Posted: Friday June 9, 2006 11:30AM; Updated: Friday June 16, 2006 11:41AM
Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray isn't participating in the pre-draft camp but did hold a 45-minute workout in Orlando on Thursday.
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ORLANDO -- Ten impressions as the NBA's Pre-Draft Camp comes to a close on Friday at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex:
1. Aaron Gray is still very much undecided on his future ... and the power structure of the Big East hangs in the balance.
Clad in his school-issued Pittsburgh practice jersey and shorts, Gray strode out onto the court here at the Milkhouse gym at 1:10 p.m. Thursday, while campers dressed in their pre-draft gear were heading in the opposite direction toward the locker rooms. Gray, a 7-foot junior center who averaged 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds last season, declared for the draft in May without hiring an agent, and as a projected first-rounder, he opted out of playing in this week's camp. He had yet to audition for any teams, and approximately 60 NBA scouts were sitting in the bleachers, waiting for his unveiling in what was deemed a "private" workout.
It was anticlimactic. A bit of running. A bit of so-so shooting from beyond his college comfort zone. Some awkward one-on-one with ex-Oklahoma State stiff Frans Steyn, who was at the camp out of Southwest Baptist University and served as a stand-in opponent. Gray didn't really hurt himself during the 45-minute stretch; scouts already knew he was a solid, workmanlike 7-footer, not a super-athlete -- and that skill set will keep him in a decent position. That said, the crowd dwindled to 19 by the end of the workout, an exodus that could either be regarded as a negative sign or a result of an external factor: The league did not serve lunch. It put out a buffet for those attending the Cedric Simmons/Patrick O'Bryant/Kyle Lowry workout on Wednesday afternoon and approximately 150 scouts stayed.
As the June 18 deadline to pull out of the draft approaches, Gray remains at a crossroads. On one side is the likelihood of the late first round and a limited role as an NBA rookie; on the other is the chance to lead Pitt to a Top 10 ranking and a Big East title as the conference's premier returning player. "Every time I make a list of the pros and cons [of turning pro], I think of more stuff," Gray said after the workout. "One of the things on there ... is to come back and be the 'man' on campus, on a Top 10 team. All the TV networks are waiting on me to make my decision [to see if they want to televise the Panthers]. It's a real humbling experience."
While Gray was on the floor, Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon was waiting outside the gym (he was not allowed by the NCAA to watch a still-eligible player work out). Dixon stopped to greet Gray and his father, Mike, when they left, and the coach said that the plan from here on out was simply to "continue to gather information" from NBA folks. That information will have a major effect on the complexion of the Big East in 2006-07.
2. South Carolina's Renaldo Balkman is as good as gone.
A junior who seemed like a long shot when he declared for the draft -- he did, after all, average fewer than 10 points a game this season on an NIT team -- Balkman is now looking like a viable draft pick. His extended dreads and chiseled, 6-8 body were flying everywhere during his game on Thursday, as he had 14 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes and was easily the most active player on the floor. All this from a kid who didn't even warrant a personal profile in the NBA's 123-page prospect section of its draft media guide.
The Gamecocks forward has not yet hired an agent but is taking pleasure in trying to prove his career doubters wrong. "They were like, 'How can somebody who averaged 9.4 points a game go to the NBA?'" said Balkman. "And I was just like, 'Yo, I'll get my foot in the door and do the rest.'" Balkman seems eager to turn pro; he said if he has a great chance "to get drafted, period," he'll likely stay in. One league scout indicated even before Balkman's big game on Thursday that he was having an impressive camp. He's looking like a solid second-rounder -- and an ex-Gamecock.