Surrounded by family and friends at his mother's East Baltimore home last Thursday, Will Barton became increasingly confused.
It was the end of the first round of the NBA Draft and his name had yet to be called. It didn't make sense, he thought. After all, he'd been told he was a lock to go within the first 30 picks.
"I was definitely going to get my name called in the first round," said Barton, who was ultimately taken by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 40th overall selection. "So I was just kind of disappointed and puzzled."
It was a surprising turn of events for the former Lake Clifton star. In the weeks leading up to the draft, he'd reportedly intrigued front offices with his unique combination of length, athleticism and natural scoring instincts.
In fact, he'd become such a strong candidate to go in the mid- to late- first round that the Blazers didn't bother having him come in for a workout. When he fell to them at 40, they simply took the 'best player available approach' and grabbed him.
Blazers personnel were even more confident in their second-round pick after speaking with Damon Stoudamire, the former Blazers point guard who helped coach Barton last season at Memphis.
Stoudamire told Portland's front office that Barton was the Tigers' hardest worker, that he was a guy who was committed to being a contributor on an NBA team.
"Will's going to find a way," Stoudamire said. "Because when I look in the kid's eyes, that's the only thing he knows. He's got to find a way."
Given the current state of the Portland's bench, Barton should have a decent shot at making the team's 12-man roster.
Assuming the Blazers are able to match any offer made to restricted free agent Nicholas Batum, their primary backup at small forward will likely be Luke Babbit — an unproven 23 year old who shot just 41 percent from the field last season.
Shooting guard, Barton's primary position, also figures to be relatively thin. Outside of starter Wesley Matthews, the Blazers' only true off guard is the injury-plagued Elliot Williams.
"There's a spot for a wing on this team," said Mike Barrett, Portland's play-by-play announcer. "I think certainly at the wing position, the Blazers could use a slasher-type guy who's a good defender, good rebounder. And I think that's the way they see" in Barton.
Still, Barton will likely need to add some muscle in the coming weeks if he hopes to crack the Blazers' rotation. At 6 feet 6 and a rail-thin 175 pounds, he'll need to prove he can finish at the rim in the NBA.
Barton plans to arrive in Portland on Sunday to get settled before summer league practices begin on July 11. And although he said he's grateful to the Blazers for giving him an opportunity to realize a lifelong dream, he hasn't forgotten how he felt last Thursday.
"I use it as motivation," Barton said. "I feel like I'm a lottery, first-round talent, so I've just got to go in there and just show everybody that I fit in."
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