Risk of turning pro pays off with high reward for Bucks’ Vaughn

Bucks draft pick Rashad Vaughn poses with coach Jason Kidd (left) and general manager John Hammond (right) after being introduced at a press conference in Milwaukee on Friday.

Tom Lynn/AP

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — In the aftermath of the NBA Draft, the length of the list of unselected early entrants is a harsh reminder of just how risky leaving school early is for most players.

Rashad Vaughn was criticized by some for his decision to declare for the NBA Draft after just one injury-shortened season at UNLV.

A torn meniscus in his left knee not only forced Vaughn to miss the Runnin’ Rebels’ final nine games, but it left him as a projected second-round pick early in the draft evaluation process.

But as Vaughn got healthy, he shot up draft boards. And as it turns out, his decision to turn pro paid off.

One day after selecting Vaughn with the 17th overall pick, the Milwaukee Bucks introduced the 18-year-old Friday at a press conference held at the Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin Training Center.

"I didn’t think this was possible," Vaughn said. "I didn’t know what to think when I got injured, because I didn’t know what I was going to do. To be where I’m at right now is just a blessing."

Vaughn battled right knee issues during his senior season at Findlay Prep and during the summer prior to his freshman year at UNLV.

He then tore the meniscus in his left knee during the second half of UNLV’s 73-61 victory over Boise State on Feb. 10. At the time of the injury, Vaughn held out hope he could return for the Mountain West tournament, but he ended up unable to participate in basketball activity for two months.

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Once it became clear he wouldn’t make a late-season return for the Rebels, Vaughn shifted his focus to becoming fully healthy for pre-draft workouts.

"It was a long journey," Vaughn said. "It started with rehab to get back into condition to work on my skill set. It took a lot of hard work. Going from workout to workout, city-to-city was a lot, but it all paid off."

Vaughn caught the eye of the Bucks at a workout in Los Angeles put on by agent Sam Goldfeder and Excel Sports Management.

With his draft stock soaring into the first round, Vaughn accepted a last-minute invite to workout in Milwaukee just three days before the draft. It was during that hour-long session that the Bucks moved Vaughn to the top of their draft board.  

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"You go through the whole scouting process, but sometimes a late workout can really influence things," Bucks general manager John Hammond said. "He had a great workout. What he did best was shoot the basketball. He has a great rhythm on his shot. He has a great form on his shot. Usually guys that have that ability to shoot the basketball don’t fail."

Bucks head coach Jason Kidd also walked away from Monday’s workout impressed with what he saw from Vaughn.

"He didn’t rush a lot of the shots that he took," Kidd said. "He took his time and made a lot of them. He fits a need that we had. For him to be on the board at that time, we were very pleased.

"John (Hammond) and those guys do a lot of work before these guys come in. They felt that he fit here in Milwaukee. He was high on the board. He was the first guy we wanted and he was there."

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Although the Bucks have five players under 20 years old on the roster, there likely won’t be an expectation for Vaughn to play a major role during his rookie season.

Milwaukee also acquired combo guard Greivis Vasquez in a draft-night trade, adding to the Bucks’ crowded backcourt. If the Bucks bring restricted free agent Khris Middleton back into the fold, he would be the projected starter at shooting guard with O.J. Mayo as the primary backup. Vasquez and Jerryd Bayless are also capable of playing both guard spots.

The Bucks are likely to make additional roster moves this offseason, but the depth they have in the backcourt will allow the 18-year-old Vaughn time to develop.  

"There is no pressure," Kidd said. "For him it is about getting his feet wet and understanding what the league is about. We’re sitting in a good seat. For him, he’s in a better seat because there is no pressure. Just come out and play the game of basketball." 

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