There's little question Frank Hassell has come a long way.
Old Dominion's 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward, who averaged 15.1 points and 9.4 rebounds as a senior, is night-and-day different from the lumbering freshman who first arrived in Norfolk, able to rebound and do little else. Now, he's a shot-making presence in the post who can pass out of double teams, see the whole floor and elevate the play of those around him.
He'll have to show the same rapid progression if he's to continue his basketball career beyond college, say the experts watching him at the 59th Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, the annual showcase for college seniors trying to attract NBA attention.
"I'm happy he's here. I think he proved that he belonged in this class of player this year," said Chris Ekstrand, the editor of the NBA Draft Media Guide for more than a decade and an NBA writer for SI.com and The Sporting News. "It's a testament to the hard work he's put in, because he's really a self-made player.
"He's worked on his body and he's worked on his game, (but) the higher levels you go, you're not going to just be able to overpower people. He's going to go against guys out here that are his equal in height and almost his equal in weight. (Hassell) is going to be a lot different player in four years that he is right now."
"Bigs don't stop developing," agreed Ryan Blake, the NBA's director of scouting. "You don't come in and have one trait. You branch out. The good players do that.
"(Hassell) has made not only himself better, but his team better."
Hassell's ascension from a board-the-ball-and-get-rid-of-it player to a bonafide offensive threat with reliable hooks, jumpers and fadeaways bodes well for his chances at the next level, where his learning curve will continue. Initially, an inexperienced big man may have to prove he can set screens, hit open teammates and – yes – rebound, at a more intense level, Blake said.
"If you're here (at the PIT), what you have to understand is you're not the first option (for an NBA team)," Blake said. "You're not the second option. You're not the third option. You're not the fourth option. Your opportunity is to know the game and make others better in the NBA. … It's a bonus if you have those offensive skills."
Ekstrand is impressed with how Hassell has maximized his skill set, learning to use shot angles and leverage while developing "a deft enough touch around the basket. … He's not a great leaper but he's learned how to make what he has work for him.
"(Hassell) has got a shot at the NBA, and European leagues are always looking for big guys with talent, and he fits that description now. He's not just a rebounder. He's a scoring threat in the post. He's got more than one thing to show people."
Hassell had 15 rebounds and six points in his PIT debut on Wednesday night. He dismissed his offensive performance as "horrible," saying he didn't finish shots.
Hassell, intent on rebounding and playing lockdown defense at the PIT, also plans to spend the offseason developing more range on his jump shot and making his up-and-under moves stronger.
"I have a little jump shot. I've just got to trust it more, and just find my way," Hassell said. "The (pro) game itself is just a different pace, and I've got to get used to it, train my mind and train my body."
The main thing Hassell, who said he expects to sign with an agent by Saturday, wants scouts to see this weekend is "that you can win with me," he said. "Whether I play good or I play bad, I do what I've got to do for my team to win."
That's an attitude Ekstrand can recall hearing from Shane Battier when Battier was part of a 2001 NBA draft class that included Tyson Chandler, Kwame Brown and Eddy Curry, younger players regarded by some experts to have a bigger up side – a line of reasoning Battier grew tired of hearing.
"He said, 'I've been at Duke for four years, but I feel like I have a lot of room to get better, too,' and he's been in the NBA for 10 years," Ekstrand said. "He's a quality NBA player to this day. You have to continue to get better.
"(Hassell) is a quality big man, and a quality big man is going to get chances."