Basketball Notes

Davis’s advice carries considerable weight

By Gary Washburn
April 10, 2011

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It wasn’t that long ago that Glen Davis was a thickly built post player who wowed NBA scouts with his skill and athleticism after a successful college season. Those scouts waited for Davis to declare for the draft, and leave Louisiana State following the Tigers’ Final Four appearance during his sophomore season in 2006.

But Davis’s desire to improve his draft stock, as well as his enjoyment of college life, led to him staying in school for another year. And while Davis might have matured emotionally in that year, scouts were able to dissect his game, and rethink his size and desire, and he dropped to the second round after initially believing he was a lottery pick.

Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger is in a similar situation. He led the Buckeyes to the No. 1 ranking entering the NCAA Tournament and they were the prohibitive favorites before being knocked out by Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Sullinger, a Columbus, Ohio, native, could have been the No. 1 overall pick. Listed at 6 feet 9 inches and 280 pounds, he combines stunning athleticism for his size with power and yet a graceful touch around the basket. He averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds this season.

With the loss to Kentucky still fresh, Sullinger promised to return to school for his sophomore season. Davis still recalls the scrutiny he faced during his junior season, in which LSU failed to make the tournament, and has some advice for Sullinger.

“[That extra year] just gives them a chance to critique you, see what kind of player you are,’’ Davis said. “You’ve got to go while you’re hot, or at least test it out. Don’t hire an agent. That’s what I could have done, just to see.’’

Some question whether Sullinger’s game will translate to the NBA. How quick are his feet? Does he have a capable jumper for matchups against taller players? Will he go the Oliver Miller route, gaining weight and losing desire?

Those concerns are similar to those raised about Davis after he came back to LSU. So far, he has shown to be a valuable reserve for the Celtics, despite falling to the 35th overall pick. But Davis dropped because there were doubts about his conditioning and whether he had peaked in college.

“The difference with me [my junior year] is I didn’t win, but my numbers were the same,’’ Davis said. “When I was playing, I just didn’t win. That’s a big difference. This was one of [Sullinger’s] winningest years. If he comes back, he’s got to win. Everybody knows he’s got the talent to play in the NBA. It’s about what’s he going to do in the offseason.’’

One reason why there are so many players departing college before they are ready for the NBA is the fear of overexposing themselves to scouts during an extra year. Davis believes he was the victim of scouts who doubted his leadership and work ethic when LSU stumbled.

Players who flourished in this year’s NCAA tourney, such as UCLA’s Tyler Honeycutt and Kansas’s Marcus Morris, bailed on college while their stock was rising, unwilling to risk dropping if they return for another season. But what hurt Davis was his size and conditioning.

Scouts are skittish when it comes to players with weight issues, given the dozens who have become busts over the last several years because they were unable to keep their weight down. Davis has been able to play at 290 pounds, roughly the same weight as Sullinger, but with that added weight comes added responsibility.

Since Davis wasn’t going to wow scouts with jumping ability or quickness, he had to improve his perimeter game. Bulk is overrated if it doesn’t come with height. Shaquille O’Neal had that rare combination of a 7-foot frame and a 300-pound body. That’s why measurement is critical to Sullinger’s stock. If he is a few inches short of his listed height, he may be labeled another undersized forward who won’t be able to score in the paint.

“I don’t jump high or run extremely fast,’’ Davis said. “I’m quick for my size and am able to use my body, but you’ve got to do one thing special and try to do a little bit of everything when you’re undersized.’’

But scouts can be wrong. Carlos Boozer was considered undersized coming out of Duke in 2002, and is now the prototypical power forward. The Spurs’ DeJuan Blair and Clippers’ Craig Smith have established solid careers despite weight concerns. But those players tumbled to the second round, losing money in the process.

“The way you have to separate yourself is by hitting the open jump shot,’’ Davis said. “You have to be able to do some different things. I felt like if I didn’t hit the jump shot I wouldn’t be successful because I don’t jump high.

“Sullinger’s going to have his chance. He’s going to get drafted high. They are going to be in the Final Four one day. It’s just about winning. He’ll be ready. He’s going to get his body right. That’s one thing I should have done as far as coming back in better shape [for the junior season]. If I had been more physically ready and mentally ready, I wouldn’t have slipped in the second round, if I had eliminated those questions about my body. If he does that, he’ll be drafted [high]. He’ll be the first pick in the draft next year, no question.’’

Not on board with Rodman Dennis Rodman’s election to the Hall of Fame didn’t create the waves many expected. Not often are one-dimensional players elected to the Hall, but Rodman was such a brilliant rebounder — revolutionizing the game by averaging 13 per game for his career — that his contributions could not be ignored.

But the election of the eccentric Rodman (just imagine his induction speech) wasn’t exactly welcomed by one member of the Celtics family. Tom Heinsohn has been celebrated for 30 years calling Celtics games locally with Mike Gorman, but outside the Northeast he is known instead for his years with CBS, calling games with Dick Stockton.

Heinsohn called both Finals matchups between the Pistons and Lakers before CBS decided to dump the NBA to make room for Major League Baseball in 1990, just before the explosion of Michael Jordan (How did that decision work out?).

“Well, Rodman played on championship teams, he was a contributor,’’ Heinsohn said. “He was a one-aspect player, so him being in the Hall of Fame, obviously people thought he should be there. Good luck to him.’’

If there was justice in the Hall of Fame class, it was the election of Artis Gilmore, who was crushed to not be named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players in 1997, and whose career may have slipped under the radar because he did not win a title.

In the ABA and NBA, Gilmore had 24,941 points and 16,330 rebounds, finishing up with the 1987-88 Celtics. Gilmore is fifth all time in rebounding and 20th in scoring. Before his election, only he and Reggie Miller were in the top 20 in points but not in the Hall, among those eligible.

Daniels still grizzled vet Antonio Daniels was once the fourth overall pick in the draft, a confident point guard from Bowling Green who was expected to be the Grizzlies’ cornerstone — the Vancouver Grizzlies. That was 14 years ago, when seniors in the draft were commonplace and Daniels was tabbed for a long NBA career.

The cornerstone thing never worked out. He was traded to the Spurs the next season for Carl Herrera and Felipe Lopez, and Daniels spent several seasons as a serviceable backup.

Fast forward to last Wednesday and the 36-year-old Daniels walks into TD Garden as a 76er, preparing for his first NBA game in nearly two years. His new teammates, most of whom were in elementary school when he was drafted, scan Boston’s roster and notice how many Celtics were born in the mid-1970s, thus making them ancient.

Daniels speaks up, saying he was born in 1975, and the pups perk up.

“Hey, Antonio,’’ Spencer Hawes said, “You could really be Jrue [Holiday’s] dad because he was born in 1990.’’

Daniels laughed and nodded in agreement. He was glad to be there, even if it meant pondering teenage fatherhood.

“On the flip side, I consider it a blessing,’’ Daniels said. “I can be somebody’s dad and I could be in the process of playing as opposed to saying I could be somebody’s dad and I’m sitting on the couch.’’

Daniels spent this season with the Texas Legends of the Developmental League, playing under Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman and giving it one final try to impress NBA scouts. When Lou Williams was felled by a strained right hamstring, an injury that could last into the postseason, the 76ers called on Daniels, who averaged 14.5 points, 8.6 assists, and 4.8 rebounds in 38 games for the Legends. Lieberman called teams to endorse Daniels, who last played in the NBA for the Hornets in 2009.

“Obviously, it’s not about money, it’s never been about money,’’ Daniels said. “Going to the D-League would be the best chance for me to get back here. When I’m done playing eventually I want to coach, and going to the D-League I learned a lot more as far as coaching goes. That was my team to run on the court.’’

The NBA welcomes younger, more athletic players and normally spits out veterans who lose a step or may garner a higher salary. Daniels is a capable player, but those who reach their mid-30s will be hard-pressed to keep jobs, and Daniels found himself out of the league.

Most former standouts wouldn’t humble themselves enough to play in the D-League, which is made up mostly of not-ready-for-NBA youngsters, fringe players, and those looking for overseas opportunities. There are very few players with Daniels’s cachet willing to take bus rides and play before sparse crowds with little media attention.

Former Celtic Antoine Walker accepted such a challenge and remains playing for Idaho, passed up by NBA teams who cringed at his conditioning and poor shot selection. Daniels proved still efficient in running an offense and coming off the bench for spot minutes to spell Holiday, scoring 4 points with two rebounds and an assist in 10 minutes against the Celtics.

While his teammates dressed in casual gear, including baggy jeans and sneakers, Daniels donned a suit to the arena, a reflection of his generation. He is considered a relic to some of his teammates, but Daniels is just grateful for the opportunity.

The inspiration to return came from an unexpected source. Daniels attended the ESPN broadcasters camp for former players and an executive told him to keep playing because there would also be work in the booth when he was done.

“One thing I have always prided myself on is taking care of my body,’’ he said. “When I went to D-League training camp, I was in the best shape there, being 35 years old. I have always prided myself on that. I am going to try to do that. I am going to try to play as long as I can and get what I can out of this game for as long as I can.’’

Even though the Pacers clinched their first playoff spot in five years last week under interim coach Frank Vogel, a former assistant under Rick Pitino in Boston, they are expected to search for a new coach in the offseason. But Vogel’s enthusiasm may have laid the groundwork. Indiana needs a young and energetic coach with the patience to deal with the team’s young core. Jim O’Brien lacked that patience . . . There may be a reason why Lawrence Frank didn’t bite on the University of Tennessee job. His stock is slowly rising again after being fired by the Nets, and although the Celtics’ defense has struggled at times this season, that has more to do with personnel than Frank’s direction . . . Many NBA scouts are in Portland to catch the Hoop Summit, which pits some of the best senior prep players from the United States against their international counterparts. Evaluating such prospects can be tricky, and teams have made poor draft decisions based on performances in these games. The SuperSonics took Senegalese center Mouhamed Sene 10th overall because of a brilliant nine-block performance in the 2006 Summit in Memphis. Sene played only 47 NBA games over three seasons. Attending this year is Austin Rivers, son of Doc, who is committed to Duke, and James McAdoo, perhaps the most NBA-ready of the American prospects, who is headed to North Carolina . . . The highest-rated international prospect in this year’s draft is Jan Vesely, a 6-11, 230-pounder from the Czech Republic who is under contract with Partizan Belgrade until 2013. A team looking to store a prospect may take a chance on Vesely and wait for his contract to expire . . . Boston College junior Reggie Jackson is going to test the draft process, and right now he’s slated as a late-first or early-second-round pick. Whether he returns to school will depend on how he works out for teams and whether he can rise to the mid-first round. This is a relatively weak draft compared with 2012, but the NBA’s labor situation may encourage fringe prospects to stay in school.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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