Ex-college stars hope to enhance NBA prospects
CHICAGO (AP) — As he watched Golden State take out Portland, A.J. English felt some mid-major pride, not to mention hope for his own future.
The guard from Iona saw two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson leading the Warriors back to the Western Conference finals, and Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum leading the rebuilt Trail Blazers to a place few would have anticipated at the start of the season.
For English, watching was inspiring. He hopes to join their club, and the NBA Draft Combine this week is a crucial step.
“I know how it is,” English said Thursday. “You’ve got to kind of do the right things, always be on attack mode. The four guards that I watched last night were all from mid-majors — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. They have the mindset like they also struggled with that mid-major thing. The stories they tell and they show them on TV, I know exactly what they’re talking about right away. That’s the thing. It’s a group, club. I’d love to be a part of that club right now.”
The 6-foot-4 English is trying to convince NBA executives he is more than just a mid-major star as he tries to move up from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and in that sense, he has company. Oakland guard Kay Felder and Weber State forward Joel Bolomboy are trying to do the same.
“I kind of almost like when the mid-major players pop out of nowhere and just make a name for themselves just because that’s the situation I’m in — just trying to make a name for myself and get my name even bigger than it already is,” Bolomboy said.
They are among the many players gathered in Chicago this week trying to boost their stock for next month’s draft, whether that means getting chosen at all or being taken with one of the top picks.
California forward Jaylen Brown has no worries about getting drafted. The question for him is how high he will go.
He could be a fit for the Lakers, particularly if they wind up with the third pick and Brandon Ingram and Ben Simmons are off the board.
An athletic wing player with the ability to outmuscle opponents and attack the basket, Brown even said Thursday he is trying to emulate Kobe Bryant’s work ethic.
“They say ‘Kobe Bryant, he wakes up at 5:30 every morning,’ so I’m trying to do the same thing and kind of just catch up to him,” he said. “I know if that’s what it takes to be where he is then I’m going to try to do that, too.”
While there is little question he has the physical skills NBA teams seek, one area of concern is his outside shot. Brown hit just 29.4 percent of his 3-pointers in his lone season at California, but he does not have to worry about getting picked.
He is one of the biggest names in the draft, someone who figures to go early.
Felder said other players didn’t recognize him until he introduced himself. Then, they knew who he was — one of the nation’s top scorers and the leader in assists per game as well as the Horizon League Player of the Year.
“That’s pretty cool to have other guys notice you that you didn’t think would know you,” he said.
The 5-9 Felder opened a few more eyes by recording a 44-inch vertical leap at the combine. He said seeing his name on an NBA jersey this week is “like a dream come true.”
Bolomboy has been staying in Chicago, where his agent is based, the past 6 1/2 weeks, training in the gym where the Combine is being held. He described himself as an underrated player who has flown under the radar and is intent on showing he can make it in the NBA after being selected Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player.
“I feel like I can play with anybody,” he said. “With me knowing that, I feel like I fit in perfectly. Once you get together, the school you came from kind of goes out the door. Everybody’s just here. Everybody has the same opportunity and an equal chance to make a name for themselves so I don’t think I’m behind anybody. I don’t think I’m at a disadvantage.”