College stars shrink at NBA draft combine

May, 15, 2014
May 15
2:05
PM ET
On Thursday, the NBA draft combine offered a revealing portrait of the college game’s great deception.

If we’re going to talk about shot clocks, block-charge rules and timeouts, then this must be addressed in the coming years, too.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDoug McDermott, who was listed at 6-foot-8 at Creighton, dropped to 6-6 at the NBA draft combine.
I’m talking about heights. True heights.

Throughout the day, ESPN’s Chad Ford tweeted some interesting measurements (in socks) of NBA prospects who were taller in college.

Aaron Gordon, listed at 6-foot-9 during his time at Arizona, was 6-7 at the combine. Former Kentucky star Julius Randle was 6-9 in college, too. After Thursday’s official measurement, he’s down to 6-7.

Doug McDermott, the former Creighton star who won every meaningful national player-of-the-year honor in college, dropped from 6-8 to 6-6. Gary Harris, a 6-4 shooting guard at Michigan State, is 6-2.

I stood next to Marcus Smart when I interviewed him in Kansas City prior to the 2013-14 season. He looked 6-4ish to me. Then again, everyone looks 6-4ish when you’re 5-9 (5-10 in shoes). Smart, who will still be one of the first guards taken in next month’s NBA draft, was measured at 6-2.

Now, it’s important to note, again, that these players were all measured in socks. And you usually play basketball in shoes. Usually. (Ask Nik Stauskas to explain.) That’s why they were measured in shoes, too.

So the minor adjustment won’t be detrimental for most of these guys, especially since their freakish wingspans and athleticism will be included on their résumés, too. For others, however, it might lead to a fall in the draft. But this can all be avoided if college coaches will just give us the real heights from the beginning. Not the height that you desire. Not the “eyeball test” height. And no, players can’t tell you how tall they are. That’s not allowed, either.

But we know this happens. And we know why. Coaches want to help the player. A 6-4 combo guard, on paper, is more appealing than a 6-2 combo guard. The problem is that we always, eventually, discover the truth. It’s called the Charles Barkley factor. When Barkley played, many figured he was 6-8 or something. “They lie,” he told the New York Times in 2008. “I’ve been measured at 6-5, 6-4. But I started in college at 6-6.”

Arizona State’s Herb Sendek dealt with this issue when NBA folks were inquiring about former Sun Devils star James Harden.

From the Arizona Republic’s Paola Boivin:
Earl Boykins, meanwhile, called himself 5-8 coming out of high school because he feared his true height of 5-5 would scare away colleges.

This fudging at the NBA predraft camps wasn't too bad this year, although some truth-stretching did occur. DeJuan Blair, who Pittsburgh always listed as 6-7, [checked] in at 6-5 1/4 - 6-6 1/2 with shoes.

Arizona State's James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph were true to their measurements, and that's very much a Herb Sendek thing. When the coach arrived in Tempe, he insisted measurements come straight from the strength-and-conditioning coach.

When one player came in at 6-2 1/4 and groaned about not being listed at 6-3, a team liaison came to Sendek, unsure how to handle it.

"What do I tell him?" he said.

"Grow," Sendek deadpanned.

You can’t blame this on college coaches alone, though. This starts before college. Sometimes this starts before high school.

There’s always an AAU coach claiming that he has some 6-7 eighth-grader who could be the next LeBron. (Just search for “The Next LeBron” on YouTube.) Then you show up only to learn that the kid is barely 6-4 and must resemble some other dude named LeBron because he’s nothing like the LeBron you thought that coach was referencing.

My middle school squad played a team that supposedly had a 6-8 center. I went to high school and played with this 6-8 center. He never grew taller than 6-5.

It’s time for change and uniformity.

To make this work, big men have to contribute, too.

It’s OK to be 6-11 or even, gasp, 7 feet tall. If you can really shoot and score and dribble and penetrate, coaches will let you do those things at the next level. But the Kevin Garnett factor -- Garnett was always listed at 6-11 although most assume he’s over 7 feet tall -- encourages young big men to suppress their true measurements for fear of assuming forced roles in the paint. So at some point, they stop growing or they get smaller.

Point guards and wings always grow. They never stop growing. That’s why we have so many combo guards today.

But since we’re eventually going to find out how tall you really are, why not reveal that in college? Let’s measure everyone in socks and publish official heights early. Everyone. That’ll limit the pre-draft surprises.

Then again, it’s probably easier to buy thicker socks once the combine arrives.

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