The 2013 NBA Draft is a month away and players from around the country are fighting to increase their value for scouts and teams day in and day out. For the University of Minnesota and the whole state in general, this year’s draft may the first in a long time to include the Gophers and multiple Minnesotans.
Not since Kris Humphries was selected No. 14 in the first round of the 2004 NBA Draft has a Gopher been called to the stage in a draft. That means in the Tubby Smith tenure as head coach, he did not have an active member of his roster drafted outright to this point.
Previous head coach Dan Monson had three total — including Humphries, Rick Rickert, and Joel Przybilla.
Last year former Gophers forward Royce White was selected in the draft, but as a member of the Iowa State Cyclones. A Smith recruit out of Hopkins, Minn., White had off the court issues which led to the release of his scholarship before he ever touched the floor in a game at Williams Arena.
On June 27, Smith could see three of his former players selected in Brooklyn, N.Y. at the Barclays Center — home of the Brooklyn Nets.
Forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams Jr. as well as center Colton Iverson all dawned the Maroon and Gold for Smith in their basketball careers. Iverson has since transferred to Colorado State University and will go into the draft as a Ram and not a Golden Gopher.
Each of the three players are graded right now as potential second round draft picks next month and it is not a lock that they will be drafted at all.
Iverson a native of Yankton, S.D. split most of his time in the post at Minnesota alongside Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III. The loaded front-court at Minnesota sent Iverson west to CSU and he blossomed in his senior season in Fort Collins, Colo.
The first team all-Mountain West center averaged nearly a double-double last season and was dominant force that helped lead the Rams to the NCAA Tournament second round with a win over Missouri in their tournament opener. At 7 feet tall, Iverson will most likely be seen as a defensive replacement off the bench in the pros. He does have enough of a motor to compete late in games and could really see a nice career if all things pan out.
Another Minnesota draft prospect with South Dakota ties is guard Nate Wolters. The St. Cloud, Minn. native just finished a stellar career at South Dakota State University. Amassing 2,363 total points for the Jackrabbits in four seasons and nearly 700 assists.
That point total would put Wolters out-right as the all-time leading scorer at Minnesota by 371 points over Mychal Thompson. He is the No.1 scorer in Jackrabbits’ history.
Wolters may have the best draft stock heading into the selection of the four mentioned players with direct Minnesota ties. Most mock drafts place him in the early to mid-second round based off his high basketball intelligence and his vision on the court. He also is an above average shooter and does not turn over the basketball much at the point guard position.
Mbakwe probably has the second safest chance of being selected behind Wolters. For Iverson and Williams Jr. there potential selections are all over the map. NBADraft.net has everyone but Iverson in their latest projections and DraftExpress.com has Williams Jr. out of the draft completely and Iverson ahead of Mbakwe.
Mock drafts are never right. It all comes down to that one night next month where the NBA selects their possible future.
If Mbakwe and Williams Jr. are both selected out of Minnesota, they would be the first Gophers duo drafted since 1997 when Bobby Jackson and John Thomas both went in the first round. Each have great physical tools that will help their status in the draft. They learned to play solid defense at Minnesota under coach Smith and current NBA playoff teams looking for good depth could give each a strong look.
If you add in Wolters, to have three Minnesotans drafted would be unprecedented. Not since the early 1980′s has Minnesota as a state had so much success in the draft. Put that together with some of the upcoming highly touted high school recruits in state and the “land of 10,000 lakes” would get some exciting publicity as a hoops haven.
Individually each player has strengths that the NBA could be looking for. Whether they are drafted or not, this is a pretty special class of players to come out of the state or to have played for the Golden Gophers. A lot of potential that should have played out for bigger and better things for Minnesota.
Overall it is a great building block for the future and the exposure the state is getting within the sport on a national media landscape is huge for the University and the quality of players around it.
In the years to come, look for names like Andre Hollins, Justin Cobbs, Sam Dower, Siyani Chambers and more to come out of or from Minnesota and get positive draft hype. There are very big things on the horizon for local basketball action. If you have the patience to wait it out, the returns could be well above the rim.