PORTSMOUTH — Frank Hassell didn't spend a lot of time contemplating his decision to play in the 59th Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.
“I was told that this is a job interview and it’s a privilege and an honor to be invited here,” said Hassell, who averaged 15.1 points and 9.4 rebounds in his senior season at Old Dominion and had 15 rebounds in his PIT debut Wednesday for the K&D Round's Landscaping team. “These guys in the stands, I want to work for them one day. It’s hard to understand why somebody would turn it down.”
Lots of somebodys did this year, however. Along with injured players, or those whose seasons lasted into April — Butler’s Matt Howard and VCU’s Jamie Skeen are among the original tournament commitments who fit both categories — there were quite a few other no-shows at the annual showcase for college seniors trying to impress pro scouts.
Ohio State’s Jon Diebler and David Lighty aren’t in Portsmouth, nor are Georgetown’s Chris Wright or Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen. Colorado guard Cory Higgins pulled out of the tournament a day before it started.
Cleveland State guard Norris Cole, who scored 35 points in his team’s 74-63 loss to Old Dominion on Feb. 20, didn’t come. Neither did Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins or James Madison’s Denzel Bowles.
Some players may feel they don’t need the extra five-on-five time to impress the NBA bigwigs, such as Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, in the house at Churchland High School.
Others may be hearing from agents that their chances of scoring an invite to pre-draft camps, like a well-regarded upcoming one in Chicago, or landing individual workouts are better than they actually are.
“I shook my head,” said Ryan Blake, director of NBA scouting. “This is the first year (of the PIT) that I’ve really gone, ‘What happened?’ … There’s so much posturing, or the agents just want to sign the guys and tell them what they what to hear.”
For Blake’s money, the PIT is a better gauge of the ability of a player who might not be drafted than Chicago — “basically, it’s a combine” — or individual workouts.
“Here, what we do is play basketball, and this is where you need to show you can play basketball,” Blake said. “... Especially in a year where we may not have a summer league (because of a possible NBA lockout), this is the opportunity.”
Duquesne’s Bill Clark, who scored 19 points in 11 first-half minutes Thursday on 7-of-7 shooting for the Portsmouth Sports Club team, including five 3-pointers, thought so.
“I’m very under the radar, going to a small school like Duquesne,” said Clark, who averaged 16.3 points as a senior for the Dukes. “This is a wonderful opportunity to put my game out there.”
Talor Battle, an undersized, 6-foot guard out of Penn State whose floor leadership has been impressive, shared that opinion.
“I just wanted to come. There’s not that many opportunities, especially with the lockout looming. I just wanted to come out here and play well,” said Battle, who totaled 25 points in Norfolk Sports Club’s first two games.
Battle wants scouts to see “how I play — the willingness to go in there with the big guys and make plays, make plays for other guys, and run my team,” and his wish seems to be coming true.
“I like the way he runs a team,” Blake said. “I know there are concerns about his size, but he plays bigger and smarter.”
Hassell, who planned to hire an agent by the PIT’s conclusion Saturday and is looking for a full-time training facility, hopes to make a similarly positive impression.
“I’ve been hearing good stuff and bad stuff. I try to tune all that out,” he said. “My dream is to play at the next level. That’s why we’re all here.”