MINNEAPOLIS – Omar Samhan’s throwback drop-steps in the post and new-age candor with the media made him one of the breakout stars of the NCAA tournament in March.
The outspoken center captivated fans with his skills on the court and drew belly laughs in the press room with sharp one-liners while leading little St. Mary’s to the round of 16 for the first time in more than 50 years.
The 6-foot-11 Samhan averaged 30.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in victories over Richmond and Villanova in college basketball’s marquee event, but is finding NBA executives and scouts much more difficult to charm.
Most mock drafts forecast that Samhan will not be drafted on Thursday.
“The politically correct answer would be, ‘Oh you know, it happens, that’s the way it is,”’ Samhan said after a workout with the Minnesota Timberwolves this month. “I think it’s crap, to be blunt with you. I feel like I do a lot for my team, for my school and still just don’t get a lot of credit, a lot of love.”
Don’t worry, Omar. You’re not alone.
College stars like Villanova All-American Scottie Reynolds, Kansas point guard Sherron Collins and Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody are deemed second-round picks at best. Xavier’s Jordan Crawford may fall out of the first round, even after averaging 29 points a game in the Musketeers’ run to the round of 16.
“You can look at it like, ‘What more do you want me to do?”’ said Crawford, who left after his sophomore season. “But you still have to come out here and show what you can do and that you’re worth a first-round pick.”
Many of college basketball’s best players have used the bright lights of the postseason to increase their draft stock. Jonny Flynn’s performance in Syracuse’s epic six-overtime win over Connecticut in the Big East tournament in 2009 helped propel him up the draft board, where the Timberwolves took him at No. 6.
Butler’s Gordon Hayward lifted himself into lottery consideration this year after leading the Bulldogs on an improbable run to the NCAA title game.
But there are plenty of decorated college careers drawing yawns from NBA talent evaluators.
Collins led the Jayhawks to a national title as a junior and bypassed a chance at the NBA to return for one final season with Kansas this year. And there’s the 6-foot-2 Reynolds, who struggled at first with the slights from the pros, Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
“But I think he looked at it and said that’s what the NBA is. It’s size, it’s speed, it’s length,” Wright said. “He was the underdog coming out of high school and now he’s going to be an underdog making the NBA and he’s taking on that challenge. I don’t think he’s disappointed about it anymore. I think he’s realistic about it. He’s taking it as a great challenge.”
In some scouts’ eyes, Reynolds and Crawford are a little too short, Collins a little too thick, Harangody a black hole on offense.
“I’m a slow white guy, so I understand,” Samhan said. “It’s all part of the process. It’s what makes me a good player. People are constantly doubting me and I want to prove them wrong. I use it as motivation instead of letting it get me down.”
The best thing these players can do, according to NBA scouting director Ryan Blake, is criscross the country, working out with as many teams as possible in hopes someone will give them a chance in the draft or on a summer league team.
“They’ve done everything they can. Everybody knows about them,” Blake said.
“People will want to see them. They have great skills. They need to lay all their cards on the table and not worry about where they’re going to land and do the best they’re can do right now.”
Samhan has taken that advice, eagerly grabbing workout after workout as he tries to convince a team that he belongs. He has delighted in participating against prospects from more well-known basketball schools.
“It kind of builds a little chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I’m sick of hearing how these big schools are so much better. Because they have more money than us? Better facilities? That doesn’t make you better.”
Crawford is the only one of the group with a chance at being chosen in the first round, and getting the guaranteed contract that comes with it.
He knows he boosted his profile in the NCAA tournament, but that’s ancient history now.
“It’s not something I live off of,” Crawford said. “I lived it when it was in the moment and now it’s time to do something else.”
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