pick—which made sense, considering Phoenix has the top pick in the Draft after winning the Lottery.

The player told the assembled front office and coaches, ”I’d love to play for the Phoenix Suns. I’m not just saying that because you guys have the number one pick—I really feel like I’m the best player in the Draft and the best fit for your roster. I’d be saying that even if you guys didn’t have the number one pick. I don’t care where I get picked—I just want to be in Phoenix.” It was impressive.

After a beat, Suns GM Ryan McDonough answered: ‘Great. We also have the 16th pick. Do you want to try to work something out so we can pick you at 16?’

Player: Silence. Followed by the room breaking up.

Another player, likely to go in the top half of the first round, told a team that he played to about 90 percent of his potential each night in college. To which one of the team’s officials asked him if he planned to continue doing that in the NBA, “because after taxes, that meant roughly 45 percent,” the official said.

Villanova big Omari Spellman surprised one team by breaking out a poem he’d written shortly after President Trump was elected in 2016. “Really deep,” one of the team’s officials recalled.

Michigan’s Mo Wagner told Knicks officials that he loves playing at Madison Square Garden. He told them that his college coach, John Beilein, often got on him during film sessions, but it took him a while to realize that it was because Beilein cared about him and thought he was worth investing the time.

Wagner also told the Knicks he was really excited to meet new Coach David Fizdale. When asked why, Wagner laughed and said ‘take that for data!,’ recalling Fizdale’s famous postgame rant last year after a tough playoff loss to the Spurs.

Then there were the two players who each told a team they hope to become general managers when they’re done playing. “Love that answer,” said the team’s general manager.

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