Several months ago, Josh Selby was talking on the phone to mentor Carmelo Anthony. It was just a friendly conversation between two men who know exactly what it feels like to be a basketball prodigy from inner city Baltimore.
Anthony, a four-time NBA all-star who now plays for the New York Knicks, tried to give Selby some advice as he prepared for the upcoming NBA draft, which takes place tonight in New York City. You're going to hear a lot of criticism, Anthony said. Your game is going to be picked apart, and you're going to be worn down by what feels like a never-ending cycle of workouts and interviews. You're going to get frustrated. But in the end, if you work hard, your talent will see you through it.
"He just told me to keep fighting," said Selby, who grew up in East Baltimore and played his final year of high school basketball at Lake Clifton. "He coached me up, and let me know that a lot of good would come from everything that happened."
Like Anthony, Selby declared for the NBA draft after spending just one season in college. But unlike Anthony, who won a NCAA championship at Syracuse University, Selby's time in the collegiate ranks was far from memorable. Although he was one of the country's top rated recruits, his freshman year with the Kansas Jayhawks was marred by injuries and a nine-game suspension, and as a result, his stock with scouts and NBA general managers seems to have plummeted.
Prior to college, Selby seemed like a sure-fire first round pick, maybe even a lottery pick. Not only did he have exceptional athletic ability when driving to the basket, he could also step back and shoot. In his first ever college game, he teased Jayhawk fans by scoring 21 points and hit the game-winning 3-pointer against USC.
But he never quite meshed in Kansas' motion offense. He struggled to defend, struggled with ball handling, and frustrated his own fan base. He injured his foot, and didn't show the same explosiveness when he returned after missing three games. The considerable promise he showed in high school slowly evaporated. When he declared for the draft, the criticism was swift.
Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis seemed to echo the feelings of many when he wrote on his Twitter account: "I never wish ill on a youngster but the GM who drafts Josh Selby should have his head examined. Kid wasn't even a decent college player."
Now, many projections have Selby slipping out of the first round entirely. In the most recent mock draft published by ESPN, analyst Chad Ford has Selby going to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round with the 37th pick.
"I'm trying not to worry about the criticism now," Selby said. "I'm just trying to focus on playing my hardest and my best for GMs and scouts. What happened at Kansas, now that's over with. I'm more worried about what's going on in the future."
Selby's high school coach at Lake Clifton, Herman Harried, said he believes Selby is going to develop into a very good NBA player if he ends up with the right team, and that whatever it is that's caused his stock to drop over the last year, he didn't see any evidence of it during their time together.
"Whatever grief he supposedly caused [at Kansas], I can't say I experienced anything like it," Harried said. "I truly enjoyed my time with him. He represented the school well on a daily basis. He gave everything he had to basketball. My respect is hard to earn, and he absolutely earned it."
Harried said he's never met a player as competitive as Selby, and that his desire to beat people at everything — it didn't matter if it was a state playoff game or a friendly shooting contest after practice — is one reason some NBA team is going to get a steal if they take a chance on him.
"A lot of athletes think they're competitive, but they really aren't," Harried said. "This is truly a young man who will do everything it takes to win. I don't think the world has had a chance to see the true Josh Selby."
Selby said he hopes that attitude came through during his workouts.
"It doesn't matter to me if it's a game of pool, a round of bowling, or even if we're roller skating, I'm going to compete," Selby said. "That's just how I've been my entire life."
Selby said he worked out for a total of 18 teams, and said he felt like several of the workouts went extremely well. The day before the draft, he worked out for the Detroit Pistons and says they told him they don't believe he'll still be on the board by the time they're up with the 33rd pick, but if he is, he might be the player they want.
"I think I'm showing teams that I'm a pretty good athlete," Selby said. "I think I'm proving to them I can play the point guard role, and that I have a pretty solid all around game. You can tell by their reaction what they're thinking. I think I got some pretty good feedback."
Selby knows that getting picked in the first round would mean a guaranteed contract, and the financial aspect of all this certainly played a role in his decision to leave Kansas after just one season. Raised by a single mother, Selby's family didn't have a lot when he was growing up. He knows he's already come a long way from the days when he used to spend hours sharpening his game on the Barclay courts. He's not sure where he plans to watch the draft just yet, but he wants to be surrounded by family.
"I'm going to be really, really anxious I think," Selby said.
And when his name finally does get called?
"I'm going to be really emotional," he said. "So, so emotional."