Attending the PIT is one part of the process

For a pro prospect whose chances of making the NBA are solid but not definite, an outstanding college career and a good performance at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament is simply a springboard. Choosing an agent, fielding offers, getting tryouts and staying in shape are all part of the post-college, pre-professional career process.

During a given season, according to NBA Assistant Director of Scouting Ryan Blake, players in NCAA Divisions I, II and III, the NAIA, junior colleges, high school and from other countries are observed and evaluated. Except for the truly elite prospects expected to be picked in the NBA draft lottery (the first 13 choices), players with a chance to play professionally aren’t that far apart. Scouts around the globe may already have their opinions, but a strong performance in the spring and summer can boost a prospect from hardly-known to draft pick or NBA roster occupant.

The Portsmouth tournament is exclusive to college seniors, and the 64 participants are carefully selected based on who the scouts want to get a closer look at. A bad performance in Portsmouth can hurt a player’s draft stock, but the scenario is geared to reveal players’ talent, not eliminate their chances of making the NBA.

Until this season, an event in Phoenix also showcased players for pro scouts. But when that event folded, Portsmouth and the NBA’s pre-draft camp for elite prospects in Chicago became the two premier opportunities for players to perform for professional scouts.

A good performance in Portsmouth, like the one Rolan Roberts turned in last week, could earn a player a spot in Chicago.

Bruce Weber, Roberts’ coach at Southern Illinois, said Roberts is on a waiting list of about 90 players being considered for the June 4-7 camp. He said about 60 will play in Chicago.

Blake said invitations to the camp depend first on which elite high school and collegiate prospects elect to skip the camp. If players pull out, other spots can open up. But there are consequences for the prospects that do avoid the tournaments and camps.

“Scouts want to see guys who want to play,” Blake said. “There’s a problem with guys pulling out. It can really hurt a player.”

After the top 20 or so players, Blake said, the talent is somewhat even. A player slated as a low first-round pick who skips Portsmouth may not get invited to Chicago. On draft day in late June, he may get picked late in the second round or not at all, as was the case with Loren Woods, Alvin Jones and Jeff Trepagnier last season.

For the players that do excel in Portsmouth but aren’t invited to Chicago, the options are plentiful.

The first step is to choose an agent, preferably one who will work to find opportunities for his players. In the U.S., the NBDL, USBL, ABA and new CBA are alternatives to the NBA. Overseas opportunities are available in several Eastern European countries, Asia and the Middle East.

Those opportunities do lead to the NBA. Orlando’s Darrell Armstrong, Toronto’s Chris Childs and Utah’s John Starks are three of the more successful NBA players who started their careers elsewhere.

“If you play consistently well, believe me, you’ll get noticed,” said Derrick T. Powell, who represents former Syracuse star Lawrence Moten and former Maryland star Duane Simpkins.

“Generally each year about 20 guys will get picked up from the minor leagues,” said John D. Thompson of nbadraftreport .com. “Of those maybe four will sign on for the whole year. It used to be rare, but now it’s a common thing for up to maybe five or six guys to get hooked up there and stay.”

Powell said the choice between going overseas and playing in U.S leagues depends on a player’s goals.

“I tell all my guys ‘you need to decide what you want to do,'” Powell said. “‘Do you want to play basketball or chase money?’ Those two don’t intertwine until you get to a certain level.”

The money is better and more immediate overseas, for both players and agents. The exposure and chances of getting called up to the NBA midseason are better in the U.S.

After Portsmouth, which takes place immediately following the conclusion of the NCAA tournament, there are about five weeks before the Chicago camp. In the meantime, players must stay in shape by lifting weights and running, and they need to hone the rough edges of their game.

In the summer, NBA teams invite rookies and free agents to play in their summer leagues. Strong play on a summer league team could lead to a roster spot.

Tommy Adams expects not to play in Chicago, but thinks he’ll find a summer league home.

“I think [going that route] is going to benefit me in the long run, Adams said. “I don’t have anything coming to me easy, I’ll have to work for everything I get and it will keep me working hard. Once I get [to the NBA], I won’t forget what I had to go through.”

Even if a player has to toil overseas or in smaller leagues for a few seasons, they’re still earning a living playing basketball. With the right combination of hard work, perseverance and breaks, a not-so-highly-touted player can live his NBA dream.

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