PHOENIX – The mildly anticipated first round of Phoenix Suns pre-draft workouts at US Airways had a certifiable second-round feel.
The Suns, who hold the fifth overall selection in the June 27 NBA Draft, spent a chunk of Monday morning evaluating six prospects who are expected to last well into Round 2 (if they’re chosen at all).
While it’s doubtful that any of the first half-dozen hopefuls will barge into the first round (the Suns also have the last of those 30 choices), Phoenix could provide a home for one of them at pick No. 57.
Presiding over drills, which were used to actually assess and teach, was recently hired head coach Jeff Hornacek, who seemed as giddy as a basketball kid in a sneaker store.
“It’s nice to be around these young guys who really want to learn the game of basketball,” said Hornacek, who’s about one week into his new gig.
One of Monday’s prospects who has quite a bit left to learn — and a fair amount of potential to reach — is Arizona freshman power forward Grant Jerrett. Jerrett, who provoked criticism by choosing to leave the Wildcats after posting modest numbers of 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds over 17.8 minutes per game — isn’t having second thoughts about his decision.
“I don’t regret it,” Jerrett said. “I’m glad I came out.”
Now having pre-draft workouts for four teams under his belt, the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Jerrett admitted that the process can be a grind.
“But coming in, I knew what to expect, and so far, I’ve seen it all,” he said. “It’s tough, but there really isn’t one thing I didn’t expect.”
To improve upon modest early projections — draftexpress.com has him penciled in at 59th in its latest mock draft — Jerrett is attempting to demonstrate he’s more than a spot-up, stretch four.
“I just want to show more of my game,” said Jerrett, who was working against 25-year-old University of Miami stretch four Kenny Kadji on Monday.
Although competing with UA classmate Brandon Ashley cut into his time as a freshman, Jerrett — who shot 40 percent from behind the 3-point arc and only slightly higher inside of it — takes responsibility for the burden of proof now assigned to his game.
“That’s also on me,” he said. “I just want to show that I’m more aggressive, I can dribble and take bigger guys outside and get to the basket or post up.”
Instead of battling Ashley and incoming five-star recruit Aaron Gordon for minutes in Tucson, Jerrett must continue taking on quite a few established players just to earn a pro job.
Monday’s list of prospects included the aforementioned Kadji, Miami teammate and combo guard Durand Scott, North Carolina State two guard Scott Wood, Marquette two guard Vander Blue and Wisconsin small forward Ryan Evans.
Evans, who played at Hamilton High in Chandler, is pretty familiar with this burden-of-proof situation.
It began at Desert Vista High, where Evans didn’t exactly rise to prominence before transferring to Hamilton. And even though Hamilton reached the 5A semifinals during his senior season, Wisconsin was the rare Division I school that pursued the 6-6 forward.
“It’s good to be back home,” Evans said after Monday’s workout. “It’s a job audition. Back in high school, a lot of people didn’t think I was a Division I player. Like then, I’m out to prove I can play at the next level.”
HORNACEK: WEEK ONE
Less than a full week after his introductory press conference, Hornacek looked very much at home on the practice court.
“It’s been a little crazy,” he said of his opening week, “but it’s good to get back on the court.”
Over the last few days, the first-time head coach has been fielding calls and texts from those interested in landing a job on his coaching staff.
“We’re working on that, and hopefully that’ll be done relatively soon,” Hornacek said. “That’s taking up the majority of the time.”
And when not working on that project, Hornacek — with new general manager Ryan McDonough coordinating draft preparations — has specific variables in mind that he’s looking for when these prospects arrive.
“You’re always looking for guys that play hard, play team basketball and make the extra pass and do the little things that help a teammate,” Hornacek said.
“Today, we had a lot of guys who are willing to compete. We had some guys diving on balls and crashing to the floor . . . that’s the kind of effort you’re looking for.”