Seniors Under The Radar: Part Three
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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The NBA may be the only organization in the world where going to school for four years and having a degree is looked at as a negative in a lot of cases. In the NBA Draft especially, the younger a prospect is, the better.
Future pros staying in school for four years is virtually unheard of these days. With the draft’s age limit only requiring a prospect to be one year removed from high school, most players can’t wait to put their education aside to pursue a career in the NBA.
Believe it or not, though, there are still guys who do things the old school way and stay in school for four years before making the jump. Over the next several weeks leading up to the draft, we will be telling the stories of some of the seniors trying to fulfill their lifelong dreams. In this week’s edition we feature Old Dominion’s Kent Bazemore, Oakland’s Reggie Hamilton, Kentucky’s Eloy Vargas and Mississippi Valley State’s Terrence Joyner.
Bazemore All About Defense
All over the world there are millions of young basketball players who idolize the stars in the NBA like Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, Miami HEAT forward LeBron James and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant.
Old Dominion’s Kent Bazemore was no different early on his life. But as he grew older and started having aspirations of playing at the next level, that changed.
“Being like those guys is so farfetched,” Bazemore said to HOOPSWORLD. “I watch guys like Thabo Sefolosha, Nicolas Batum, Bruce Bown, Iman Shumpert, Tony Allen, hardnosed defenders. Guys who get it done by doing the dirty work, rebounding, catching elbows, those kind of guys.
“When you come in as a rookie they don’t sign you to take the last shot unless you’re like those guys. My job will be to make it hard for other players, getting in the passing lanes, deflecting shots, make guys make tough shots. Throughout my career I’ve done that, dominate on the defensive end. Whether it be getting a rundown block, stealing a pass, deflecting a three-point shot, those things I’m actually used to. My length and athleticism will transfer over to the NBA. My heart, work ethic and willingness to do the dirty work. Guarding the opposing team’s best player is something I take pride in doing.”
Bazemore recently received his degree from ODU and is now on his way to Houston, Texas to train with former NBA All-Star and head coach John Lucas. Although he’s clearly defensive-oriented, offense will be one of his main focuses leading up to workouts with NBA teams.
“Just shot consistency, making shots,” Bazemore said. “That’s one thing I’m developing in my game. My junior year I shot the ball the best I ever have. Improving my shot consistency would be a big plus for me and keep me in the league if I get there.”
Bazemore didn’t show much of his offensive skills at the Portsmouth Invitational. Instead, he did the little things he mentioned above and showed how unselfish he is at an event known for selfish play. There he led all players in steals, but he’ll have a different approach moving forward.
“I just want to show people that I’ve grown,” Bazemore said. “I played at the PIT a couple of weeks ago. Just trying to do all the other things, it’s a showcase people want to put up a lot of shots and that could be frustrating not getting the kind of shots you’re used to. I took a back seat in that tournament, just trying to do the other things, from here on out I want to show people what I can do, that I can play with the best and be one of the best. Dominate the game on both ends, which I’m very capable of.”
While Bazemore has some work to do in order to get into the top 60, every team has room for a player with his defensive capabilities. Pretty soon, he could be the guy who defensive-minded players watch and try to pattern themselves after like he did with the league’s best defenders.
The Draft’s Top Scorer: Reggie Hamilton
With the loss of center Keith Benson to the NBA, Oakland needed Reggie Hamilton to step up and take over the leadership role. All he did was average a nation’s-best 25.7 points while also dishing out five assists a contest.
Yet, he’s not getting the type of love that kind of accomplishment warrants from a NBA Draft perspective. It’s not like Hamilton was an inefficient gunner either, he shot 44 percent from the field and 42 percent from distance. But he’s not too caught up in the lack of praise.
“It’s just something that you have to expect,” Hamilton said to HOOPSWORLD. “It’ keeps me hungry. If I feel disrespected by it, people aren’t paying attention to the accomplishment. I’m humbled by it, but not giving too much attention to it. I’m just putting in the work I need to.”
What a lot of talent evaluators have gotten caught up with is the same deficiency that played a big role in Sacramento Kings guard Isaiah Thomas, one of the best rookies from the 2011 draft class, falling all the way to 60. Hamilton does not have ideal height for an NBA point guard at 5’11, but he more than makes up for it.
“I’m an energy type of player, do a lot of moving around and scoring the ball,” Hamilton said. “I feel that I’ll be able to help teams put the ball in the basket and be able to create for other players, as well.
“I’m a positive guy on and off the court. I’m not going to bring any trouble to any program. I’m good in the community. My work ethic is pretty good. Even if I’m not going to be a star player, maybe I can put light into a guy who is on the verge of being that, a rising star. Help him to get over the hump by showing him the work ethic and things like that.”
Another attribute that helps make up for Hamilton’s lack of size is his experience in various systems. Hamilton has spent time in both up-tempo and halfcourt oriented offenses and feels just as comfortable in both. So, knock him for being 5’11 all you want, fact of the matter is the guy brings a lot to the table otherwise.
Kentucky’s Mystery Man: Eloy Vargas
Since John Calipari took over at Kentucky three years ago, the school has produced more NBA players than any program in the country. This year is going to be no different, as they have six players who are assured to get drafted, four of which are locks to go in the first round. The other two will almost certainly be selected early on in the second round.
Backup center Eloy Vargas is also pursuing his dreams of playing in the NBA. If you don’t remember seeing him play for Kentucky this year, you’re not in the minority. Vargas played just six minutes a contest, averaging one point and nearly two rebounds per game. At 6’11 and 244 lbs, though, he clearly has the size to play in the league.
And Vargas, a former top 100 recruit out of high school, actually has a lot of skills that he hasn’t been able to showcase yet. Just because he wasn’t able to earn minutes over Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Kyle Wiltjer doesn’t mean he can’t play.
“I’m not a selfish player,” Vargas said to HOOPSWORLD. “I’ll bring a lot of energy. A lot of people haven’t seen me play like I used to before, so they’ll be interested to see what I can do. Before, I used to play the four. Now I can go back to being who I was.”
One thing that won’t be a tough adjustment for Vargas at the next level is playing against a high level of competition. At Kentucky he’s gone up against lottery picks every day in practice and he also actually spent time working with the Dominican National Team, as well.
“It helped me a lot to see how hard they worked,” Vargas said. “Al Horford, I learned a lot from him. We had a great team, great guys, so I learned a lot.”
Over the next few weeks Vargas will have the opportunity to fully showcase all he’s learned from the incredibly talented players he’s been going up against behind the scenes. Don’t be shocked if a seventh Wildcat finds his way into the NBA for the 2012-2013 season, whether you hear his name on draft night or not.
Joyner Thriving In Underdog Role
In 1993 Alphonso Gene Ford became the first Mississippi Valley State Delta Devil to play in the NBA. His career lasted all of 11 games and he remains the only player in school history to ever play in the league. While that may not make it seem like the best program for a NBA hopeful to play for, it has improved significantly under head coach Sean Woods and Terrence Joyner is a clear product of that.
Joyner, along with his teammate Paul Crosby, whom we featured last week, is looking to join Ford after an extremely successful senior season. Joyner averaged 13 points, three rebounds and two assists while leading the Delta Devils to the tournament. It’s no coincident that Joyner played his best under a head coach who is just like him.
“Playing for Sean Woods he helped me so much on and off the court with him being a point guard and having the same mentality of being underdogs because guys he played with at Kentucky under the Pitino tree are highly successful at their programs,” Joyner said to HOOPSWORLD. “We connected real great because we had something to prove and I think we proved that. We won 17 games, I led my guys and he won two coaches of the year awards. And he has a bright future. What will translate for me is being a good leader, making guys better.”
Joyner is very well aware that there are more than a handful of guards ranked ahead of him in this year’s draft class. Recognizing that, he decided to go and train with a lot of them at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, Nevada, one of the best basketball training facilities in the world.
“It’s been good for me,” Joyner said. “It’s been working out well so far. I’m Training with a lot of guards who are projected to be drafted, Tu Holloway, Ashton Gibbs, Maalik Waayns, Dion Waiters. It’s good competition. We work out twice a day. We do a lot of rituals NBA teams do when they work you out. It’s definitely getting me prepared. I’ve really enjoyed being out here.
“I go to Impact and see Isaiah Thomas and Jeremy Lin, who walked into there in my situation thinking they weren’t going to get drafted, weren’t good enough. They stayed the course. I love being out here and being that underdog guy. It’s an honor to be here. It’s the greatest motivation to me, to know that I have a chance to look at those critics and tell them one day that they should have picked me.”
The focus of Joyner’s workouts has been centered around adding some strength, especially in his core. With the tremendous preparation he’s received, he should have no trouble showcasing the leadership, defensive prowess and shooting ability that helped get the Dust Devils in the big dance. And come next season, Ford could have some company.
Senior NCAA and NBA analyst Yannis Koutroupis will be hosting his weekly chat this Friday May 11th at 11 am EST. You can get your questions in here.