The NBA draft process is a once in a lifetime experience for those who go through it. While there are many broad similarities between the experiences of players during this process like hectic travel schedules and grueling pre-draft training, each player takes something different away from the process. I decided to talk to ten different players eligible for this year’s draft to ask them all the same set of questions to use as a means of comparing their experiences.
Up today are two players who honed their games in Tennessee for the past few seasons: Will Barton from Memphis and Festus Ezeli from Vanderbilt. Barton was Memphis’ most consistent player for the past two seasons, and last year was a first team all-Conference USA selection after averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds for the Tigers while shooting an astounding 50 percent for a two guard. Barton made a name for himself through his relentlessness on the court and ability to do a lot of things well, before getting drafted by the Trail Blazers in the second round of the Draft.
Ezeli was one of the most imposing players in all of college basketball last season. Standing 6-11 and with 265 pounds of muscle, Ezeli created matchup problems for everyone in the post. While he struggled to find his rhythm early on after a knee injury, Ezeli was key to the Commodores’ SEC Championship win over Kentucky. In that game he had 17 points and 6 rebounds while neutralizing Anthony Davis, and performances like those are what led Ezeli to being picked 30th overall by the Warriors.
Dime: Where did you do your pre-draft training?
Will Barton: I trained in Houston, Texas with John Lucas.
Festus Ezeli: I was in Santa Barbara working out at UCSB and Peak Performance Project (P3).
Dime: Describe an average day during pre-draft training.
WB: Got up early in the morning and would go to the gym where we had Yoga first thing then we had our first basketball workout. After the first basketball workout, we had lunch then weights and after weights we had our second basketball workout and some conditioning.
FE: Wake up around 8:00, get breakfast and then go workout at about 10:00 for an hour and a half at P3 Sports Science where we would lift weights and stuff. After P3 we would eat lunch, take a nap, and go back for the evening session around 5:00 then eat dinner and do it again.
Dime: What was your diet like the last two months?
WB: I could really eat anything I wanted.
FE: I talked with the nutritionist in California, and she made the reference that our bodies are like Lamborghinis. She said ‘You put the best fuel in Lamborghinis, right? So that they can perform the best.’ She said it was the same thing with our bodies. We had to put the right type of food in our bodies. We cut out red meat, can’t eat white rice, white bread, or white pasta. We ate a lot a lot of vegetables and fruits and just tried to eat as healthy as we could so we could perform the best that we could. After a few days I kind of got used to it actually so I didn’t mind the diet.
Dime: What area of your game do you think you improved the most during the last two months?
WB: I think I got better in every phase of the game, there is not one area I think I improved over any other, just got better overall.
FE: Offensively of course. Scoring off the block especially, my senior year with my knee injury I struggled with scoring at times. In Santa Barbara they helped me get comfortable with performing my moves again and getting my explosion back. Got a few new moves, improved my face-up game as well.
Dime: What do you think the one thing is about you that stood out to teams during these workouts?
WB: My ability to score the basketball, my versatility, and my competitiveness. Those are the three things that stood out about me.
FE: They loved my personality cause I’m a really high-energy person and a high-energy player. They have seen me play so many times in game action so they know I’m a defense-first guy and they know I rebound and block shots, they know about my game. So I think getting a chance to show these teams my personality and show how hard I work and the energy I bring to a workout is the thing that stood out most that they may have not known about.
Dime: Who was the toughest player you had to guard in a workout?
WB: I really didn’t have anyone who was too tough to guard. I felt like I did well against anybody.
FE: The toughest player, I really don’t know. There was a lot of tough guys I played against like Fab Melo, Miles Plumlee, and Tyler Zeller, so I don’t know if any of those guys was tougher than any other cause those guys are all extremely skilled.
Dime: What was the weirdest interview question you got?
WB: I can’t really think of one honestly.
FE: One of the scouts asked me about my mental toughness and I told him ‘Yes, I’m very mentally tough.’ Then he brought up a practice from about three years ago and he said that at the end of the practice we were running for something we did wrong and I had my head in the trash can after it. Then he asked what I had to say about that since I was mentally tough. That kind of caught me off guard because I’ve never thrown up in my four years at Vandy so that question kind of stumped me. I told him I’d never thrown up and that I didn’t remember that happening but if it did happen that was three years ago, and there is a reason why I’m at the Combine now and at these workouts is because I’ve gotten better.
Dime: What was your worst flight experience?
WB: Going to Milwaukee I was in the airport all day long because my flight kept getting cancelled or delayed so I hated that.
FE: I can’t remember which one because they all kind of mixed together in my head now, but I remember being on one of the small planes and there was a ton of turbulence which was really scary. That scared the heck out of me.
Dime: What’s the nicest hotel you stayed in?
WB: The hotel in Miami. It had everything with it, it was a huge hotel, the rooms were big, and the hotel was just really nice overall.
FE: I liked a lot of the hotels, they were all really nice, the teams definitely took care of us which I liked.
Dime: What was your favorite memory from the whole process?
WB: I don’t know if I have one favorite memory, but just the process as a whole. Working out, travelling, meeting with these teams, and meeting new people, I really liked everything about it so the whole process was great.
FE: I think it was about a span of four workouts where I was working out with Fab Melo all in a row. We hung out a lot and I got to know him really well and he’s a really cool guy so getting to know him was a cool experience. It was really interesting to get on the court with him and compete and then afterward we could hang out and be friends.
Dime: What is the funniest story you have from the process?
WB: I heard one time, I think it was with Orlando, I didn’t work out for them but I just heard this from some guys I worked out with somewhere else. At the time they didn’t have any GM or coach, so there was nobody running the team and the scouts and other people ran the workout and after they had that workout all of those guys were fired.
FE: I can’t really say cause it’s kind of inappropriate for this interview.
Dime: What was your least favorite part of the whole process?
WB: I didn’t have a least favorite part, but being away from my family was very tough.
FE: Hopping from city to city and that whole flying thing. Each flight I took was about three hours and you would get to one city at night then work out in the morning, so you didn’t have much time for breaks or anything.
Dime: If you could change anything about the way you went about the last two months, is there anything you would change?
WB: No I wouldn’t change anything.
FE: Nah, I thought it was a good process. I left everything out there and gave it my all so I’m happy with it.
Dime: What’s the best advice or best lesson you got from someone during this process?
WB: I really didn’t have any.
FE: I was talking to some executives from Orlando and they were telling me that the best advice to give someone who wants to be in the League for a long time is knowing your role. A lot of guys are out of the NBA not because they aren’t talented enough but because they don’t buy into their role and try to do too much which makes them look like a worse player. So they said to do what you do best and do it well all the time and you will be successful. I’m looking forward to doing just that.
Dime: If you had to give advice to someone who goes through this process next year, what would you say to them?
WB: I would say to be as mentally tough as possible because the process is really tough. Go in there with a great personality and work hard every day to get better and to achieve your goals.
FE: Although the process is taxing, I really enjoyed it because I got to go around and showcase my talents. A lot of people complained that it was very hectic because of all the travelling but at the same time there are also people out there who are dying for an opportunity like that so you have to appreciate that and know how lucky you are to be in that position. That’s what helped get me through my workouts because I knew how many people wanted to be in my spot and how great it was to be in that spot.
How will Festus Ezeli and Will Barton fare in the NBA?
Photo via AP
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