TrueHoop: Just Pick Me Already

Kevin Pelton of Supersonics.com has written a splendid story on Zabian Dowdell, who is keeping his head up despite limited minutes here at the NBA Summer League:

Even before the Draft concluded, Dowdell heard from the Sonics, who had shown interest in him before the Draft, considering him with their two picks early in the second round. New Assistant GM Scott Perry delivered the sales pitch that convinced Dowdell to join the Sonics for the summer.

"Scott did a great job of making sure that Zabian knew that we valued him and that this would be a good opportunity for him," said Sonics GM Sam Presti.

"Trying to figure out what each team is doing and how that will change the rest of the Draft and who might be falling deep into the second round and ultimately out of the Draft, that's a whole other facet to the Draft that most people don't ever see.

"Scott did a wonderful job Draft night of not just projecting possible scenarios but also communicating effectively during the second round to make sure that we had good opportunities and were able to lay out our approach and our plan to potential players who went undrafted."

It was a good draft night for the players who shared their stories in TrueHoop's Just Pick Me Already series. Jared Dudley, who once spoke of going 37th, was taken 22nd by Michael Jordan's Bobcats. Morris Almond's dream came true when he was selected three picks later by the Utah Jazz. Petteri Koponen was the last pick in the first round, and after a trade joins Portland's cavalcade of point guards.

One member of the group, however, did not hear his name called. Zabian Dowdell was home at his mom's house in Florida, waiting for the phone to ring. The good news: his agent, Kareem Memarian, explains that even before the draft was over Dowdell had invitations to play for several summer league teams, and has decided to join Seattle's squad in Las Vegas, where he gets to audition in the role of "passing the ball to Kevin Durant."

How are you doing?
I'm all right. Stuff happens, you know? It's not the end of the road.

So what's next? You still working out for a few days and then heading out for Summer League?
I worked out today, and then I leave for Vegas Monday, and we'll just take it from there.

What was your night like last night?
I watched with some family and friends. We had food and all that. I actually think it was tougher on them than it was on me. I always knew that it's really out of your control. You have to hope things will go easy, but they never have gone easy for me. I prepared myself for the idea that I might not get drafted. A lot of my friends, though, who were also in the draft and didn't get picked are taking it really hard. I definitely think I have the upper hand in that regard.

What were you hearing as the night unfolded?
My agent Kareem heard that I was likely going to be Seattle's 35th pick, until they had to include that in the deal with Boston. [The pick became Glen Davis.] It's hard, though, when you're dealing with the draft. You never know how it is until it happens. But after that didn't happen, and it got into the forties, I was really hoping I wouldn't hear my name, so I could choose where I could go. Several teams were calling, and if I was a free agent I could pick a team with a good situation. I have a good feeling about Seattle.

You must seen some of the guys who were taken in the second round and thought "I am better than that guy."
Yeah, there were a lot of guys like that, in my opinion. But my opinion doesn't count!

Some guys, like Gilbert Arenas, get really bitter at ever team that passed them up. You feeling like that?
Oh, there's some added motivation. But I'll just do what I always do. I have never had an easy road. That has been the story throughout my basketball career.

What did your mom tell you?
She told me to keep my head up, and that this was not the end of the road. I still have plenty of years of basketball in me, no matter what happens.

Would you play in Europe?
As long as I can play basketball, I'll play anywhere.

I just met Petteri Koponen (who is sitting immediately behind Marco Belinelli). Koponen says his last workout was the one with Zabian Dowdell and others in San Antonio. He is all dressed up, hanging out with his family (sea of blond!) and when I asked how he's feeling he surveyed the jammed theater, the bright lights, and all the hoopla, and he rubbed his chest in a kind of satisfied way and said "excited!" He says he has no idea where he will go.

Moments ago, I also talked to Jared Dudley, who is home with his family and says that he too has no idea where he'll go. "The only guy who knows that," he says, "is Greg Oden."

I have heard that Zabian Dowdell -- who never made it to that Seattle workout thanks to some kind of weather trouble at the Dallas airport, where he was due to connect -- is also home with his family, excited and ready to watch the draft and put his mind at rest.

Morris Almond, meanwhile, promises another update in the days to come.

This is an INSANE time of year for those players hoping to be picked in the NBA draft. The logistics alone are pretty bad: most are running from city to city trying to put on the basketball show of their lives in private team workouts, while spending hours and hours stuck on crazy flights and in strange hotels. Normal patterns of eating and sleeping are abandoned entirely. On top of all that, they're about to become millionaires. Or not -- if they mess up these workouts. And they're about to move somewhere, to some city, where they will take orders from coaches they are in most cases just meeting for the first time now. Through all the stress, pressures, and miles, the players are supposed to be majestic, undaunted, and charming. It's exciting, it's bizarre, and it's weird. Starting now, and through the draft, TrueHoop will be following the emotional experience -- with repeated interviews -- of a handful of draft hopefuls. We're calling it "Just Pick Me Already."

So far we have heard from Zabian Dowdell twice, Morris Almond twice, Jared Dudley, and Petteri Koponen.

Last time we heard from Zabian Dowdell, he was heading back to Florida after completing a string of ten workouts. I called him a couple of hours ago to check in and see if he's finally getting a moment to catch his breath.

Zabian, how's it going?
I'm headed back to the airport right now. On my way to Seattle for a workout.

Sam Presti has probably seen you play already, right? Was he at one of your workouts in San Antonio?
Sam Presti was there for my first workout in San Antonio. And I also worked out for [new Sonic assistant GM, formerly of Detroit] Scott Perry. Guess they wanted to take a second look at me.

These workouts right before the draft ... they're meaningful, right? Teams wouldn't waste their time if they weren't serious. Is there going to be anyone else there?
I don't have a clue if there will be anyone else there. I am just going to show up and be ready.

What picks do they have?
Seattle has 31 and 35.

Some people say it's better to be a high second-rounder than a late first-rounder, right?
Yeah, it's better to have a two year deal and then get to your second contract after two years, instead of having the team control your third and fourth seasons. Either way is fine with me.

How long were you in Florida?
Just like three days. I worked out a little, got some treatment on my ankle, and then I got the news from my agent that I was going to Seattle.

Who pays for all that travel? The teams?
Most of the teams pay for the travel. I think you can't do that for underclassmen, or something. But the teams usually handle the flights and the hotels and everything.

They fly you first class?
Most of the teams do.

What's first class like? I've never been there.
It's pretty nice. The seats are a little bigger. The food is nicer. But I'm not a hard guy to please.

But you have like a 6-9 wingspan! You need room for those arms!
That's the worst part. When you're in coach, stuck between two big guys.

And these days in coach, a lot of times they don't bring you any food at all.
They might give you a little drink and some peanuts, but that's about it.

So, you sound pretty happy about this Seattle trip.
I've heard some real good things from Seattle. They have been saying some good things. They called me in on short notice. And Sam Presti and Scott Perry, they have both been part of title teams. Those guys are more than capable of putting together a great franchise. I'm excited they want to see me again.

I guess now you just have to go kick some a--.
Still gotta go to work and show them what you can do. Everywhere I go, I just leave it all out on the floor. I'm a confident guy. If my shot is falling or not, I'll just stay aggressive and I believe it all takes care of itself.

You could end up playing point guard alongside Kevin Durant.
That would be great. 

In your days off, did you work out?
I worked out once in the last two days. I sprained my ankle in Dallas. Actually, I sprained it in Orlando, and then it kept getting reaggravated. So I got some therapy on that. But I hate sitting around, so it's good to be getting back on the court.

What do you do with the ankle, you tape it?
Just put it in an ankle brace. It's not that bad. Part of the game. You're going to be banged up. Maybe one of these days, like next year or something, I'll have a couple of days off and it can heal up. 

So after Seattle is it back home?
I have one more workout, on Thursday, but they don't want me to say where.

Wow. That's coming right down to the wire. Are you getting nervous about the draft?
The nerves really haven't hit me yet. Don't know when that starts. The day of the draft? That evening? I never was the type to fold under pressure.

Maybe you're one of those lucky guys who just won't get nervous ... so, with that workout on Thursday, are you going to be able to get home to see your family on draft night? 
Hopefully I'll be there in time. The draft starts at seven. It's about 30 or 40 minutes from the airport to the house. As long as I don't have some kind of delay, I should be OK.

If you get stuck in some airport on the night you're drafted into the NBA, you'll have to throw yourself some kind of party in an airport TGI Friday's or something.
I'll have to find something.

Then what happens Friday?
Early the next morning I'm back in the gym in Bradenton, which is two hours away.

Wow.
That's the price you have to pay. I'd rather be doing something than nothing, though. And whether I get drafted or not, I'll need to be ready to impress some people in summer league. 

This is an INSANE time of year for those players hoping to be picked in the NBA draft. The logistics alone are pretty bad: most are running from city to city trying to put on the basketball show of their lives in private team workouts, while spending hours and hours stuck on crazy flights and in strange hotels. Normal patterns of eating and sleeping are abandoned entirely. On top of all that, they're about to become millionaires. Or not -- if they mess up these workouts. And they're about to move somewhere, to some city, where they will take orders from coaches they are in most cases just meeting for the first time now. Through all the stress, pressures, and miles, the players are supposed to be majestic, undaunted, and charming. It's exciting, it's bizarre, and it's weird. Starting now, and through the draft, TrueHoop will be following the emotional experience -- with repeated interviews -- of a handful of draft hopefuls. We're calling it "Just Pick Me Already."

So far we have heard from Zabian Dowdell twice, Morris Almond, Jared Dudley, and Petteri Koponen.

For Morris Almond of Rice, this is second installment, which he emailed last night.

Just had a short break in between workouts. I'm back at it again though, this time headed from my home base of Washington D.C. to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for a meeting with the Hornets.

I'll visit Charlotte the next day, and then that's a wrap for the '07 Morris Almond NBA Workout Tour.

Thought I'd check back in one last time before the draft to share some final thoughts. Nothing right or wrong ... just how I was feeling at the moment. (Thanks again for having me on Mr. Abbott.)

As hectic and nerve-wrenching as things may get during this draft process, one of the most important things is to keep a sound presence of mind. I'll be the first to admit, it's easy to get overwhelmed and swept up in the hype and splendor of the annual NBA Draft. Mock drafts, articles, rumors, your uncle's opinion, your homeboy's opinion -- all that adds fuel to the speculation-fire on a daily basis. Whether its favorable press or not-so-favorable, being under such a microscope can really trip a player up as he makes the transition from an amateur to a professional.

Don't lose touch with reality.

For me, I just try to take it all in stride. Unless a GM is doubling up as the editor-in-chief of these draft publications, its all gotta be taken with a grain of salt. Through it all, you have to stay true to yourself and keep your esteem high regardless of what is said and written about you.

Fortunately for me, I've been able to keep a circle around me that has really kept my head right and on the right track, starting with my father, Willie Almond, my agents, Lon Babby, Jim Tanner, and Trevor Bukstein, and my trainer, Idan Ravin. With them, I've come to realize that as exhilirating and important as it may seem, the draft is just one day in your career. One day. What really matters is everything that happens from June 29th on. So whether you get drafted in the top ten, the second round, or enter the Association as an undrafted free agent ... the cream always rises to the top.

So there you have it. Like I said in the beginning, this is just how I try to interpret and handle information during this period. My grasp ... my take on the situation. I'll be tuned in like everybody else on June 28th to see where all the chips fall. This is a new beginning, and as the story unfolds: "Que Sera Sera." What will be, will be. We'll see how it all shakes out though. Good luck to everybody going through the draft process this year. I gotta get back to work. Peace.

This is an INSANE time of year for those players hoping to be picked in the NBA draft. The logistics alone are pretty bad: most are running from city to city trying to put on the basketball show of their lives in private team workouts, while spending hours and hours stuck on crazy flights and in strange hotels. Normal patterns of eating and sleeping are abandoned entirely. On top of all that, they're about to become millionaires. Or not -- if they mess up these workouts. And they're about to move somewhere, to some city, where they will take orders from coaches they are in most cases just meeting for the first time now. Through all the stress, pressures, and miles, the players are supposed to be majestic, undaunted, and charming. It's exciting, it's bizarre, and it's weird. Starting now, and through the draft, TrueHoop will be following the emotional experience -- with repeated interviews -- of a handful of draft hopefuls. We're calling it "Just Pick Me Already."

So far we have heard from Zabian Dowdell twice, Morris Almond, Jared Dudley, This is our first visit with Petteri Koponen.

Teenaged Finnish point guard Petteri Koponen entered the draft process facing some long odds. Finnish league experience? NBA teams barely care, especially as he had only OK numbers. Of course, big men can get a second look no matter where they're from, but little point guards? They had better be lights out shooters to get anyone too excited. Koponen, however, is a serviceable shooter by all estimations, but he's not coming to the NBA to nail threes all night. He's not here as a specialty player at all. If he makes it in the NBA, it'll be as full-on basketball player.

And, despite those long odds, he is in the mix to be a mid to late first-round pick. ESPN Insider Chad Ford wrote on Friday that Koponen is good enough that he might cause one team to pass up their shot at Mike Conley, Jr.:

Part of the reason that the Grizzlies are leaning toward [Joakim] Noah is that both Jerry West and Wallace are very high on a point guard they can get much later in the draft -- Petteri Koponen. West was the only GM in the league who actually went to Finland to see Koponen work out. Wallace fell in love during Koponen's workout in Orlando for around 10 teams.

The problem is that the Knicks, Suns and Spurs also like him as a prospect for the late first round. That means that if the Grizzlies really want him, they'll likely have to pry a pick away from a team in the 20s -- maybe a team with multiple picks, such as Philadelphia or Charlotte.

Chad Ford has watched Koponen work out, and has also recorded a podcast interview with him. In the 4.0 version of his mock draft, Koponen is predicted to be heading to San Antonio with the 28th pick. DraftExpress has him one pick later, to the Suns. (UPDATE: In Ford's 5.0 mock draft, Jared Dudley is going to San Antonio 28th, and Koponen is going 29th to the Suns.)

I asked Koponen's agent, Marc Cornstein, how a player who averaged 13 points and four assists for the, I'm not making this up, Honka Espoo Playboys, could wow NBA front offices. Cornstein was quiet for a moment and then said, thoughtfully: "He's really good."

He also must be putting on a pretty good show for executives. Near the tail end of a string of workouts, Koponen was nice enough to answer some of my questions, by email, over the weekend.

Petteri KoponenHave you spent much time in America? This must be the strangest kind of tour: gymnasium, airport, restaurant, hotel, gymnasium, airport, restaurant, hotel ...
I have been here about a month. First two weeks I was in New York, where Iīm staying, preparing for workouts. And after that all these workouts started ... he he ... Yes, it has been an interesting experience and I have been in many different cities, or actually different hotels and airports. :/

And everywhere everybody is asking which city do you like most. Itīs a hard question to answer because I havenīt actually seen anything, except New York. :)

How are the workouts going? Who have you played against? Do you get nervous? (They say Bill Russell used to puke before almost every game.)
Well, workouts have been good. Some of them a little bit better and some of them not as well as I would have liked, but I think that is normal. It has been nice to play against players who I have seen on TV, players like Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey from Florida. Of course Iīm a little nervous before workouts, but I think itīs better like that because I know that I concentrate much better then. But I just go there and try to do my best and show what I can do. Iīm working hard to achieve my dream (to play in the NBA). Will see on Thursday what will happen.

Linus Torvalds (the guy behind Linux), Aki Kaurismaki (did you ever see "Leningrad Cowboys Go America" speaking of crazy tours of the US), Nokia, fine glassware, berry pies ... that's about all I know about Finland. Can you help? What should we Americans know about your mother country that we do not?
He he, you know a lot about Finland. Well I think sauna (it's from Finland) is one thing that people should know, and also that Santa Claus is from Lapland -- which is a northern part of Finland -- not from North Pole, as you people think here in America. :)

Did you watch a lot of NBA as a child? Which teams?
They donīt show the NBA games in Finland, but I downloaded games from the internet, and usually tried to watch and learn something from point guards like Steve Nash and Jason Kidd.

Where is home these days? Where are all your possessions?
Well that is a good question. I can say that New York has been like a home this last
month, but we'll see what will happen and where I will end up.

This is an INSANE time of year for those players hoping to be picked in the NBA draft. The logistics alone are pretty bad: most are running from city to city trying to put on the basketball show of their lives in private team workouts, while spending hours and hours stuck on crazy flights and in strange hotels. Normal patterns of eating and sleeping are abandoned entirely. On top of all that, they're about to become millionaires. Or not -- if they mess up these workouts. And they're about to move somewhere, to some city, where they will take orders from coaches they are in most cases just meeting for the first time now. Through all the stress, pressures, and miles, the players are supposed to be majestic, undaunted, and charming. It's exciting, it's bizarre, and it's weird. Starting now, and through the draft, TrueHoop will be following the emotional experience -- with repeated interviews -- of a handful of draft hopefuls. We're calling it "Just Pick Me Already."

Next up is Jared Dudley of Boston College. 

Jared DudleyHe's one of the few players you can introduce this way: Here he is on video, shopping with ESPN's Andy Katz. He's a 6-7 forward who improved his statistics in all four years at Boston College. As a senior, he was a finalist for the Wooden Award. The NBA Draft Media Guide praises Dudley for his tirelessness, and and for being well-positioned on the court at all times, which gets him buckets and rebounds many other players his size wouldn't get. He's also not afraid of shooting from the outside.

I caught up with him earlier today from, no kidding, San Antonio, which seems to be where every player I talk to -- Morris Almond, Zabian Dowdell, I think Petteri Koponen will be joining us soon -- happens to be. I was looking for guys with excellent character who weren't in the lottery so I guess it's no surprise that we'd end up chasing a lot of the same players as San Antonio, whose highest pick is 28.

How is it going?
Going good. Can't ask for it to go any better, honestly.

That's great. What are you hearing?
People are surprised, I think, that I can shoot with that kind of range, from NBA three. I have been able to show that, and I think I'm in the mix for a lot of teams. And you only need one of them to fall in love with you.

Do you have a sense of where you might end up?
No, not really. I'm starting to think I'm not a late second round guy. But you never know. Am I a fit at 37, 38? You never know.

What kind of draft preparation did you do?
I went to Las Vegas, and worked out with Joe Abunassar. He really helped me get my weight down, and helped me expand my range.

Do you have any preference to live in one part of the country or another?
Not really. I am from San Diego, and I went to college in Boston, so I have seen the opposite coasts. I'm just eager to be playing in the NBA. The only thing is that I'd love to be in a big city.

Why?
I want to go out and see new things. Meet new people. That's easier if you're somewhere like Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, or New York. Those major cities have stuff to do that you won't find in, say Indiana.

What about not knowing where you're going to live? Are you living out of a suitcase right now?
I have half my stuff in Las Vegas. The other half is in San Diego.

Guess that's pretty convenient, because you'll probably be at summer league in Vegas next month.
Then I'll just ship to whatever city it has to go to.

Any thought you might play in Europe or do you expect to play in the NBA?
I expect to be in the NBA.

What do you do with all your free time on the road?
I talk to friends, I watch a little TV. Mostly I do all the little things to keep myself ready. I make sure I sleep. I eat right -- and try to avoid most of the junk food they have in airports.

What do you eat?
A lot of grilled chicken, grilled turkey, fruit, and water.

Makes a difference if you eat right, huh?
It really does.

Are you feeling like you still have a lot of energy?
I feel like I got my second wind. I have enough energy to do all these workouts. I have had enough days off in between. I have been able to keep banging.

You sound pretty cool and calm about the whole thing. Aren't you a little worried?
I'm definitely a little worried. But I'm confident that the right team, with the right situation, will pick me. 

This is an INSANE time of year for those players hoping to be picked in the NBA draft. The logistics alone are pretty bad: most are running from city to city trying to put on the basketball show of their lives in private team workouts, while spending hours and hours stuck on crazy flights and in strange hotels. Normal patterns of eating and sleeping are abandoned entirely. On top of all that, they're about to become millionaires. Or not -- if they mess up these workouts. And they're about to move somewhere, to some city, where they will take orders from coaches they are in most cases just meeting for the first time now. Through all the stress, pressures, and miles, the players are supposed to be majestic, undaunted, and charming. It's exciting, it's bizarre, and it's weird. Starting now, and through the draft, TrueHoop will be following the emotional experience -- with repeated interviews -- of a handful of draft hopefuls. We're calling it "Just Pick Me Already."

We heard from Virginia Tech guard Zabian Dowdell a few days ago, when he was on his way to a second workout in San Antonio amid much optimism. I caught up with him again late yesterday, as he was leaving the workout.

How did it go in San Antonio?
It went pretty good. There were five guys there. We did some shooting, some one-on-ones.

Were D.J. Strawberry and Jared Jordan there again?
No, no D.J. and Jared this time. It was Jamal Tatum, Mustafa Shakur, Ramon Sessions, and Petteri Koponen.

How did Koponen look?
He looks pretty good. This was a pretty good group to go against.

Did you get any sense of what the team thought about the workout?
No, they didn't tell me much. No real dialogue from the team. They took us out to a pretty lunch in a pretty good restaurant and said thanks for coming.

Who runs these workouts?
The first time I was in San Antonio it was a scout. This time it was an assistant coach, but lots of people were involved. The GM was directing part of it. It's not just one guy.

Where to next?
Dallas tomorrow, and then if nothing else pops up I'll go back to IMG until the 27th, when I'll go and see my family for draft night.

Any thought of going to New York for the draft?
I haven't heard anything about being invited to New York, but it would be nice!

Did you get to see San Antonio at all?
I got in kind of late. No chance to really sightsee. But I'm used to that -- that's how it goes in almost every city.

What do you do with all the time like right now, when you are in airports and hotels?
I use that time to try to catch up with family and friends, people I haven't had much of a chance to talk to. I try to get my mind off the draft, but a lot of times they remind me of it.

I guess I'm not helping.
It's no biggie. I talk to my girl, and we talk about everything except the draft. Then, I guess it comes up sometimes anyway. That's the hardest part. You don't know where you're going to live. All I can do is go and work out and and assume it will work out.

Where is all your stuff? You packed up in Virginia I guess, and you have been based in two different parts of Florida.
I have an uncle who lives near Blacksburg in Virginia. He went and packed up a lot of my stuff and put it in storage. The rest of my stuff is at the apartment I'm staying in at IMG in Bradenton. Whenever I find out where I'll be playing, I'll ship it all to that city. And hopefully I won't need a passport!

Do you have a passport?
No.

Meanwhile, how do you pack for all these workouts? You don't even know when you'll be home.
When I go to workouts, they usually give you some gear to wear. Now, when I leave the workout, I just leave the gear behind, because my bag is already so heavy.

You could probably sell that stuff.
It would go for a few bucks back home. But after the workouts, I just leave it in the locker room. 

This is an INSANE time of year for those players hoping to be picked in the NBA draft. The logistics alone are pretty bad: most are running from city to city trying to put on the basketball show of their lives in private team workouts, while spending hours and hours stuck on crazy flights and in strange hotels. Normal patterns of eating and sleeping are abandoned entirely. On top of all that, they're about to become millionaires. Or not -- if they mess up these workouts. And they're about to move somewhere, to some city, where they will take orders from coaches they are in most cases just meeting for the first time now. Through all the stress, pressures, and miles, the players are supposed to be majestic, undaunted, and charming. It's exciting, it's bizarre, and it's weird. Through the draft, TrueHoop will be following the emotional experience -- with repeated interviews -- of a handful of draft hopefuls. We're calling it "Just Pick Me Already."

Yesterday we heard from Virginia Tech guard Zabian Dowdell. Today it's one of the nation's leading scorers, Morris Almond of Rice.

Morris AlmondEverybody loves Morris Almond. For one thing, he can shoot like it's going out of style. The 6-6 guard was third in the nation with a 26.4 scoring average, with seven double doubles. He can shake his defender a million different ways, and is always ready to shoot and make. He's also not a bad rebounder.

But the real story is that he was one of the best students in the draft. He talks with pride about his time at Rice, on and off the court. And when I approached him about being interviewed for TrueHoop's "Just Pick Me Already" series, his response was that he would happily be interviewed, but he'd also kind of like to write his own contribution. Never even occurred to me to ask. Below, without any editing whatsoever (which means he makes fewer typos than me) is his first contribution, written late yesterday:

What a process. When the opportunity came to write this piece for TrueHoop, I jumped at it, almost for the sole reason that it gave me something new to do during the down times in the hotels and airport terminals (I'm sitting at my gate awaiting a flight as I type this).

I just finished a workout and interview with the San Antonio Spurs. They are the ninth different team that I have visited and auditioned for as the upcoming NBA draft approaches. I have four more stops to make before I finish my draft "tour," as I like to call it.

As you probably already know, its pretty much the same routine for each team you visit -- on-the-court drills and competitions with two or three other prospects, followed by an "interview" meeting with the GM, coaching staff, and other team executives. That's the best part of the process -- being able to showcase and present yourself to all the different teams in such an up-close and personal manner.

As a competitor, I was excited and hungry to prove my worth as one of the top shooting guards in this year's draft.

The adrenaline I usually have before each workout usually makes me forget (for the time being) about the other less glamorous part of the process: traveling from team to team and navigating through those concrete jungles they call airports. Don't get me wrong -- I won't dare complain about any part of the draft process, because I don't take this opportunity for granted.

Like Coach Popovich said at the conclusion of my last workout: "There are worse places you could be flying to ... you could be on a flight to Iraq serving your country rather than flying to an NBA city." As the son of a retired Army veteran, I agree wholeheartedly.

But if there is a 'downside' to the process, most players would agree that it's the travel. The delayed flights. The cancelled flights. The additional security screenings. The chatterbox passenger in the seat next to you. The jet lag.

If you're 6'6 or taller like myself, the two magic words in any airport are EXIT ROW. Those are a must-have, especially for those three and four hour plane rides. Last week, I visited five different cities, for five different teams, in five days. And one of those teams was in LA, one was in Miami, and one was in Detroit.

By the time I finished the last city in that string, I had listened to every track on my 3,500 song ipod, read through every magazine I was even remotely interested in on the airport newsstands, and even broke down and cracked open a book or two. You know I was desperate for some kind of entertainment at that point.

You get used to the drill quickly though. When you remember what's at stake, and how long you've persevered to reach this point in your life and career, it makes it all seem like a very small price to pay. Personally, after my recent college graduation, this will be the next big milestone in my life. Things will all start to fall into place as the seconds, minutes, hours, and days creep slowly towards the 28th. It'll feel good to finally have an answer to the question I get asked all the time in the airports and hotels: "Which team do you play for?" Get back at me in about a week for that one.

(Photo: Getty Images) 

This is an INSANE time of year for those players hoping to be picked in the NBA draft. The logistics alone are pretty bad: most are running from city to city trying to put on the basketball show of their lives in private team workouts, while spending hours and hours stuck on crazy flights and in strange hotels. Normal patterns of eating and sleeping are abandoned entirely. On top of all that, they're about to become millionaires. Or not -- if they mess up these workouts. And they're about to move somewhere, to some city, where they will take orders from coaches they are in most cases just meeting for the first time now. Through all the stress, pressures, and miles, the players are supposed to be majestic, undaunted, and charming. It's exciting, it's bizarre, and it's weird. Starting now, and through the draft, TrueHoop will be following the emotional experience -- with repeated interviews -- of a handful of draft hopefuls. We're calling it "Just Pick Me Already."

First up: Virginia Tech guard Zabian Dowdell.

Zabian DowdellZabian Dowdell has always had the kind of talent (a good profile) that made him a candidate for the NBA. But he has distinguished himself in NBA circles for his character. For instance, when tragedy struck at Virginia Tech. Almost instantly he pledged $5,000 to help those struck by the tragedy. He didn't grow up with a lot of money in South Florida, but he also didn't care. He did what needed to be done.

His pre-draft training was with my friend (and ESPN expert) David Thorpe at the IMG Academy in Florida. David and I often chat about his players, and before Dowdell started jetting all over the country, when he was in the gym every day, Thorpe just kept having better and better things to say about him -- he has amazing reach for a guy his size, his basketball IQ is very high, he works extremely hard, he's a dream to coach -- the praise just kept coming. I was intrigued.

So, it appears, are the San Antonio Spurs. Dowdell is, by all indications, a candidate to join the world champs with their 28th pick. (In ESPN Insider Chad Ford's latest mock draft, Dowdell is mentioned as a possibility to go to the Spurs, but is predicted to be going a few picks later.)

Today Dowdell is on his way back to San Antonio for his second visit, and says he'd be happy to adorn a Spurs cap on draft night. Not only are they the champions, but they also potentially have some minutes for a young point guard. We spoke late yesterday.

Where are you?
I just got done working out in Portland, and I'm sleeping here tonight and then tomorrow I head to San Antonio.

How did it go?
It was good. In Portland I got a chance to sit down with the coach and he gave me some positive feedback. He said he liked what he saw and explained how the team might use some of their second round draft picks. He didn't make me any promises, but he gave me some insight into what they might do.

Must kind of tear you up, not knowing what's going to happen with your life.
You know how it is. I can understand why teams don't want to tell everyone what they're going to do. They don't want to give any indication. My agent tries to get feedback and a lot of times you can't hear anything. That's a good thing and it's a bad thing. I wouldn't want to hear a promise now. It's so early in the process. If someone made me a promise now, I wouldn't believe it.

Seems like San Antonio is pretty interested, though.
This my second time, going back. I guess they wouldn't do that if they didn't see something they liked. It's a great situation. I like the system. And now this second visit is a chance to meet some more people and hopefully impress Coach Pop and the staff. You can see the quality, though. Anyone who has ever seen the Spurs play knows they're a good team.

Is that your first pick?
I just want to get drafted.

You're in Portland. You have been living in Virginia, then trained in Florida, where you grew up. Now you're headed to San Antonio ...
I feel like a nomad, man. But you know what? A lot of people don't get this opportunity. I'll take it. I talked to some players who have been on two or three workouts. I think this will be my eighth. I'm grateful for the opportunity. And I still have two more left.

Is it every day?
Yesterday at Golden State and today in Portland was my first time going back to back. But sometimes that's better, just to be out on the court, instead of stuck in the hotel room thinking about it and waiting.

Where was your toughest workout?
Probably New Orleans. They had us do a lot of stuff before we even got on the court. All kinds of testing. Pushups for a minute, 40 yard dash, 20 yard dash, and a lot of other stuff.

Is there some drill that you really hope will come up because you know you are good at it?
I'm a perfectionist. I try to be perfect at every drill.

You working out against the same guys again and again?
Oh man, if I see D.J. Strawberry or Jared Jordan again I dont know what I'll do. I have worked against those guys four times, I think.

You follow all those mock drafts?
My family does that more than me. At this point, it would be too crazy for me to get caught up in all that. It might affect my performance.

When you fall asleep at night, do you just kind of wish that it would be two weeks from now and you could know what will happen with your life?
It feels like a long process, but I'm OK with it. All I can do is just go out and try my hardest to impress some coach or GM or someone. Then we'll see what happens.

Talk to you again soon.
Take it easy.

(Photo: Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

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