USC Basketball: Catching up with Nikola Vucevic, whose NBA draft stock has risen to first-round territory
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Nikola Vucevic arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday night. The former USC junior forward had spent the previous four days in Chicago. He made himself quite a bit of money there -- not literal money, mind you, but potential money, which he’ll likely see pour his way in person at the 2011 NBA draft on June 23.
That’s right. Vucevic said Monday he’s going to be there, along with his family.
‘We believe he’s a first rounder and we believe he should be in New York with his family,’ added Vucevic’s agent, Rade Filipovich of Bill Duffy’s BDA Sports Management.
Before Vucevic’s trip to Chicago, the site of the official NBA draft combine, his presence at the draft and the idea of him as a first-round pick seemed foolhardy. He entered the Windy City as an unknown, but he measured out very well there and in a draft that’s short on both good players and big players, he could be a good big player. That possibility made him the hottest prospect to come out of that combine and propelled him into the first round in several mock NBA drafts. He might go mid-first round, even.
‘I just went really hard,’ Vucevic said. ‘I just wanted to show what I can do. I don’t really know how I did, but some coaches told me I did good so I guess I did.’
He did especially well when facing a tape measure or a scale. He measured out a shade shorter than 7-feet at 6-11 3/4 in shoes -- the tallest there; was the second heaviest present at 260 pounds but had just 6% body fat; had the second longest standing reach at 9-4 1/2 (a half-inch bigger than former No.1 overall pick Greg Oden); and, to boot, had the second-best wingspan at 7-4 1/2.
Vucevic, who was thought to be a potential second-round pick when he declared early for the draft, also did quite well in interviews with several teams, according to reports. Vucevic said most of the questions were about his background, which is a pretty interesting one. (Read more here for that.)
Filipovich said many teams picking in the 10-to-25 range in the first round approached them about Vucevic after his performance in Chicago.
‘They were surprised that Nikola did so well. He blew them away,’ Filipovich said.
Part of the reason Vucevic came to Chicago under the radar was that he wasn’t heralded out of high school and that he plays on the West Coast. Of course, neither of those facts matter much anymore.
Now Vucevic is off to do individual workouts with various NBA teams. He left L.A. on Wednesday for Houston, where he is working out Thursday with the Rockets, who have the 14th and 23rd picks in the first round.
From Houston, Vucevic will head to San Antonio, where he’ll work out Friday with the Spurs, who have the 29th pick in the first round.
The Spurs had scouts present at several of USC’s home games this season and are reportedly very interetsed in the 20-year-old Vucevic, as are Phildelphia, Charlotte, New York and New Jersey.
Some might be surprised by his draft stock’s metoric rise, but that’s kind of his style. He went from barely playing as a freshman, when he averaged 2.6 points, to becoming the Pacific 10 Conference’s Most Improved Player as a sophomore, when he averaged 10.7 points and 9.4 rebounds, to becoming a Pac-10 All-First-Team player last season, when he averaged 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds.
Still, Vucevic said there’s much to improve on.
‘I told everybody I need to expand my three-point shot to the NBA range so I can be consistent there,’ he said, ‘and also defensively being able to move quicker.’
-- Baxter Holmes