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Kelly Oubre is Prepared to Take Flight

As the 2015 NBA Draft approaches, former Kansas Jayhawk Kelly Oubre works to improve his stock.

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Depending on who you ask, Kelly Oubre may lack polish. But in his own right, the former Kansas Jayhawk still shines.

Traditionally, the Chicago-based NBA Draft Combine has been where the roads begin to diverge. A marginal prospect takes a wrong turn and suddenly, he may find himself off course of being a first round pick.

For many, after the combine, the dream of playing in the NBA remains just that—a dream. But for a special few, the combine is an epic opportunity. Seize the eyes, attention and imagination of the basketball watching public, and the future may belong to you.

With his impressive marks in both the vertical leap (37.5”) and standing vertical (34.5”), his combination of height, range and gliding agility have him firmly as a middle of the pack first-round player. At this point, the southpaw believes that effort and intensity is what he will contribute most immediately on the pro level, but his soft touch and ideal physical tools are what’s most intriguing about the 19-year-old.

“My length is definitely something that can cause problems, and I’m still growing,” Oubre said. “I’m a student of the game and definitely working on my offensive game is something that I take pride in. I want to be a two-way player, and that’s the wave of players, teams need a guy that can be a two-way player, score the ball and play defense. That’s something I bring to the table.”

Another thing he brings to the table, according to him, is his versatility on the defensive end. When asked how many positions he could see himself defending on the NBA level, Oubre’s response displayed his confidence.

“I feel like I can guard four,” Oubre answered.

“One through four,” he said certainly, before pausing and thinking about it.

“Even if I need to, guard the five,” he finished.

Having to replace the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins in Bill Self’s rotation was not an easy void for Oubre to fill, but once he began to learn the college game, he absolutely showed the flashes and potential of a lottery pick. According to the small forward, he met with 10 NBA teams to discuss his attributes and what he sees for himself as a professional.

“I met with ten teams so far, a lot of great teams,” Oubre said. “Off the top of the dome, I can’t tell you all 10, but teams like Denver, Toronto, Boston, Knicks, Oklahoma City.”

For the most part, for NBA teams, the combine is about doing due diligence and getting a feel for the mental makeup of a young prospect. But if there is one thing that a prospect can get out of the entire process, it’s knowing that there are at least a few teams that are interested in their services. And best believe, when a team is interested, there will be eyeballs watching.

As Oubre begins scheduling individual workouts with teams, he knows that well, just like he knows about the areas of his game that need to improve.

“Becoming a more consistent shooter,” he said, obviously aware of the fact that as a freshman one of his biggest faults—despite his soft touch—was allowing charging defenders or his posture to affect his release points. “I’ve tweaked a couple things in my shot that pretty much have showed drastic change.”

“Attacking the rim, getting to the lane, and getting to the free-throw line is something that I’m pretty good at and will continue to get better at,” he added.

Paul Pierce immediately comes to mind as a former Jayhawks small forward whose offensive repertoire, even early in his career, was something that consistently kept defenders guessing. Oubre is not regarded as an offensive dynamo or the second coming of Pierce, but he certainly has confidence in his offensive game.

Modeling his game after the likes of James Harden, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard, he seems certain that the key for him finding success in the NBA will be to impact both ends of the basketball court.

“I look at James Harden a lot,” he said. “I like his game… I love his game actually. I watch a lot of things that he does on the offensive end, and guys like Kawhi Leanord and Jimmy Butler, I look at them as being two-way players because that’s the new wave of guards and I want to be something like that.”

When asked if he could see himself scoring 50 points in an NBA game like Harden, he confidently responded, “Yeah, I have that in me.”

Another thing he wouldn’t necessarily mind being? A player for either Phil Jackson’s Knicks or Pat Riley’s Miami HEAT. Oubre met with each of the two executives and, for a moment, sounded like a junior high schooler whose crush just told him that they liked him, too.

“Coach Phil…” Oubre said. “He’s definitely a legend and it was an honor to sit in front of that group of people,” he said, citing the other members of the Knicks front office that made the trip to Chicago (including assistant general manager Allan Houston and general manager Steve Mills).

“He’s another legend who’s coached greats in the past,” Oubre said of Riley. “Just seeing what he knows about the game of basketball is something that I would never take for granted and I listened to every little thing that he said. I asked him a couple questions also to see if I could pick his brain about some things and about some things I may need to know about my future.”

And for Oubre, that is what his entire experience at the combine was like—the future.

“Any situation in this draft would be great for me,” Oubre said. “God has a plan for me and I feel like he’s going to land me in the best place possible for me and my career. I can thrive in a lot of systems because I bring the intangibles to the game of basketball. I’m still growing, but I feel like I’m going to get better as time goes.”

As for the doubters and the misconceptions, Oubre seemed mature beyond his years when asked to address them. Without getting defensive, his candor and tone were both indicative of a young player who’s not only hoping for an opportunity to play in the NBA, but one who feels his true calling is fulfilling his potential.

“Some people say I’m lazy and some people say that I don’t work hard all the time,” he admitted. “That’s not true. This year at Kansas I may have come off lazy because I really didn’t understand some of things that I was doing, so it kind of caused me to slow down.”

These were sentiments that Self, his former coach, would certainly agree. Despite being touted as a somewhat adequate replacement for the departed Wiggins, Oubre saw his minutes and role diminish mightily during the early part of the 2014-15 Jayhawks season.

But what is more noteworthy than the early speed bump is the marked improvement that the freshman showed as the season progressed.

“I want to be a perfectionist,” Oubre said about what he is striving for on the NBA level.

Perfection may not be attainable, but with his size, athleticism, positive demeanor and confidence, rising up the draft boards and cracking the top 10 is certainly within the realm of possibility.

As the eyes of the basketball watching public converge on the Combine, some prospects depart with a defeated reality of knowing that they have failed to make a mark and will continue an upward climb toward achieving their dream.

Others walk away, tall and proud, knowing that their names will continue to be mentioned quite often as we inch closer toward the 2015 NBA Draft. Oubre is among the latter. And as we approach the night where dreams will come true, remember: hawks fly.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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