Moment of truth for Zags in draft
Players wrap up workouts, wait for Thursday
The NBA has already called Austin Daye’s name.
He’s one of 15 or so draft hopefuls that will be in the “Green Room” with a front-row seat for Thursday’s NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden in New York. In a text message Monday, Daye, who bypassed his final two years of eligibility at Gonzaga, said he accepted the NBA’s invitation and will be accompanied by his mom, dad and other family and friends.
Now, Daye is waiting for an NBA team to call his name. The 6-foot-11 forward, projected to go in the bottom half of the first round in most mock drafts, is one of four Bulldogs with draft aspirations.
Forward/center Josh Heytvelt, who is likely to go in the second round, guard Jeremy Pargo and forward Micah Downs have been evaluated by NBA teams for roughly two months. At one workout in Phoenix, Downs and Daye matched up against each other.
“It wasn’t too weird,” Downs said. “It’s tough that it’s that way, but it’s cutthroat, it’s a job interview and you have to go out and take it as these guys are trying to take your job. You’re not friends once you step between the lines, that’s the way it has to be.
“At the same time, I’m hoping Austin does well in the workout for his sake.”
Gonzaga has had two players drafted in the same year before, but there’s a chance as many as four could be selected Thursday. Pargo is on a few mock drafts as a mid to late second-rounder. Downs has an outside shot to be drafted, but most anticipate he’ll get an opportunity as a free agent.
GU had two players drafted in 2005, 2004, 2002 and 1971. However, in 2005 (Ronny Turiaf and Ian Mahinmi), Mahinmi signed a letter of intent with Gonzaga, but never attended the school. In 2004, (Blake Stepp and Richie Frahm), Frahm, a Zag from 1997-2000, was taken in the expansion draft by Charlotte. In 2002 (Dan Dickau and Mario Kasun), Kasun was ineligible during his one year with the Bulldogs. In 1971, Bill Quigg (15th round) and Howard Burford (11th) were drafted.
The biggest question mark with Daye is his 192-pound frame. He’s four pounds lighter than Syracuse 6-foot point guard Jonny Flynn, a probable top-10 selection.
“Austin’s getting stronger,” said Joe Abunassar, of Abunassar’s Impact Sports Academy in Las Vegas, where Daye has trained the last few months. “Clearly it’s an area he has to focus on and he’s doing a good job of that.”
Daye wasn’t able to bench-press 185 pounds at the draft combine in Chicago, but Abunassar insisted his client is already gaining strength.
“Now he’s doing three or four (reps of 185),” Abunassar said. “I’ve seen a big change with his speed because we tightened up his running mechanics and made him much more efficient. People are expecting Austin to come out with big biceps … not only is that not going to happen, we don’t want it to happen and take away from what he does well. Primarily we’re focusing on his core and lower body and some upper-body strength as well.”
Heytvelt, who will watch the draft at his parents’ home in Clarkston, worked out for 16 teams and had two group workouts, attended by roughly 20-25 teams. He has been training near Washington D.C. with several college players, including Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez, who pulled his name from draft consideration last week.
When asked by NBA executives, Heytvelt has recounted in detail the circumstances of his arrest and suspension in 2007. Similarly, Heytvelt’s feet/ankles have been thoroughly examined because injuries forced him to miss significant playing time at GU.
“They’re good,” Heytvelt said of the medical reports.
Heytvelt said the pre-draft process has been positive, other than one lethargic workout in Minnesota.
“I think it was the only one I didn’t have a good workout,” he said. “I just wasn’t feeling good that day.”
Most teams are telling him he is capable of playing center or power forward. He believes his shooting range has helped his draft stock. One mock draft had Heytvelt going late in the first round to Minnesota with Daye being selected early in the second round by Detroit.
Heytvelt’s voice was scratchy following his final workout Monday with the Knicks. He said he was a “little tired” from a busy couple of weeks and looking forward to spending the next few days with family.
“I just want to go somewhere and play,” he said.
Downs knows the feeling. The 6-8 forward has worked out for eight teams and he participated in a couple of bigger group workouts.
“There were questions of my abilities in certain areas because in college I was more of a role player, kind of a shooter, defensive player and rebounder,” he said. “I really wasn’t an attack-the-basket or slasher or one-on-one guy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t have those things. I think I showed I can do those things.”
Downs worked out in Los Angeles with several current pros and other college players with NBA ambitions. He returned to Spokane where he’ll watch the draft with his girlfriend and his puppy.
“My heart is set on the NBA, I want to make a career out of playing in the NBA, but if I have to take a detour to the European league that might be what has to happen,” he said. “I’ve been playing basketball ever since I can remember walking. I’m excited (for the draft) and grateful for the opportunity to be in this position.”
Pargo, who didn’t return a phone message, is expected to be in Chicago with his family on draft night. The 6-2 guard probably didn’t need introductions at his NBA workouts because he was on the pre-draft circuit a year ago before opting to return to Gonzaga for his senior season.
Pargo averaged 10.2 points and 4.9 assists as a senior. He started every one of Gonzaga’s 101 games the last three seasons. According to nba-draft.com, Pargo’s strengths are his strong body, leaping and post-up ability and leadership qualities. The Web site said Pargo’s weaknesses are inconsistent shooting, shot selection, feel for the game and his defense needs to improve.