Isaiah Austin – Baylor, Center (Fr.)
Ht.: 7’1, wt.: 225
Strengths: A perimeter oriented big man with range out to the NBA three point line. Can put the ball on the floor. Has become a force protecting the rim. Overcame the odds after a childhood injury cost him the vision in his right eye.
Weaknesses: Had a disappointing sophomore season. Lack of strength a major concern at the next level. Far too unassertive.
Q&A: Jaron Blossomgame on the Pre-Draft Process
Former Clemson standout Jaron Blossomgame speaks to Cody Taylor ahead of the NBA Draft.
For many prospects, it may be hard to believe that the day they’ve dreamed of for their entire life is almost finally here. Dreams will come true for 60 prospects on Thursday night as they hear their name called.
These prospects have put in countless hours at the gym in order to have a chance to one day play in the NBA. In recent weeks, players have worked out in front of NBA executives and coaches to prove why they should be drafted tomorrow night.
One player who expects to hear his name called Thursday night is Jaron Blossomgame. After averaging 17.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists this season at Clemson, Blossomgame established himself as one of the top seniors in this year’s class. He has excellent athleticism and possesses great physical tools that figure to translate well at the next level.
Blossomgame is currently projected by Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler to be drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers at No. 46.
Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Blossomgame to discuss the pre-draft process, his expectations for draft night, how he stayed ready during all of his workouts and more.
Cody Taylor: How many workouts have you done?
Jaron Blossomgame: 12 or 13 workouts.
Taylor: Were there any that stuck out that were the toughest?
Blossomgame: Houston was pretty bad. It was a full two hours on the court. Every workout has been the same thing: play 1-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-on-3 and do some shooting. They’re all high-level workouts. They were really fast paced. The basketball part is the easy part. The hard part is the travel.
Taylor: A couple guys have mentioned Utah as being pretty tough. Did you work out with them?
Blossomgame: I went to Utah last year. They were my first workout last year. I remember the altitude was a factor a little bit.
Taylor: How was it working out against a lot of the same players?
Blossomgame: It was pretty good. We all kind of know each other through this whole process and meeting at the Combine. Once we’re all on the court, it’s very competitive. I remember working out against [Kyle] Kuzma in San Antonio and Philadelphia. It’s just high-level basketball. You have six guys total in a workout and they’re all trying to take your head off. You gotta be on your toes at all times and be really sharp. It’s a really fun process. I love it. Obviously, seeing these guys a lot, you kind of build tendencies and understand what they like to do. If they get the best of you in one spot, you’ll see them again.
Taylor: Do you prefer an individual workout or a group setting?
Blossomgame: I’m pretty good at 1-on-1, but I can also play 3-on-3. It doesn’t really matter. I like competing in a setting like that in a workout. It doesn’t really matter to me, to be honest.
Taylor: What are some things you’re hearing from teams during workouts?
Blossomgame: I’m very aware of my game and who I am as a player and my role. Everything that I know I need to work on is really consistent with what teams are telling me. I think the two areas I really want to improve on is just continuing to work on my ball handling and continuing to shoot at a high level. My shooting was a little inconsistent last season. I shot 45 percent from three my junior year and 25 percent my senior year. Just finding a balance. I’m somewhere in between that but I’m trying to find out where it is. Just staying in the gym, getting up shots and continuing to work on my ball handling is the two things I really want to get better at.
Taylor: After having been through the pre-draft process last year, have there been any surprises this year?
Blossomgame: It’s been pretty smooth sailing this year. The Combine was all the same this year. I did seven workouts [last year] so I got a good feel how the travel can be. Just learning how to take care of your body. Every workout now, you’ve got guys saying they’ve had [up to] 15 workouts in different places. Down the stretch it can get tough for guys; some guys have back to back workouts and even three in a row. Just taking care of your body; cold tub after every workout. Get some treatment. Nutrition is very important also. Just doing the right things and taking care of your body.
Taylor: Do you feel like all of the travel can prepare you for an NBA season?
Blossomgame: Definitely. The NBA season plus the playoffs could be like 90-something games. Travel can be very hectic. This process you learn some tips and stuff that you will take with you the rest of your career. Speaking for myself, as far as nutrition and recovery, I really wasn’t a big fan of icing and doing the cold tub but now I have to do it.
(Note: This interview was recorded last Friday. Blossomgame departed Indianapolis after his workout with the Pacers Thursday night at 8:25 p.m. and landed in Atlanta at 9:58 p.m. Due to numerous delays, he didn’t leave the airport in Atlanta until 12:30 a.m.)
Today was a back to back. I was in Indiana yesterday and didn’t get in until 12:30 a.m. and woke up this morning at 7 a.m. and had to be dressed and ready to go on the court at 9 a.m. Just doing things to take care of your body and find different ways to sleep. Stretch. Stay hydrated. Just prepare yourself for play the next day. It’s a long season. The travel experience right now is definitely benefitting other players as well.
Taylor: What’s Draft Day going to be like for you?
Blossomgame: I’m actually going to the draft. I’ll be there in New York City. I’m going to sit in the crowd. So I’ll be there waiting for my name to get called.
Taylor: What are your expectations for Draft Day?
Blossomgame: I am definitely expecting to be drafted, for sure. As far as where, I have no idea. You know how the draft goes. I remember watching last year and I think DraftExpress or somebody had Demetrius Jackson at like 16 and he ended up going 45. Some guys had Taurean Prince at 28 or 31 and he ended up going 12. Through this process, I really don’t pay attention to mock drafts; it’s just distractions. That’s an easy way to get sidetracked from the main goal and that is winning each day and just going out here and having fun. I think one thing we fail to realize and do during this process is understanding the opportunity we have and have fun with it. Not many people get to do this and not many people get workouts. So we just got to give thanks and be appreciative we’re right here. Not many people have this opportunity so just soak it in and take it all in and be very appreciative of it.
Taylor: Are you going to be with anyone in particular at the Draft?
Blossomgame: Probably my family and my AAU coach and then some family friends.
Taylor: Once you get drafted, will it be a relief for you know that you can finally lock in with just one team?
Blossomgame: I’ll definitely be relieved, that’s a great way to put it. I’m sure a lot of people will be relieved. This three and a half week period that we’ve been through with all of these workouts have been very tough. Guys are ready to hear their name called. I’ve been counting down every day. I look at my calendar every day. It’s definitely going to be a special night. For myself and a lot of my friends, this process has put a lot of hard work into, it’s definitely going to be great to see my dreams come true and also theirs.
Sources: Bulls, Knicks Have Interest in Josh Jackson
The Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, who are fielding trade offers for their high-profile players, both have shown interest in draft prospect Josh Jackson, sources tell ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.
The Bulls have the 16th overall pick and the Knicks are slotted at No. 8, so either team likely would have to trade to a higher spot in the first round in order to select Jackson, who widely is projected as a top-five pick.
Does Kentucky Have Three Freshman Lottery Picks?
Kentucky could have a third trio of lottery picks under John Calipari, writes Michael Scotto.
Will Kentucky freshmen Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo become John Calipari’s third trio of Wildcats to become NBA lottery picks in the same draft?
Kentucky had Karl-Anthony Towns (1), Willie Cauley-Stein (6), Trey Lyles (12) and Devin Booker (13) selected in the lottery last season. Kentucky had John Wall (1), DeMarcus Cousins (5) and Patrick Patterson (14) selected in the lottery in 2010.
As of today, Monk and Fox are considered top 10 projected picks while Adebayo falls between the late lottery and late teens range according to numerous league executives.
Kentucky beat Hofstra in the second game of the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center. After the game, coach John Calipari was asked what progress he’s seen from his freshman trio.
“Malik is playing and trying to do the things we’re asking him to do, only thing is he’s got to get fouled more,” Calipari replied. “Don’t go to the basket trying to avoid everybody and flip the ball, get fouled. De’Aaron Fox, way better, yet, didn’t play with the speed that we want him to all the time and some dumb fouls. Bam, you’re seeing him come into his own, you just see it game to game. I think they’re doing fine.”
Monk leads the team in scoring (19.4) and has proven to be a knockdown shooter from the field overall (.477), beyond the arc (.385) and at the foul line (.870).
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 11, 2016
One general manager agreed with Calipari’s assessment.
“[Monk] is a shooter and very athletic,” an Eastern Conference general manager told Basketball Insiders. “He’s an undersized two-guard. Can he make plays off the dribble to excel in the role as an undersized two?”
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 11, 2016
According to Monk, there’s one specific part of his game that’s grown the most since his first day at Kentucky.
“Probably just consistency,” Monk said. “That’s what coach Cal talks about all the time. He talks about that every day in practice.”
Consistency isn’t the only thing Calipari is preaching in practice to help his freshman trio grow and prepare the Wildcats for a run at the NCAA championship down the road.
“Coming in here, there’s a couple things you know,” Calipari said. “You better bring it every day in practice because there are other guys who can play. This isn’t just about you shooting balls, this is about getting better and that’s why you come here. You challenge yourself to see, ‘How good could I be as a player?’ Then, the second thing is, the other team, they’re coming at you every game. If you’re cool, like ‘I’m cool, I run with my thumbs up,’ and stuff, you can’t come to Kentucky. You’d get killed.”
Thus far, Kentucky has only faced two teams ranked in the top 25. In an early mid-November test against Michigan State, Kentucky prevailed easily. However, a loss to UCLA earlier this month proved Kentucky isn’t unstoppable.
“We’re going to be every team’s Super Bowl,” Monk said. “Coach Cal said that from the jump. If we don’t bring it, we’re going to get beat. Every game we’ve got to bring it and be focused from the jump.”
This year’s potential draft class is loaded with freshman point guards led by Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, N.C. State’s Dennis Smith and Fox.
Fultz is considered the top prospect in the draft. Fultz is 12th in the country in points per game (22.8) while shooting efficiently from the field (.497) and beyond the arc (.487). He also fills the stat sheet on a nightly basis with rebounding (6.9), assists (6.1), steals (2.1) and blocks (1.2).
Ball ranks second in the country in assists per game (8.8) and has four double-doubles. Despite receiving criticism for his shooting form, reminiscent of Kevin Martin, Ball has shot well from the field (.560) and downtown (.453). He’s a major reason why UCLA is 10-0 and leading the Pac-12 Conference.
Smith may be the most explosive athlete of the freshman point guards and is the leading scorer for the Wolfpack (18.3).
Fox is a blur in the open court and a hounding defender on the ball. Much of Kentucky’s offensive success begins with Fox, who sets the tone from the opening tip as a playmaker. Fox ranks ninth in the country in assists per game (6.9). However, he has one glaring weakness in his game.
“Shooting is so important in today’s game, especially for point guards,” one Eastern Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “Look at Michael Carter-Williams or Elfrid Payton. Fox needs to improve in that area. Monk has the shot already.”
Fox needs to adjust his elbow positioning and release point. These are correctable habits with instruction, repetition and confidence. Defenders go under ball screens and leave Fox open knowing he’s hesitant to shoot. If Fox can force defenders to respect his jumper and go over ball screens, he can use his explosiveness to attack the paint more easily.
“He has good positional size for a point guard,” an Eastern Conference general manager told Basketball Insiders. “He’s got a good motor, is very athletic and is a good passer. He’s developing as a shooter and needs to develop his body.”
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 11, 2016
“Fox is a jet with pretty good size for a point guard,” one Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “He doesn’t shoot the ball well, which is an issue, but he’s got a chance to be pretty good.”
Similar to Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan, Fox and Adebayo have become a dangerous lob combination on the break and in pick-and-roll sets.
At first glance, Adebayo is reminiscent of a young Dwight Howard thanks to his broad shoulders and physical physique.
“He’s the readiest (of the trio) athletically and physically,” an Eastern Conference general manager told Basketball Insiders. “His offensive skill set is still very much in the development stage.”
That same general manager compared Adebayo to a young Shawn Kemp physically.
“Adebayo has a great body, but is just so raw,” one Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “I question his basketball IQ and instincts a bit. He’s an athlete with an NBA body. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses as the year goes on.”
Adebayo’s post game is a work in progress as he continues developing his up-and-under and jump hook moves around the restricted area.
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 11, 2016
While most of the executives polled for this story currently have Adebayo on the fringe lottery to late teens range, Calipari has developed other big men over the years who have saved their best as March approaches.
“I told them twenty times in this game ‘I’m not coaching you for this game,’ we’re up twenty-five, what do you want me to do, sit and cross my legs?” Coach Calipari said. “I’m not coaching you for this game, this is for the next two, the next three, the next five. And what we’re doing right now, we can’t win playing this way.”
Now the real challenges for Kentucky begin with upcoming matchups against North Carolina and Louisville.
“This team has a long way to go,” Calipari said. “We’re young, we show it. We’re talented. We do some good things in stretches and then we do some bad things in stretches. We need to get in a gym and we need to get to the camp part of our season, which is two and three-a-days. They get time to sleep, to eat; we give them video time, the phone time. They’ve got to have that or they’ll climb walls, so you’ve got to let them do some of that. But, the reality of it is, let’s get down to getting better. These guys, every one of them, they’ve gotten better.”
With the fall semester wrapping up, Calipari is as excited for the winter as he was the first day of practice.
“I am so happy because Wednesday will be our last finals,” Calipari said. “I don’t have to worry about anything academically, nothing. We’ll go 29 straight days, four-a-days. I’ve got nothing to worry about except basketball.”
While finals signal the end of classes, for now, the education on the court for Kentucky’s freshman trio is only going to intensify as they attempt to lead the Wildcats to a national championship and hit the jackpot in the draft as Calipari’s third trio to be selected in the lottery.