With the advent of websites like Synergy and more advanced connectivity in basketball scouting, there are very few players who can fly under the radar anymore. It used to be that mid-major players were questioned about whether their skills would hold up against higher levels of competition, but with the success of guys like Damian Lillard, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, much of those concerns have been alleviated. However, it is still likely that mid-major players have been seen less in person than those at their high major counterparts.
That makes the draft workouts hold extra importance for guys like Belmont’s Ian Clark and Iona’s Lamont “MoMo” Jones, who may be performing in front of a team’s personnel for the first time in these settings. I caught up with the respective conference players of the year in the Ohio Valley Conference (Clark, who shared the honors with Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan) and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (Jones) to discuss what going through the draft process was like.
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Dime: Where did you do your predraft training?
MoMo Jones: Impact in Las Vegas with Joe Abunassar. Abdul Gaddy, Khalif Wyatt, Erik Murphy, Peyton Siva, Kenny Boynton, Christian Eyenga who was with the Cavs, Marcus Fizer, Mike Snaer are all out there. So there’s a lot of good guys out there, and you know recently a lot of the pros have come back like Kyle Lowry, Sebastian Telfair. It’s been a really competitive group of guys out there.
Ian Clark: I trained in Santa Barbara with Drew Hanlen of Pure Sweat Basketball and the Peak Performance Project (P3). It was really good to have Drew training me (Hanlen and Clark were college teammates for three years at Belmont) because I have known Drew for so long and it wasn’t a new relationship I had to build with him. I know he could help me reach me peak, and knowing him and knowing how straightforward he is with everything really benefited me. He would always give me constructive criticism, whether good or bad. It was really all I could have hoped for in a player-trainer relationship.
Dime: Describe an average day of predraft training.
MJ: Average day. Wake up at 8:00, eat breakfast, on the court at 9:15. Go through about two hours of primarily skill work then right after that you lift for about an hour and a half. After the lifting you eat lunch and chill for a minute before playing pickup. The pros and everybody, we all play pickup together, and then we get up extra shots after that. The day is over about 5:30 or 6:00, then we go back and rest so we can do it all again the next day.
IC: Wake up about 8. Have an on-court workout with Drew in the morning where he would take me through different stations, dribbling, shooting, pick-and-roll and all that stuff. We did that for about an hour and a half. After that we could go eat. Then after eating we’d have weight training at P3 where a lot of the guys stationed out of Santa Barbara go to lift and everything, which is about an hour and a half also. Then we eat again, and some days we have two-a-days where me and Drew will get back in the gym and just put up shots. Most days it is two workouts, some days it’s three workouts.
Dime: What has your diet been like the last two months?
MJ: Oh man, I feel like I’ve been eating like a bird. Turkey burgers, dry vegetables, a lot of fruit. A lot of fruit, lots of water. And more fruit. For lunch I eat turkey burgers and for dinner I eat maybe some sautÃ©ed beef with green vegetables and a little orange or something. And that’s it.
IC: We actually had a nutritionist. So I have changed a lot of my eating habits that were bad in college. Being a college student and always on the go, I didn’t always eat the best. So I ate a lot of fruits and vegetables, a lot of berries. I tried to stay away from fast food as much as possible, not a lot of dairy products, and A LOT of water. Nothing fried either, everything grilled. That’s something that I am trying to keep up even as this process winds down.
Dime: What area of your game do you think you improved the most during the last two months?
MJ: Pick-n-roll by far. I think with the pick-n-roll, you have to read your players. You have to know where everybody likes the ball, what reads to make, and what you can or cannot on the pick-n-roll. I think that has made me a more even-keeled player and improved my understanding of the game.
IC: Ballhandling and ballscreens. It is one thing I have been working on with Drew day in and day out. In college it wasn’t really my role to bring the ball up a lot, last year I did it more than any other year. I know that if I want to play at the next level I probably have to be a combo guard who has the ability to get the team started in the offense. So I’ve been working on being more comfortable with the ball in my hands with pressure and making the right reads off of ballscreens. Learning how to attack downhill and read the different defenses they throw at me.
Dime: What is the one thing that stood out about you to teams in workout settings like this?
MJ: I think I thrived in the three-on-three pick-n-roll. I also talk so much, it’s just natural to me, I love to talk so I think talking and getting everybody where they need to be and getting everybody riled up, bringing that energy really stood out.
IC: Probably my shooting ability and my motor. I always bring a lot of energy to all of the workouts and try to be vocal, even though I am more of a lead by example type of guy, I have been trying to talk more and keep the energy high while doing what I do best and knocking down shots.
Dime: Who’s the toughest player you had to guard in a workout or during your pre-draft training?
MJ: Hmmm, toughest player I had to guard. That’s a hard question. Khalif Wyatt, who was training with me in Vegas. He’s deceptively quick. He’s the guy that looks slow, but he gets you because he is slow but he knows what to do with it. So you think he is going to do something because he is so slow and you think in your head you know what he is going to do, and then he will turn around and do something totally opposite. He can really shoot the ball, he can really dribble, he’s really crafty and can find little seams in the defense to get his shot off.
IC: Probably Tim Hardaway Jr. I had to work out with him in Milwaukee. He’s a very talented player, who I watched play a couple of times this year on TV and at the national championship game, but he could really shoot the ball so it was tough to guard him.
Dime: What’s the weirdest interview question a team has asked you?
MJ: “What kind of girls do you like?” That is the weirdest question I’ve gotten and I responded “I’ve got a fiancÃ©!”
IC: I really can’t think of one honestly that was too out there.
Dime: What was the worst traveling experience or worst flying experience you had during this process?
MJ: I would say going from Vegas to L.A., L.A. to Washington, Washington to New York, and New York to Vegas. I want to say all that was a matter of four days.
IC: It had to be on my way back from Portland to Santa Barbara. I got delayed twice and they ended up sending my bags to Utah, so I had to wait an extra hour and a half after my flight landed for my bag. I got into Santa Barbara about 12:15 a.m. and was waiting there till about 2:00 a.m. for my bag to get there.
Dime: Do people ever recognize you in an airport or come up to you and ask if you are a basketball player?
MJ: Yeah a lot of people just kind of look. It’s just kind of like you know why they are looking but you don’t want to say to them like “Oh, what are you looking at?” or “Hi, my name is so and so.” So you just kind of keep walking and people will come up to you as the time goes on and say, “Hey you’re MoMo Jones.” Then you just kind of chop it up and things like that, but it’s a great feeling, it really is.
IC: Some people do. I usually walk around with a Belmont basketball t-shirt so they kind of know where the school is and say good season or something like that if they see me. Sometimes I can get through without being noticed though.
Dime: How many workouts did you have?
MJ: Like five or six. Washington, Boston, Detroit, Brooklyn, Milwaukee.
IC: I had seven workouts. Houston, Milwaukee, Boston, Chicago, Portland, Phoenix, and Golden State, and then I have an eighth workout with the Clippers this week.
Dime: Was there ever a point where you woke up one day and didn’t remember what city you were in or what day it was cause of all the traveling?
MJ: Yeah. That happened to me when I was in Boston. It’s definitely a weird feeling to have that happen to you.
IC: No, I haven’t had that happen to me. I have woken up and not remembered what day it was, but never forgot what city I was in.
Dime: What’s the nicest hotel you’ve stayed in?
MJ: It’s called the Aloft in New York City, it’s on 125th Street.
IC: The one in I want to say Houston, I think.
Dime: What’s your favorite memory from the whole process?
MJ: I think my favorite memory is going against Christian Eyenga when we were all at Impact and playing pickup. All the pros come in and look at us like “all these little guys are in here” and stuff like that, so it got heated between me and Christian. It was game point and we are coming up the court and talking back and forth and I keep telling him, “It’s game over. Game over.” Then I came up right at the top of the key near the sideline and just nailed a three. Game over. Then I just started talking junk.
IC: Probably being in Boston and meeting Jason Terry in the locker room. He was there at the facility getting treatment while we were doing the workout, and we got a chance to come in and talk to him. It was the moment for me where I realized that this is a lifestyle now, and that is one of the biggest things I took out of this whole process. So to be able to talk to him and get his perspective on a lot of different things was really cool.
Dime: What’s your least favorite part of the process?
MJ: I don’t think there is any least favorite part. You know being away from my son is the hardest part, not getting to see him every day, but other than that I don’t dislike any of the process.
IC: Traveling by far. It is the hardest part I think. The workouts are fun because you are out there doing what you do best and that is playing basketball. Flying in and out of different time zones and always trying to catch up on sleep is really difficult.
Dime: What’s the funniest story you have?
MJ: Man, I have a lot. I would say when we were playing three-on-three full court out at Impact, and I had to go against Khalif Wyatt. I want to say that about seven or eight times in a row, I Euro-stepped him from every angle. From the three-point line to the foul line, just going full speed, I just Euro-stepped him all over. All he could say was, “Lord have mercy, lord have mercy” and he just kept screaming that. I thought that was just hilarious.
The other guys on his team were yelling at him to play some defense. Like I said before, he’s slow but he’s not really actually slow, and he just couldn’t really recover from the first step. He just kept laughing ’cause he was shifting so many different ways and nothing was working. It was a real funny moment.
IC: I don’t really have a funny story I can think of.
Dime: If you could change anything about the way you went about this whole process, is there anything you would change?
MJ: Nothing, nothing.
IC: Nothing at all, except one thing. My first workout was Houston and the one thing I would change is making sure that I’m in shape for that first workout. Since it was the first one I didn’t know what to expect, and in Houston it was a lot of going up and down, full-court stuff. I think for my first one just make sure I was in better shape, but I feel like after my Houston workout I was able to withstand all the other workouts.
Dime: What’s the best advice someone gave you coming into this process or during the process itself?
MJ: The best advice is just to take everything in. Just be humble and listen to everything. Whether you think what people are saying is right or wrong, just take everything in and listen. There are bits and pieces of everything that somebody says that you can take in the process and form some type of core of what is needed.
IC: The best advice I got was when I was in Chicago and I talked to Nazr Mohammed. He told me that this is a business, and that’s what it is at the end of the day. It’s not just what you do on the court and how you perform there, it is what you do off the court and how you carry yourself. He said the interviews we have with the teams are very important and to treat it seriously like a job interview. You want to have fun with the process, but make sure you don’t take it lightly.
Dime: If you were advising someone who had to go through this next year, what would you tell them?
MJ: I would tell them take your time. Make sure it is something you want to do, and just be humble and be hungry. Come in everyday ready to work, don’t take any days off and just give it your all day in and day out. If you don’t go home tired, you aren’t giving it your all.
IC: Exactly what I just said. You have to come ready to work and you have to put the work in. A lot of guys try to use their talents alone just to get them through this process but there is a lot more to it than that. It is how you carry yourself, and being ready to go at all times.
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