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WSU’s Thompson could go as high as No. 10 in today’s NBA draft

WSU's Klay Thompson impressed scouts during workouts and is projected to go as early as the 9th pick. (Associated Press)
WSU's Klay Thompson impressed scouts during workouts and is projected to go as early as the 9th pick. (Associated Press)
By Scott M. Johnson Everett Herald

Believe it or not, there was a time when University of Washington men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar could just kick up his feet, turn on the NBA draft and watch without much inner stress.

Those days seem so long ago.

Five of the past six NBA drafts have included players from UW. As many as three more Huskies could go in tonight’s two-round session, which begins at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time (ESPN).

“It’s a little like that first Little League game, when you sleep in your uniform,” Romar said earlier this week. “Like Christmas morning. You just can’t wait until it gets here.”

Add in Washington State star Klay Thompson, who is a likely lottery pick, and this year’s NBA draft could have as much in-state flavor as any in recent memory.

Thompson, a 6-6 marksman who is beginning to draw comparisons to Stephon Curry of the Golden State Warriors, is the only in-state product who seems likely to land in the first round. He looks like a probable lottery pick, somewhere in the No. 10 to 14 range. The Sporting News projects him as a No. 9 overall pick, to the Charlotte Bobcats.

“He’s a better athlete than people think,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla said during a conference call last week. “I think Klay is a very safe pick somewhere in the top 14.”

ESPN colleague Chad Ford added that the New York Knicks, who pick 17th in the first round, fell in love with Thompson at a workout. But Ford added: “I don’t think he’s going to be there at 17.”

Thompson is one of several longtime UW foes who could hear his name called tonight. Arizona’s Derrick Williams is being projected as the No. 2 overall pick, while USC’s Nikola Vucevic and UCLA’s Tyler Honeycutt are also likely first-round selections.

A former UW recruit, Turkish big man Enes Kanter, is considered a likely top-five pick. Kanter reversed on his oral commitment with the Huskies, signed with Kentucky, but was ruled ineligible to play college basketball due to his participation in a European league.

For the Huskies, the wide-ranging hopes of guard Isaiah Thomas, big man Matthew Bryan-Amaning and wing player Justin Holiday gives the program as many draft candidates as it has had since 2005.

That year, another diminutive Husky, Nate Robinson, was selected in the first round while teammates Will Conroy and Tre’ Simmons got passed over.

It’s a scenario that may well play out again today. None of the UW players are guaranteed to be selected, although the stock of Thomas seems to be rising in recent weeks. Some draftniks see him as a high second-round pick who has a remote chance to slip into the back of Round 1. Contending teams like Miami (31st overall pick), the Los Angeles Lakers (41st) and Chicago (43rd) might be willing to add an unconventional piece like the 5-foot-8 Thomas to help give them a spark off the bench.

Thomas went on six visits last week and was scheduled for two more this week. He said he’s been dreaming of playing in the NBA since grade school.

“I’ve been focused my whole life,” he said. “I’ve been doubted all the way – they said I wasn’t big enough to play in high school, I wasn’t big enough to play in college – but I knew I could make it.”

Thomas is so confident that he’ll play in the NBA, despite his size deficiency, that he passed up his senior season to come out for this year’s draft. Romar said Tuesday that the decision is looking more and more solid.

“I feel a little better about it now,” Romar said this week. “When he made the decision, we did our homework and our research, and every indication was that he would get drafted. Now, he’s going to get drafted – probably higher than we thought.”

Thomas has spent a good part of his life working out with current NBA players like Atlanta’s  Jamal Crawford, Portland’s Brandon Roy, Philadelphia’s Spencer Hawes and, most recently, Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks.

UW teammate Bryan-Amaning has also received some NBA tutelage after working out with Chicago’s Luol Deng and Detroit’s Ben Gordon while playing with the British national team. The London native has NBA size (6-9, 240 pounds) and can score around the rim, but never showed much outside shooting ability and was hampered by inconsistency while at UW.

Bryan-Amaning’s agent, Ronald Shade, said the forward displayed impressive ballhandling skills at the Portsmouth Invitational tournament in April and added that he “showed he was very capable of shooting the ball” during a workout for the Sacramento Kings.

No matter what happens tonight, Shade believes Bryan-Amaning will have a future in the NBA.

“If there were not a lockout this year, Matthew’s the kind of player who could go to a summer league and make a team,” Shade said, “even if he’s not drafted.”

Among the members of the UW trio, Holiday seems to be the biggest longshot. The 6-6 swingman had virtually no offensive game before his senior season, but he emerged as a third scoring option on a Husky team that relied mostly on Thomas and Bryan-Amaning.

“If he (shoots the ball) with consistency, I think he can make it in the NBA,” Romar said of Holiday, who is hoping to follow younger brother Jrue into the league.

Romar added that Holiday’s biggest asset is his ability to play lockdown defense – often against quicker and/or bigger opponents.

“The thing with Justin is, out of the three (Huskies hoping to get drafted tonight), he is the one who really does have a niche,” Romar said. “He can defend.”

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