By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — His gray T-shirt drenched with sweat, Mike Scott paused Monday morning at John Paul Jones Arena to take a long drink of Gatorade. And then another.
For the previous 60 minutes, Brad Soucie, director of operations for the UVa men’s basketball team, had run Scott through a non-stop series of shooting and ballhandling drills in a practice gym at JPJ. Scott, a 6-8, 237-pound forward, threw down dunks and launched 3-pointers, mid-range jumpers and half-hooks — hundreds of shots in all — before he and Soucie bumped fists and called it a day.
“That was a tough workout,” Scott said. “Harder than some of the NBA workouts.”
Scott, who turns 24 in July, speaks from experience. In the past month, he has auditioned at the NBA combine in Chicago, at a mini-combine in Minnesota and for 15 NBA teams.
“Lakers, Houston, Spurs, Boston, Miami, OKC, Bulls, Pacers, Cavaliers, Pistons, Sixers, Bobcats, Sacramento, Portland, Atlanta,” Scott said from memory Monday.
At each workout, Scott said, the host team supplied him with socks, shorts and a shirt. “I’ve got so much gear,” he said, smiling.
For the past five seasons — he was granted a hardship waiver after missing most of 2010-11 with an injury — Scott has worn blue and orange UVa gear. Now he’s ready to don another uniform. Not since 2008, when Sacramento selected guard Sean Singletary in the second round, has a player from UVa been picked in an NBA draft, but that figures to change this week.
Heading into Thursday night’s NBA draft, Scott is projected as a second-round pick, and it’s not out of the question that he could sneak into the first.
“I’ll just be grateful for my name to be called,” said Scott, who led the Wahoos in scoring and rebounding in 2011-12.
In his pre-draft NBA odyssey, Scott was scouted by Larry Bird and Danny Ainge, among others. “I got to see a lot of Hall of Famers and current NBA players,” Scott said. “It was nerve-wracking at the beginning, but I got through it.”
Nerves marred his first workout, with the Lakers, Scott said, but his confidence grew as he made his way from city to city. Most workouts, he said, included one-on-one, two-on-two and three-on-three games, as well as defensive drills.
At the NBA draft combine in Chicago, Scott was measured at 6-7.25 without shoes and 6-8.75 in shoes, which makes him undersized for an NBA power forward. He has a rare shooting touch for a big man, but he knows some teams wondered about his explosiveness. Scott believes he answered those questions.
“A lot of teams said they didn’t realize how athletic I was,” said Scott, who trained at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas before the NBA workouts began. “I can guard a smaller player. Other than that, I feel like I played with all these guys in the draft. I showed that at the combine.”
Virginia coach Tony Bennett, of course, is a former NBA player, and he still has contacts in that league. The reviews on Scott have been favorable this spring.
“From all the feedback we’re hearing, he’s been impressive in his workouts, and he’s improved his stock,” Bennett said, “because he’s been very well-prepared basketball-wise, and then his personality and who he is as a person have been impressive.”
In his interviews with NBA teams, Scott has been “very honest,” Bennett said. “He’ll say this is who I was and this is who I am now. He’s able to look at his development as a player and a person over the course of his career and speak very candidly about that with the teams, and they like that. They see a guy who’s not trying to give the perfect answer.”
Scott played for Dave Leitao for two seasons before Bennett took over as the Cavaliers’ head coach, and Scott’s contributions on the court were modest early in his college career. That his immaturity held him back is something Scott has readily acknowledged in interviews with NBA teams. As those close to the UVa program know, however, Scott grew into a team leader, and he stressed that to his prospective employers.
“I just showed them how professional and mature I am and how humble I am,” Scott said.
If Scott wanted to brag, few could blame him. In December 2010, an injury to Scott’s left ankle prematurely ended what was supposed to have been his final season at UVa. Since then, he has successfully rehabilitated his ankle, graduated from the University, made the All-ACC first team, earned third-team All-America honors, and led the Cavaliers to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years. He’s also put himself in position to earn an NBA paycheck.
“After my ankle injury, I couldn’t imagine stuff like this,” Scott said, “how much I changed my body and my game and how much I’ve improved.”
In the JPJ weight room Monday, Scott quizzed Mike Curtis about the NBA and its offseason calendar. Curtis spent six seasons as the Memphis Grizzlies’ head strength-and-conditioning coach.
“I told him it varies from team to team,” said Curtis, who oversees strength and conditioning for UVa’s basketball teams. “Every team’s a little bit different in their mode of operation, so just kind of be ready and prepared for anything.”
The best advice he can give Scott, Curtis said, is to “come in and be a professional and do what they ask and just work your butt off. Be the first one in and the last one to leave, and you’ll set yourself up to be successful, no matter where.
“At the end of the day it’s about being a professional, working and finding your niche and seeing how they’re going to use you, and filling that spot.”
Curtis said he’s been contacted by NBA representatives interested in learning more about Scott.
“I’ve heard from probably seven or eight teams with different questions,” Curtis said. “I’ve had conversations with them in terms of what I think Mike could potentially do for them as a player, not only as an athlete but as a person, and how he’s evolved as a person over the last three years and how that would help contribute to the professionalism that any team would need to help get better and accomplish things.”
In 2011-12, the ranks of NBA players included only two former Cavaliers: Roger Mason Jr. and Gary Forbes. Mason turned pro after his third year at UVa, and Forbes transferred to Massachusetts after his second year.
If Scott can join them in the NBA, the program at his alma mater figures to benefit.
“It’s the one thing that we’re missing,” Curtis said. “We’ve got a coach who played [in the NBA]. We’ve got a staff member, in myself, who worked in the performance part of it. What we need now is that product. We need the players who can kind of vouch for what we’re saying that we can do for them. We need those guys to be present in that league, so that we can keep getting the top-notch players that we’re trying to go after. Because at the end of the day, we can’t kid ourselves: Every kid that plays on this level has a dream and aspiration to play in that league.”
Scott is heading home to Chesapeake on Wednesday. He’ll watch the draft there Thursday night with his father, mother, brothers and some close friends. “I’m not going to throw a draft party or anything like that,” Scott said.
Years ago, Scott expected to be an Owl in college, not a Cavalier. But he re-opened his recruitment after legendary coach John Chaney retired at Temple. Scott played for the postgraduate team at Hargrave Military Academy in 2006-07 before heading up Route 29 to Charlottesville. And now, six years after graduating from Deep Creek High School, he’s on the verge of realizing his longtime dream, of wearing an NBA jersey, of playing in the same league as LeBron James.
Will he be nervous Thursday night?
“Nervous and confident at the same time,” Scott said. “I’ve worked so hard for this opportunity, and I just left it all out there.”