In 2006, UConn had five players picked in the NBA Draft. Rudy Gay, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams, and Josh Boone were all chosen in the first round while Denham Brown was selected in the second. This sort of Husky-representation at the next level should come as no surprise as Jim Calhoun has placed 13 players currently on a NBA roster. The 2009 NBA Draft will not see five players picked like in '06, but three more players should add to the legacy of moving from Storrs to the pro game.
At the NBA Draft combine A.J. Price mentioned the dynamics "obviously one of us is in a different boat right now, but me and Jeff we're roommates so we've been going out together, and it makes it easier to have people you're comfortable with to go through this process together."
That guy in the different boat is the 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet. Although he will almost certainly be drafted top five, Thabeet still needs to polish his offensive skill set. He'll also need to add some muscle to his frame and learn how to not be like Greg Oden, a.k.a. stay out of foul trouble. At the NBA Draft Combine I asked Thabeet about his attempts to add weight. "During the season I went up to 278, at the end of the season I started doing a lot of conditioning, a lot of working out, not lifting weights, but I was in California working out with the Navy S.E.A.L.S. and I dropped to about 267, my goal is to get up to about 280-285," the Tanzanian center responded.
Too often Thabeet relies on his size alone to block shots, which puts him out of position and increases the likelihood of making contact with the shooter. On the other hand, he does have solid footwork and quickness for a 7-3 player. If he learns to better utilize those tools, (and perhaps some of the things he learned from the Navy S.E.A.L.S.), he will become an even more dangerous defender.
Thabeet's frontcourt mate, Jeff Adrien is the antithesis of Thabeet in the post. Adrien measured in at just 6-6.5 while wearing shoes at the NBA Draft combine which knocks him down to a second round prospect. That is not the ideal size for a power forward at the next level, but what Adrien lacks in height, he makes up for with his outstanding strength, toughness, and 7-2 wingspan. "I think I bring a lot of toughness. I'm a guy that's physical, who will go all out. I'm going to dive in the stands for that loose ball to save that possession for us, to grab that offensive rebound and score inside. I think I bring a lot to the table, but I think the biggest part right now is toughness. Some NBA teams lack toughness, and that could really hurt them, and I can come in there and change the tone and attitude," Adrien said at the NBA Draft combine.
Adrien was a steady force from his sophomore to senior seasons in Storrs, averaging about 14 points and 9.5 rebounds per game during that span. He is built like a truck and will need to assert his physicality down low and also further develop his mid-range game if he wants to have a long NBA career. During our exclusive interview, Adrien told me he's confident that he can become the next NBA player to flourish despite being undersized at the four. "A lot of guys in my position have had success: Craig Smith, Paul Millsap, Leon Powe, Jason Maxiell, Glen Davis, Evans over at Philadelphia... you've seen more NBA teams have the undersized power forward. Houston did pretty well with the two guys they had over there," he said.
Price is Right?
A.J. Price's collegiate career got out to a very rocky start at UConn. A near-fatal blood vessel abnormality in his brain cost Price all of his freshman year. He was then arrested in August of his sophomore year after being charged with felony larceny involving the theft of laptop computers. Price overcame both of these obstacles and matured during his four years in Storrs, both as a person and a player, and will almost certainly be drafted in the second round. When I asked him what one of his favorite aspects of the combine was, Price described a non-basketball related experience, "To be able to go in and sit down with head coaches and GMs from different teams and talk to them and have them really understand you as a person, and you get to understand them as well has been really cool," he said.
Price primarily ran the point for UConn, but played more two guard in his senior season as he and freshman point guard Kemba Walker often shared the same backcourt. That shifting of positions opened the door for Price to become more of a chucker, with almost half of his field goal attempts coming from downtown. He hit more than 40 percent from deep which is an impressive number at the collegiate level, but because of his height (6-2), Price must get back to running the point and being a distributor if he hopes to make a roster.
"It's the most important position on the court. It's like the quarterback in football, you're making the calls, it's up to you to execute. You've got to be headstrong to play the one, no room for error, to be shaken up or rattled because the team's going to follow you. Teams understand the need to have a steady guy at the one, who is always under control, a la Chauncey Billups or someone like that. Those teams tend to do better," Price said before describing what sets him (as well as his former UConn teammates) apart from the pack:
"I'm a Floor General, I demand success, coming from the University of Connecticut, I believe that's been instilled in us. All three of the guys here, we hate to lose. Losing is not acceptable where we come from. I'm a winner. I shoot the basketball, I make shots and I can run the club, so I believe those are my biggest assets."