John Wall To Wesley Matthews: The NBA Draft Through The Eyes Of The Players

This is around the time you hear all the stories, all the cliches. This is the moment I’ve been working for…I’ve dreamed about this my whole life…I can’t wait to just get to work, I don’t care who picks me…They are all true, but cliche nonetheless. The NBA Draft is a big night, and it’ll shape many young careers. Transcendent players will be spectacular no matter what. But what about those other guys? Guys who fit well in one system but might struggle in another? Sometimes it’s as simple as which team picks you that determines whether you make it in the league or get flushed out.

In 1984, what was the difference between Michael Jordan and Brian Martin? On the night of the draft? Nothing, besides 182 picks. Tonight, everyone will be equal, everyone will be rookies. Kyrie Irving could become a bust just as soon as Nolan Smith.

Still, they all know the significance of it. But do they feel the same? Does every player get the same jitters? The same routine? No. Not at all. Back in April, I spoke with Wizards’ guard Mo Evans on a number of topics, including a recap of what happened on the night of June 27, 2001, when no one called his name:

Dime: Can you remember your reactions on Draft night when you weren’t drafted? How do you overcome something like that?
ME: For me, it was devastating. I had a draft party; it was small. It was just my girlfriend at the time, my mom and my dad, my sister, the kids, my agent and his wife. We had a draft party at his house. I remember specifics and all of that and I remember where I was projected in the draft and I never saw my name. I had only worked out for teams in a specific draft range because I did so well in the combine. I had set a few records there. So everything was lined up for where I was supposed to be but for some reason, no one called my name…not in the first round or the second. I just remember going out to the curb and just crying. I was really, really hurt. My feelings were hurt. The next day I went back home. I took that night and I told myself the rest of that night, I was going to get it out then and be ready to work the next day. I went back into the gym with my dad and agent and we had a great, great workout. Two weeks later, I was signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a free-agent contract for two years, so that just shows that I know God had a plan for me and I know that it’s kinda the same way in the NBA. A lot of times, you have disappointments because you play so many games and you have to know how to push that aside, persevere and take those 24 hours to the next day or two that you have to get ready and refocus for the next game or you won’t be able to make it in this league. You have to have that resiliency and that resolve.

In the latest issue of the magazine, I did a piece on another undrafted player, Portland’s Wesley Matthews. He echoed what Evans said: it was shocking, it was hurtful, it was just an awful moment, especially with the family around feeling let down.

Those feelings of guilt and anger fueled Matthews and Evans to make it. For hundreds of others, they didn’t.

John Wall and Ben Gordon didn’t have to feel any of this. Wall was the clear top pick from the moment he declared. Gordon says he knew he would be the third pick in the 2004 Draft for weeks.

“Yeah, I knew I was gonna be the third pick that day,” he told me earlier this week. “I didn’t know for sure because nothing is ever 100 percent sure, but people were already – different agents and stuff – I remember walking through the hallway and people knew what team I was going to already…like agents and people who talk to the GMs and all that. I had a good hunch from my last workout with Chicago. I figured I had a good chance to go there.”

Wall says he was actually somewhat of an outsider. His draft status a marker of what everyone else wasn’t.

“You see other guys that didn’t have a clue when they were getting drafted and they were anxious and nervous and their feelings were going,” he told me this week. “I couldn’t kinda really joke around with them because they was like ‘Well, you can’t joke with us because you already know where you’re going or what you gonna do.'”

As both turned into the final stretch before the draft, the final week, their workouts slowed down.

“By that time, all of the work was pretty much done,” Gordon says. “It was more about doing some maintenance stuff. I was kinda bringing down the intensity of the workouts a little bit and getting more prepared for the big day.”

So while Wall and Gordon were working to get their suits ready and doing interviews with people like us, guys like Matthews and Evans were still on the road, still working out, still hoping that someone would fall in love. For them, the final week isn’t a dance with the prom queen, something to put a bow on the whole process, all the hard work. No, it’s survival. It’s hectic. And it’s nerve-racking.

Even the day of the draft is different. Evans was at home, the center of a get-together with family and close friends. Matthews WAS ACTUALLY IN THE GYM WORKING OUT. Wall and Gordon were at the apex in New York City, the hub of everything. For them, the day of the draft was the calm before the storm. For everyone else, it WAS the storm.

Matthews and Evans were anxious. Wall and Gordon were excited. There’s a difference.

“I couldn’t even sleep,” Gordon says. “I remember getting up early at like 5 that morning and just being up the whole day pacing, and getting ready for my big day.”

Wall also didn’t feel any real pressure.

“You get there like two hours early and you’re just sitting there, doing interviews and talking, and just having a good time,” Wall says. “And then around like 7:30, close to 8, that’s when you get serious, everybody getting prepared with all of the families coming in and the fans and the media.”

Tonight, you’ll see the Irvings and the Derrick Williams and the Brandon Knights live out a dream. You’ll see people cry. You’ll see families cheer. You’ll hear Knick fans boo.

But you won’t see the hundreds of guys like Evans and Matthews, at home in their living rooms, praying someone gives them a shot.

You won’t see them praying that this is just the beginning of their NBA careers instead of the end.

What do you think?

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