MINNEAPOLIS — NBA draft hopefuls Jeff Withey and Ryan Evans spoke with a handful of reporters Thursday following their pre-draft workout with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But team president of basketball operations Flip Saunders ducked out as soon as the 1 1/2 hour, six-player session inside the Target Center Lifetime Fitness center concluded. According to multiple reports, he was scheduled to hop on a plane bound for Washington, D.C.
There, he’ll meet with highly-rated Victor Oladipo, the Indiana shooting guard whose draft stock may have risen more than any other prospect this offseason.
Originally scheduled to meet with the media, Saunders left it up to former Big Ten foe Ryan Evans, a forward out of Wisconsin, to discuss Oladipo’s potential.
“A guy like him, he’s someone who’s in the gym all the time,” said Evans, whose team beat eventual Sweet 16 qualifier Indiana twice last season. “So he’s gonna be constantly improving. … He’s greatly impressed me throughout his career, the way he’s really accomplished things and moved forward and gotten better. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does in his transition in the league.
“I would love to have him as a teammate.”
There are no guarantees in the NBA Draft, the 2013 version of which is slated for June 27, but the necessity of a northward trade by Minnesota to procure Oladipo’s services is as close to 100 percent as possible. Almost every major mock draft slates the 6-foot-4, 213-pound national co-defensive player of the year as a top-five pick — the ones that don’t have him no lower than eighth. It’d likely take the Timberwolves’ No. 9 selection in addition to a current piece or two (forward Derrick Williams is the most popular possibility) to convince a top-five team like Orlando, Charlotte or Houston to give up their No. 1 pick.
Saunders has spoken highly of Oladipo, a pure-shooting two-guard he feels can immediately alleviate some of Minnesota’s outside shooting woes.
“I think Oladipo … is a more ready player to jump into the league,” Saunders told KFAN 100.3 last week when comparing Oladipo to fellow projected top-five shooting guard Ben McLemore. “There’s something about Oladipo; I look at the ‘it’ factor.”
He now gets his first chance to see “it” in a private workout setting.
Saunders will do so after evaluating more prospective need-fillers that could be possibilities later in the draft, regardless of what the Timberwolves end up doing with their initial selection.
Centers Jeff Withey and Lucas Noguiera, both considered first-round material, headlined a group that also included Evans, St. Mary’s guard Matthew Dellavedova, Virginia Tech guard Erick Green and Virginia Military Institute forward Stan Okoye.
Both 7 feet tall, Withey and Noguiera stood eye-to-eye and fit the profile of a rim protector the Timberwolves might be able to snare with the 26th overall pick. Withey blocked 2.7 shots per game in his four-year career at Kansas, including 3.9 his senior year, good for second in Division I.
Analyst Yannis Koutroupis of hoopsworld.com has Withey going 18th overall to Atlanta, the highest in a sampling of nine online mock drafts. Minneapolis was his 10th workout, and a Friday visit with the Hawks is the first of five more on his agenda.
“No matter where I go, I’m gonna be a defensive guy,” said Withey, the Big 12’s career blocked shots leader. “That’s what I do. I think pick-and-pop, pick-and-roll, would probably make my life a lot easier with a guy like Kevin Love next to me. … But wherever I go, my thumbprint is going to be at the defensive end.”
Withey also spoke highly of McLemore, another possibility at shooting guard if the Timberwolves were to trade up. He’s widely regarded as the draft’s No. 2 talent behind Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, but the one-and-done’s youth does raise some concerns.
“I think he’ll be a star,” Withey said. “That’s my personal opinion. I think that he’s very young. In our system, he wasn’t a get-the-ball-and-go-one-on-one type of player. That’s not what we do at Kansas, so he never really got to show that. It’s going to be interesting to see where he goes. Yeah, he’s a nice guy, but he’s also a little pitbull when he has to be.”
Noguiera, who’s played professionally in Spain since 2009, is a lesser-known quantity.
He shouldn’t be for long, though, Evans said after participating in three-on-three scenarios with him Thursday.
“Mystery no longer,” said Evans, who played power forward at Wisconsin but is trying to transition into an NBA wing. “That kid’s amazing.”
A Brazilian who didn’t speak with reporters because he had a flight to catch and is still brushing up on his English, Noguiera — or “Bebe” as he’s commonly known in Europe — averaged 3.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game last season for Asefa Estudiante Madrid of the Spanish ACB. Scouts salivate over his lanky frame and 7-5 wingspan combined with fleet-footed athleticism.
Like Withey, he ranks as a low first-rounder on most online draft boards, though nbadraft.net sends him to Philadelphia, which has the 11th overall pick.
Upon his return to Minneapolis, Saunders is tentatively scheduled to host UCLA small forward Shabazz Muhammad for a workout Sunday. More potential draft picks will roll through town next week.