Devastating news broke just before the NBA draft for Isaiah Austin when he was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, which is caused by a genetic mutation that leaves connective tissue in the body weak.
But NBA commissioner Adam Silver acted quickly to pick up Austin's spirits. Austin's agent, Dwon Clifton, told Bleacher Report that Silver has invited his client to New York City for the draft, and the commissioner will honor him between the 15th and 16th picks Thursday night.
Click ahead to other notebook topics
• Where will Dante Exum land?
• Scouting top Euro prospects in 2014
• What prospect gained the most from the Finals?
• Preparing the draft's stars for the NBA red carpet
• NBA's "godmother" a force of nature
• Zach LaVine takes off ... literally
• James Michael McAdoo finally arrives
• Andre Dawkins' hard road to the NBA draft
"The commissioner wants to give him the same experience as the other draftees," Clifton said, "so he will get to go on stage to greet the commissioner and take pics."
Austin, whom Bleacher Report featured last week, telling the story of his unique journey overcoming blindness in his right eye, is also expected to do commentary in the second round.
Where will the mystery man of the draft, Dante Exum, get picked?
Exum's Australian Institute of Sport coach, Paul Goriss, believes the Philadelphia 76ers will use the third overall pick on the point guard.
Goriss said the team has called him a couple of times recently, as have the Milwaukee Bucks, who have the second pick, asking what Exum is like as a person and about his strengths and weaknesses. Exum also has a strong connection to Sixers coach Brett Brown, who led Australia's national team and two teams in the country's premier basketball league, the NBL.
The Sixers' fast-paced style would suit the transition-friendly Exum well, especially because his adjustment to American basketball in the NBA and the league's complex half-court defensive schemes will take time. However, word around the NBA is that if Exum is selected by the Sixers, current point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who has a similar body (at 6'6") and skills to the Aussie, could be on his way out.
It's worth noting that Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel played AAU basketball together and have been eagerly awaiting to return to the court together in the NBA. But if Carter-Williams is traded, Noel's outlook should still get a boost from his focus on making his NBA debut after missing all of this past season following ACL surgery.
No matter the buzz around Exum, one source knowledgeable of the Sixers' draft plans said Andrew Wiggins is the team's prime target—confirming a report from ESPN.com's Chad Ford (subscription required)—and they "would probably do whatever they can do to get him."
Because the Bucks are very interested in Exum—in a move to form a two point-guard lineup with Brandon Knight—that might signal an opportunity for the Sixers to grab Wiggins in a trade scenario. The Sixers also have another high first-round selection at No. 10, and a key asset in Thaddeus Young.
The inside scoop on the international prospects
While the 2013 draft produced seven players coming from overseas teams in the first round, the American class this year is deeper. That could make for a thin international presence in the first round beyond Exum, highlighted by versatile forward Dario Saric (Croatia) and mobile center Jusuf Nurkic (Bosnia and Herzegovina).
"Saric has been on the NBA radar since forever, and he's widely regarded as the player with the highest basketball IQ of anyone in the draft," said Rafal Juc, international scout for the Denver Nuggets. "And in a draft really devoid of big men, Jusuf Nurkic may be the second-best center overall."
Longtime international scout Tim Shea, who's been overseas since 1972, added, "Nurkic may be a young Nikola Pekovic, and he has a chip on his shoulder. But he's foul-prone and has an attitude."
Saric signed a three-year deal with Turkish powerhouse Anadolu Efes this week, but Juc said the news is "not really surprising." He compared the situation to Nikola Mirotic's when he was signed with Real Madrid and was still drafted in the late first round in 2011. The Chicago Bulls made a trade to secure his draft rights, and they can buy him out this summer.
"I don't think [Saric] will slide too far," said another international scout. "People say the Hawks, at No. 15, and the Suns, at No. 18, like him quite a bit."
Spanish center Walter Tavares, who has drawn comparisons from some scouts to Roy Hibbert, also complicated his draft future when he recently re-signed with Gran Canaria for three years. He held a private workout Tuesday in New Jersey for 11 NBA teams and will likely have some takers in Round 2. The San Antonio Spurs, known for international player development, could snatch him with the 30th pick. Shea called him a "project, but he's huge and is rough around the edges."
Also drawing Shea's attention this year is Clint Capela, a Swiss forward "with the most upside" who is "very athletic and compares to Ian Mahinmi." There's also Bogdan Bogdanovic, a shooting guard from Serbia with "skills" who's "a little like Jiri Welsch."
Beyond those candidates, the two international prospects heating up the draft boards are Serbians Nemanja Dangubic and Vasilije Micic.
"Nemanja Dangubic was named the MVP of this year's Eurocamp," noted Juc. "Perhaps no one helped his NBA stock as much Dangubic. We already knew about his above-average athletic abilities, but when he shoots the ball like he did in Treviso, he's fun to watch."
His fellow countryman Micic struck Juc as perhaps the single purest point guard in the draft. "He's a pass-first, team-oriented player who gave a hard time to Team USA at the U19 World Championships last summer."
Which prospect's stock has improved the most based on the NBA Finals?
Chris Ekstrand, a longtime NBA consultant and the former editor of the draft media guide, believes it's 6'9" UCLA sophomore Kyle Anderson. While the talk in Chicago at the draft combine was that Anderson was not very athletic and without a position, there's new thinking about him after watching Boris Diaw dominate for the Spurs en route to their championship.
"You could make the argument that Diaw played better than Tony Parker in the Finals," Ekstrand said. "Just in the Finals, you look at the way Diaw passed the ball and you look at some of the things he was able to do. Who would think that a guy who can't jump, who's not that fast or athletic like Boris Diaw, would be able to score in the post against Chris Bosh? But a handful of times, they went to him down there and he scored.
"So I think for a guy like Kyle Anderson, who's not the tremendous athlete but is one of these glue-type players, especially with his passing ability, it's got to help him. Teams want unselfish players at every position, but it's another thing to be an unselfish player and good passer. Players like Diaw and Anderson give their teams an extra ball-handler and extra decision-maker. Those kinds of players are always going to be valued."
Ekstrand mentioned that for a team like the New York Knicks, who may be implementing the triangle offense system next season under Phil Jackson's watch, Anderson would be a good fit, though he is expected to be selected in the 15-25 range. (According to the New York Post's Marc Berman, the team is looking to trade into the first round.)
As for a sleeper second-round pick, Ekstrand likes 6'0" Louisville senior point guard Russ Smith.
"While everybody is looking for size, [Smith] has had a high-level coach who's been on his butt, and he's produced against really good teams time after time again," Ekstrand said. "If somebody takes Russ Smith at No. 48 and he turns out to be a long-term NBA player, would I be shocked? Not really. I mean, look what he's done. He kicked peoples' butts every year."
The woman behind the draft wardrobe
Now in her 16th year working the draft, Jhoanna Alba, whose first client was Magic Johnson years ago, has become the go-to stylist for many of the green-room invitees.
Alba, who's based in Los Angeles, has built her business with the NBA—which includes working with hundreds of players throughout the year—by networking with the handful of player agencies based in Southern California. As prospects came through the area for meetings or workouts in the past month or so, they also stopped by her studio showroom to get fitted for the NBA combine, draft lottery (only a few) and the different events throughout draft week, including the big night on June 26.
"I like to start them off in classic suits and have fun with the shirt-and-tie combos, because we want to keep it a little classy and timeless for all the events—even for the draft," Alba said. "While we don't want it to look too corporate because they're 18, 19 years old, we want them to look back at their pictures 10 years from now and say, 'Wow, I look great.' So I try to persuade them to get more of the classic suits and then we can have fun with the accessories."
Alba said the big trend this year is two-toned sports jacket/pants combinations, where the jacket is a different color than the pants. She said the suit colors are typically themed after the player's college. Last year for the first time, she embroidered Noel's Kentucky jersey into the lining of his jacket. That was one of her favorite designs, as well as Russell Westbrook's grey suit with UCLA colors and LaMarcus Aldridge's chocolate brown suit with a burnt orange tie to highlight his Texas Longhorns.
Alba said the prospects' style cues stem from fashion, art, musicians and NBA players. Inspired by Grammy award-winning singer Usher, on draft night Dante Exum will wear a light gray cotton three-piece suit with light trim on the lapel with a black and white gingham shirt. Players-wise, Alba said Julius Randle "might turn into our next Russell Westbrook." During media day on Wednesday, the Kentucky product rocked a funky bow tie to go along with a khaki shawl collar shirt and blue chambray polka dot dress shirt.
Speaking of Exum, Alba said he and his family presented her with a unique request.
"I'm dressing his entire family," she said. "His family is amazing. We don't really do women's clothes; I've only done it a handful of times. They all wanted it coordinated. It's going to be really nice. He's going to stand out apart from the family as the main guy, but then everybody else will be all coordinated around his outfit."
Here are what her other clients will be wearing on draft night:
- Marcus Smart: royal blue sports coat with a black satin lapel and black pants.
- Aaron Gordon: classic suit in red wine.
- Nik Stauskas: double-breasted brown-tweed suit with a pink shirt, tie and pocket square.
- Doug McDermott: classic blue suit with red accents to represent his home state of Nebraska.
- Zach LaVine: dark olive green suit with a skinny shawl collar.
- Kyle Anderson: classic gray plaid suit with blue accents.
- At some point during draft week, Jabari Parker will wear a classic periwinkle blue suit with a lavender box print shirt.
The "godmother" of the NBA
That's what NBA veteran Roger Mason Jr. calls Chrysa Chin, the NBA's vice president of player development, a woman many players reach out to for advice concerning on- and off-court matters.
Those unique relationships all start at the draft combine and lead into the draft—now Chin's 16th straight as a 17-year employee of the NBA, after three years with the players' union and three years at Nike.
"I make sure that they know that I'm here for the long haul; that it's not about whether you play 40 minutes or seven minutes," Chin said. "Everybody is important—from LeBron [James] to Chris Copeland. We develop a relationship, and I'm here and you can call me and you can depend upon me. I take that very seriously. The players are like sons to me, and I treat them with the same regard that I would want someone to treat my child.
"They keep telling me one of the things that they really love about me is that I don't tell them what they want to hear; I tell them what the reality is. A lot of the work that I do with players individually has a lot to do with the prism through which they're viewed, and educating them about saying no and not having any guilt about it."
This draft week, Chin and her colleague Greg Taylor, the league's senior vice president of player development, have organized three main events for the prospects: the NBA Draft Family Seminar to introduce players and their families to NBA life and its pros and cons; specialized group meetings with each player and his family to see how they can best support them during the NBA transition; and Andre Iguodala will speak to the players about the NBA experience, maintaining professionalism and understanding off-court opportunities.
The night of the draft, Chin will move from table to table in the green room to answer any questions the players and families have, helping them weave through the emotions and sometimes confusion of draft night. Then, when the player's name is called, she's the first one to hand him the hat of that respective team, which is why she's referred to as the "Hat Lady."
"There are so many great memories of those guys," Chin said. "[In 2000] Mateen Cleaves was so funny; he was walking up to the stage and he wouldn't let my arm go. Another funny moment was with Carmelo [Anthony] and the hat [in 2003]. It was sort of a little joke at the table. He was giving me a hard time about the hat, about which way he was going to put it on. He was pretending he wasn't going to put it on right. He was laughing and I was like, 'Oh my god.'"
Leap of faith
No draft prospect arguably has caused more of a social media stir than Zach LaVine with his ridiculous 46-inch and 45.5-inch maximum vertical leaps during his Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings workouts, respectively.
Here's the scary part: "I still feel like I can do better with my vertical leap," said LaVine, a 6'5", 180-pound freshman guard out of UCLA.
That's also the vision of Adam Hewitt, the assistant general manager at P3 Peak Performance Project in Santa Barbara, Calif., where LaVine trains. Hewitt, who also works with Wiggins and Gordon, said the trio—some of the most athletic players in the draft—all have something in common.
"They're unbelievable talents, but they still need to improve their actual jump performance," Hewitt said. "That means in terms of how quickly they get off the ground, how diverse they are in their jumping. Can they jump with someone pushing on them? Can they jump where they don't get a big pre-load? Can they jump when they don't have a runway?
"But the main thing for us to figure out is how can we teach them to jump like this for 20 years? So we're interested in the short term, but very interested to follow these guys and make sure we're optimizing their development long term."
For LaVine specifically, Hewitt said he's the first player he's ever trained who's able to go from full speed to a 46-inch vertical leap off one leg. Where LaVine needed work was with his lateral movement—lowering his base and using more of his hips. Hewitt said research at P3 has shown that "knee extension, velocity and force drive vertical movement, but the hips are what saves you."
"Zach has the power to be an amazing lateral athlete," Hewitt said. "He has that capability given his natural lower body power, and he's gotten a lot better in the testing. Part of that is movement and mechanics—teaching him how to move quickly laterally—and getting more stable in his trunk and his hips. The knees really affect performance vertically; the hips really affect performance laterally."
LaVine has already noticed the results—even how learning to use his hips more in shooting drills has improved his outside touch.
While LaVine has recognized the buzz over his vertical leaps, he has taken it in casually. "It was fun, but I don't want to just be known as a dunker," he said.
Teams appear to be trying to look past that, too, as they want to see him excel at both guard positions, even though he's penciled in as a point guard. Thinking what he might be on the next level has made the ultra-athletic LaVine, who's only 19, arguably the most intriguing prospect in the first round.
"They like my versatility, athletic ability, ability to score with my speed and quickness, my length and my potential to be a good defensive player as well," said LaVine, who's been grouped regularly in team workouts with top point guards Marcus Smart, Elfrid Payton and top shooting guards Gary Harris and Rodney Hood.
Could LaVine's big opportunity come as early as the Charlotte Hornets who have the ninth pick and need a wing scorer? One of LaVine's last workouts was with the team, and he was inspired by owner Michael Jordan, who was also a highlight reel at the guard position in his heyday.
"He's the best basketball player that ever lived, so you try to be like him when you're down here [for the workout]," LaVine said. "I feel like I haven't had a bad workout yet. I feel like teams are really liking what I'm showing them."
Much McAdoo about something
Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Austin Rivers, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal. They topped the ESPN high school rankings for the Class of 2011, and they all were one-and-dones taken in the first round of the 2012 draft.
No. 6 on that list, James Michael McAdoo, had the chance to do the same, but he didn't feel the timing was right. Now, the 6'9" power forward from North Carolina feels like he's in a better place with his game, in the days before the draft.
"I don't have any regrets as far as staying," he said. "Sure, it's tough not being in the situation where I might have come out my freshman year and knew where I was going to get picked. But at the end of the day, God's given me so much that I'm not going to sit here and dwell on the what-ifs and that type of stuff."
By staying at North Carolina two more years, McAdoo said he was able to work on his low-post game, which he hadn't done in high school. He added that his development, a la David West, gave him the confidence that he could make the NBA adjustment.
"Coming to Carolina, it was tough playing against such great competition, especially down on the block, where I wasn't really comfortable. The coaching staff really helped me in that transition," said McAdoo, who went from a 6.1 scoring average his freshman year to 14.4 the next season. "I didn't want to be a guy that was going to be necessarily looked at as a project, but a guy that could come in immediately and help a team, get into a rotation and just fill a role."
McAdoo, considered by many as a mid-second-rounder, said he hasn't spoken much with his former high school running mates. But he can't wait to see them on the court to display his other improved skills: catch-and-shoots and more off-the-dribble moves.
"I definitely look forward to the opportunity to get back out there on the same floor as them," he said. "The NBA is a lot like when we were in high school playing against each other. It's a brotherhood."
Give that man the ball!
Duke senior Andre Dawkins is arguably one of the best pure shooters in the draft, as he showed in a workout with the Sacramento Kings. Given a minute-and-a-half to make three shots in a row from five spots on the court, Dawkins completed the drill in 32 seconds, only four more than the Kings' team record.
"I've got to hit shots," said the 6'5", 215-pounder, who shot 42.1 percent from three-point range in his final college season. "That's my calling card."
Dawkins almost never made it to the draft after missing an entire year in college. In December 2009, his sister, Lacey, was killed in a car accident when she was on the way to one of his games with their mother, Tamara. While he was able to play through the tragedy, by the fall of '11, he started to feel disconnected from the game, struggling throughout the season. Afterward, he decided to take off the '12-13 season.
During that time, he came around—and he returned last fall, helping lead the Blue Devils to this year's NCAA tournament.
"I missed the game," he said. "I wanted to be back on the court, and it was a great team to be around. It was a great group of guys; I loved being able to play. [What I went through] definitely gives you a different perspective on day-to-day things, appreciating things you may take for granted. I don't take the game for granted any more. It's enhanced my love of the game."
These days, Lacey is with Dawkins everywhere he goes.
"I have her name tattooed on my wrist, so I see that every day," he said. "It's always a reminder. I think about her every day."
Dawkins, who has drawn comparisons to New Orleans Pelicans guard Anthony Morrow, said he has had interest from the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 33rd pick, Detroit Pistons with the 38th and the Washington Wizards with the 46th. And the timing is right, Dawkins feels, with the draft coming so soon after a Finals that illustrated the value of shot-making.
"The Finals helped me out because it shows how important it is to have guys who can shoot the ball," he said. "So I've just got to keep showing that I can do that really well and help a team. Teams need that. The three-point shot has become more and more important, and that's where I come in."
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