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During draft run-up, prospects step on it

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Perhaps by 8 tonight, Shaun Livingston's young life will get a sense of regularity back to it and he'll know where the next three to four years of it will be spent.

If nothing else, a month's worth of running, literally, from one NBA practice gym to another will stop long enough for Livingston, a 6-foot-7 high school guard from Peoria, Ill., and a host of other hopefuls to learn their immediate fate.

On this day, less than a week before tonight's draft, Livingston paused outside the Washington Wizards' practice court at MCI Center to ponder the toll the pre-draft process has taken on him.

"It's real cutthroat out here," Livingston said. "Guys are going and trying to take a job out here. I just want to match the competitive level of these guys, because I feel if I match their competitive level and work just as hard, I feel my abilities will come out."

In some respects, the draft prospects are like prospective college applicants, going from team to team in the month or so between the early entrance deadline May 10 and the actual draft.

The players are hoping to get admitted with their workouts serving as entrance essays, of sorts, with the irony, of course, being that many of these prospects, like Livingston, have passed up college entirely to try their hand at the NBA.

Indeed, the presence of high school players like Livingston and foreign players such as Russian Pavel Podkolzine, a 19-year-old 7-5 center who could be the first foreign-born player taken, has given the draft an element of mystery, in that they are unknown to a great number of NBA fans.

The workouts, then, become an important part of the pre-draft evaluation process. They also provide an answer for how heretofore unknowns like Darko Milicic, the second overall pick in last year's draft to the Detroit Pistons, go ahead of more known quantities, like Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic), who led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA title but was taken third by the Denver Nuggets.

Some NBA talent evaluators caution, however, that the workouts aren't the only determining factor.

"You're absolutely looking against the whole field, and I think sometimes people put absolutely too much emphasis on one 45-minute workout," said Ernie Grunfeld, Washington's president of basketball operations. "What we look for here is an opportunity to see these players face to face, to look them in the eye, to ask them some personal questions and see how they interact with some other players, their skill level, athleticism, speed and quickness.

"But the thing you don't really see in these kinds of workouts is, does he know how to play the game, what his feel for the game is, how does he play with his teammates, how does he react in pressure type of situations. That's why you have to go see them during the season."

The workout season begins in earnest just after the lottery in late May determines the draft order for the 14 teams that didn't make the playoffs.

During the month between the lottery and the draft, clubs will invite players to come in groups up to four and run them through a series of shooting drills and one-on-one and two-on-two games against each other or against coaches or other players.

The sessions tend to run 45 minutes to an hour, and are usually followed by some kind of psychological exam, oral or written, conducted by the teams to test the mental makeup of the potential draft choices.

"We try to find out what innate qualities that they have," said Bernie Bickerstaff, coach and general manager of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, who will draft second tonight. "Physically sometimes you just don't have it, and I understand it. But it's how you try to reach down and get through it. Whether you get it done or not, it's do you make the attempt?"

If the workouts tend to take on a sameness for the players, so do the players they compete against. They tend to travel in packs from one city to the next, staying in the same hotels, playing in the same gyms, doing the same things over and over.

"You get kind of tired of seeing the same guys," said Oklahoma State senior guard Tony Allen. "After a while, you try to get their [phone] numbers to see if you've got them in any more workouts. It's all fun and a learning experience. You're just waiting to see what happens."

There's actually very little waiting for most draft prospects: The workout in one city one day usually leads to another workout in another city the next day.

There are no limits to the number or frequency of workouts, and though prospects at the top of the draft tend to limit their exposures, players who are looking to land in the first round or even in the draft itself hit the road in earnest.

Livingston, for instance, said his stop in Washington was just the third in a five-city, five-day tour that began in Atlanta, went to Charlotte and Washington, continued cross-country to Phoenix and wrapped up with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Calvin Andrews, an agent with Bill Duffy & Associates (BDA), said former Kentucky forward Tayshaun Prince, whom his firm represents, did a staggering 18 workouts in as many days two years ago. Prince ended up with Detroit, which, oddly enough, passed last year on Anthony, another Andrews client, because of Prince's progress.

One of BDA's clients, Dorell Wright, a high school player from Lawndale, Calif., finished his workout schedule with nine stops in eight days, including two yesterday, with Golden State and with the Los Angeles Lakers.

When the evening ends tonight, hopefully with a handshake from NBA commissioner David Stern and a baseball cap from a new team, the players likely will take a pause to figure whether the adventure has been excellent or just draining.

"[The process] is nerve-racking, but if you can't handle it, you should obviously consider that, and I did consider it when I was making my decision," Livingston said, "and I feel confident so there's no looking back."

Lots of traveling

Dorell Wright is a 6-foot-7 forward who played last season at South Kent (Conn.) School after spending the previous four years at Leuzinger High in Lawndale, Calif. His schedule of workouts for NBA teams leading into tonight's draft has taken him across the country and back:

Date Team

June 16 Denver

June 17 Portland

June 18 New Jersey

June 19 San Antonio

June 20 Seattle

June 21 Miami

June 22 Atlanta

June 23 Golden State

Los Angeles Lakers

Source: Wright's agent, Calvin Andrews

NBA Draft order

First round

1. Orlando 2. Charlotte 3. Chicago 4. L.A. Clippers 5. Dallas 6. Atlanta 7. Phoenix 8. Toronto 9. Philadelphia 10. Cleveland

11. Golden State 12. Seattle 13. Portland 14. Utah 15. Boston 16. Utah 17. Atlanta 18. New Orleans 19. Miami 20. Denver

21. Utah 22. New Jersey 23. Portland 24. Boston 25. Boston 26. Sacramento 27. L.A. Lakers 28. San Antonio 29. Indiana

Second round

30. Orlando 31. Chicago 32. Washington 33. L.A. Clippers 34. Atlanta 35. Seattle 36. Phoenix 37. Atlanta 38. Chicago 39. Toronto 40. Boston

41. Seattle 42. Golden State 43. New York 44. New Orleans 45. Charlotte 46. Portland 47. Miami 48. Sacramento 49. Memphis 50. Dallas

51. New Jersey 52. San Antonio 53. Miami 54. Detroit 55. Houston 56. L.A. Lakers 57. San Antonio 58. Minnesota 59. Indiana

Five players to watch in today's draft

1. Luol Deng 6-8 forward Duke (freshman): Considered the best wing player in the draft. It's unlikely he will slip past Chicago at No.3.

2. Shaun Livingston 6-7 guard Peoria (Ill.) Central H.S.: May be the best long-term point guard prospect, but his 175-pound build and lack of upper-body strength is a concern. Could go as high as three.

3. Pavel Podkolzine 7-5 center Varese (Italy): Young (age 19) and gangly (260 pounds), but someone in the first round will be intrigued by this Russian's length.

4. Ben Gordon 6-3 guard UConn (junior): Has risen from first-round after-thought to perhaps the first guard chosen. Won't last past the 10th pick with Cleveland.

5. Robert Swift 7-0 center Bakersfield (Calif.) H.S.: Considered the biggest flyer of the draft as he has made himself scarce during the workout period. Supposedly has good hands and footwork.

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