CHICAGO – The Solheim Center is just as unassuming as it is important.
The building, located at the Moody Bible Institute on North LaSalle Street in Chicago, is a seldom-used basketball court save four days in June prior to the NBA draft. The edifice is a dated hoops facility that resembles a high school gym and houses a pool and a few of the school’s athletic offices. The court has seen its share of All-Americans, future inductees to the Hall of Fame and scouts. Despite its modest appearance and lack of use, the Solheim Center is host to an NBA pre-draft camp that can be the springboard to a successful professional basketball career or the pharmacist for a bitter reality pill.
This year, two players swallowed the reality pill through injuries. Illinois’ Dee Brown fractured his foot and had to withdraw from the camp. He is expected to have to return to Illinois for his senior year due to the inability to compete in the remainder of the camp, which runs from June 7-10. Teammate Roger Powell sprained his right ankle and also had to withdraw from the camp.
The camp is organized and run by the NBA and is attended by representatives from every team and major media outlet. Each day, the activities begin at 9 a.m., with drills lasting two hours. The drills attempt to showcase each player’s individual skills with jump shooting, 1-on-1, 2-on-2, simulated scrimmage and fast break demonstrations.
Games between predetermined teams take place in the late morning and again in the late afternoon. The games are meant to simulate professional playing conditions, complete with NBA referees.
Players such as the University of Connecticut’s Charlie Villanueva and Syracuse University’s Hakim Warrick do not play in the in the draft camp because of the preconceived notion that they will be lottery picks. This year’s hot attractions include high school standout Brandon Rush. Rush averaged 21 points per game at Mt. Zion Academy in North Carolina.
The 19-year old said his intention is to stay in the draft.
“I’m just waiting to see how the camp goes,” Rush said Thursday.
The 6-foot-6 guard scored 10 points in a Thursday game and contended that the bevy of scouts present does not effect the way he plays.
“I know it’s important but I’ll play the same,” Rush said. “I still come out and play tough. Try to get a few highlights but couldn’t get any today.”
Despite its perceived importance by players, many team officials realize that the camp is just a formality en route to the draft, taking place this year on June 28 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Many team officials said that they believe the camp lends itself to a “showboat” style of play, allowing players to display their flashy moves to the hundreds of scouts in attendance. Seattle SuperSonics coach Nate MacMillan said that although the camp is important for scouts, the talent is still hard to judge.
“It’s hard to get a feel for the players in three days,” MacMillan said. “Everyone is trying to showcase themselves which makes it hard.”
MacMillan added that drafting is one of the hardest parts of the game and that scouts take control of the entire process.
“Drafting is all about scouting,” MacMillan said, whose team was defeated in the second round of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs. “I give (the scouts) the reigns and get them back when the draft is over.”
While the scouts and coaches privately discuss the ability of each player, they are reluctant to share their thoughts with other coaches and the media. One scout, under the condition of anonymity, said he will never discuss a potential draft pick with anyone outside the staff.
“I don’t want a team ahead of me knowing we’ll take someone and have them mess it up,” the scout said. “That’s the last thing we want to be worried about right now.”
While teams are preparing for the June 28 draft, players must consider the pull-out date of June 21. By the 21st, players who wish to retain the remainder of their collegiate eligibility must abandon their draft intentions.