In 1999, Wally Szczerbiak, a little-known forward from diminutive the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio, captured the attention of the basketball world after scoring 43 of his team's 59 points in an upset victory over Washington in the NCAA Tournament. With the whole nation watching, "Wally World" went on to score 30 points a game in three tournament contests, the best scoring average mark in the tournament.
Later that year, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected Szczerbiak with the sixth pick in the draft, in part based on his amazing tournament performance. Moral of the story: Doing well in the NCAA Tournament helps your draft stock.
Okay, so Szczerbiak wasn't exactly a flash in the pan; he was scoring 24 points a game before the tournament and had a reputation as one of the nation's top shooters. But there's little doubt that Szczerbiak used his tournament performance as a springboard up draft charts everywhere to get him to the sixth slot.
Although nobody this year has put on any Szczerbiak-esque performances, a number of prospects have greatly improved their draft position through their play in the tournament. Here's a look at a few of them:
- Kirk Snyder, G, Nevada: The 6-foot-6 Snyder, who averaged 19 points and six rebounds for the Wolf Pack before the tournament, was already being mentioned as a possible NBA prospect thanks to a pair of stellar regular season games against Connecticut (22 points) and Kansas (29 points, nine rebounds). NBA scouts, however, started taking even more notice during Nevada's Sweet 16 run, which saw the Wolf Pack demolish Gonzaga and give Final Four participant Georgia Tech all it could handle
During the run, Snyder replicated his regular season stats against much tougher tournament foes, knocking down 19 points a game, including an impressive 18 point, nine rebound performance against Gonzaga in the second round. At 6-foot-6, 225 lbs., Snyder possesses ideal size for an NBA shooting guard and has the scorer's mentality to play the position.
Snyder is also a very solid rebounding guard with very good range on his jump shot, as evidenced by his 35-percent three-point shooting. Additionally, scouts have to love his confident swagger. Unintimidated by any opponent, Snyder's attitude is a big reason why Nevada got as far as it did in the tournament.
- Luol Deng, F, Duke: A coveted NBA prospect since high school, Deng, who averaged 15 points and seven rebounds for the Blue Devils this season, exhibited consistency rarely seen in freshmen by notching double digit scoring totals in 24 of Duke's 29 regular-season contests. He entered the NCAA Tournament on a tear, scoring in double figures in 13 of his last 14 games.
Deng continued his hot play in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 18 points and six rebounds for the Atlanta bracket champion Blue Devils, including 19 points in a narrow three-point win against an upstart Xavier team to advance to the Final Four. For his efforts, Deng was named Most Outstanding Player in the region.
At 6-foot-8, Deng has the athleticism and skills to do virtually anything on the court, making him a can't-miss NBA prospect. Additionally, Deng's versatility would allow him to play small forward in the pros, where his athleticism and seven-foot wingspan would give other teams fits. More importantly, however, Deng has showed intangible abilities in powering the Blue Devils past Illinois and Xavier with significant leadership. On a team filled with star power, Deng has quietly become the Blue Devils' go-to guy in the clutch despite the fact that he is just a freshman.
Much has been said about Deng's journey to the Gothic Wonderland, and many sources believe he will stay at least another year at Duke. Should he decide to declare for the draft, however, Deng may have played himself into a top-10 pick.
Other players who likely improved their stock include Kansas forward Wayne Simien, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound double-double machine. Because of his size, Simien is an absolute monster in the low post, and he is beginning to show off a greatly improved face-up game. Xavier guard Lionel Chalmers also looked impressive during his Elite Eight run, showing a much improved ability to use his quickness to get to the hoop for easy buckets. Lastly, Georgia Tech's 6-foot-3 point guard Jarrett Jack already possesses all the attributes necessary to be a successful NBA player, and his 29-point, nine-rebound, six-assist effort against Kansas proved that Jack is indeed capable of scoring in bunches. Those, coupled with his indomitable spirit and passion, should make him a very desirable NBA player when he decides to declare for the draft.
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