Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are taking part in their final pre-draft workouts. GoDuke.com had a chance to catch up with Smith to see how the workout process had been going for the former All-American and ACC Player of the Year.DURHAM, N.C. – With the NBA Draft set to take place Thursday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., former Blue Devils
GoDuke.com: What has the process been like working out for NBA teams?
Nolan Smith: “The process can best be described as long, tiring, and fun (laughs) – those would be the three words. It’s a long process, it’s very tiring, but at the end of the day, it’s fun. It’s something we’ve all worked our whole lives for, and when we step on the court, we’re just playing basketball which is the fun part. You can’t really think about being tired, you can’t really think about the flights, because you have a chance to go into these cities and put on their workout gear and that’s what you want to be doing the rest of your life – it’s all fun and it’s all going to work itself out on draft night.”
GoDuke.com: You probably haven’t had to try out to make a team in a while. What’s that been like for you, having to sell yourself to a team for the first time in a long time?
Smith: “It’s very different. At an early age, I knew I was going to get a Division I scholarship, so the nerve-wracking part of trying to play high level college basketball wasn’t there – I basically got to choose where I was going and I knew I was going to play wherever I went. Now, there are fewer jobs – not many people make the NBA – and these workouts are nerve-wracking because everybody is fighting for a job, especially for my position. Coach [Johnny] Dawkins always used to tell me ‘there are a lot of us out there, a lot of 6-foot-3 guys out there that can score and do a lot of the same things,’ so it’s a very different process. It’s nerve-wracking because you’re trying to show the things you do well, the things you do better than the next guy. You have to leave your mark on every team that you go to or else they’re not going to pay you to play for them - they might not think you’re Boston Celtic material, or Laker material. You have to be at your best every workout.”
GoDuke.com: What do the teams have you do at these workouts? Are they all pretty similar?
Smith: “They’re all pretty similar, but there are some differences with each team. Some teams like to see how you do in the full court, and how you defend in the full court, some teams like to keep it in the half court and do a lot of pick and roll action. That’s what the NBA is, a lot of pick and roll – defending the pick and roll, using the pick and roll. Outside of that, you get your shots up – mid-range, NBA threes, one-dribble, two-dribble – every team has done that. Then there’s three-on-three, two-on-two, even one-on-one. It’s been pretty much the same in every workout. You meet with most of the teams at the pre-draft camp in Chicago and then depending on the team, if they’re really interested in you, you meet with them again when you go to their city and work out for them. There are a lot of meetings because they’re getting ready to invest in you and they have to know who you are as a person and as a player, so they are going to talk to you as much as they can.”
GoDuke.com: Who are some of the guys you have been working out with?
Smith: “At a lot of my workouts it’s been guys like Josh Selby [freshman, Kansas], Iman Shumpert [junior, Georgia Tech], Shelvin Mack [junior, Butler], Charles Jenkins [senior, Hofstra], but Selby and Shumpert have been the ones I’ve gone against in a lot of my workouts.”
GoDuke.com: What’s been the hardest part of the workouts and this stretch?
Smith: “The hardest part is definitely the travel – the workouts are just playing basketball, doing what we’ve been doing our whole lives. We all know how to play basketball and defend, but as you know in the NBA you’re going to play 82 games, so that’s probably something else they’re testing. They’re seeing who can make it through the process and compete every single day they step on the court. I’ve been stuck in an airport all night and gotten into a city at two in the morning, and still had to work out – that was for the Wizards – and I’ve heard other guys with the same stories. If you get in at three in the morning, you still have to be up at nine to be ready for a 10 o’clock workout – you have to be ready to perform.”
GoDuke.com: Have you talked to any of the Duke guys throughout the process?
Smith: “I’ve talked to everybody. I’ve texted Coach Wojo and Coach Collins daily. I’ve talked to Coach K once a week and Coach Carrawell and Coach James have reached out to see how things are going and my teammates have been wishing me luck and wishing me the best going forward.”
GoDuke.com: What did you learn on the court at Duke that’s helped you through this process?
Smith: “The main thing Duke has taught me about this process is competing and defending – that’s what a lot of teams are looking for right now. They want to see who’s going to compete at every workout, even if it’s a back-to-back, who’s going to get after it defensively, and that’s the first thing you learn when you get to Duke – it’s put in your brain.”
GoDuke.com: What teams have the most interest in you right now?
Smith: “My agent is kind of keeping it quiet, but he knows how I am – I’d rather just wait until Thursday to find out and let him take care of all of that stuff behind the scenes. When I do ask him, he says Portland at pick 21, the Knicks (pick 15) and Indiana (pick 17) – those two anything can happen, Oklahoma City at 24, the New Jersey Nets (pick 27), Chicago (picks 28 and 30 in the first round), Miami (first pick in the second round) is very interested, and the Lakers (pick 41 overall).”
GoDuke.com: What are your thoughts on going higher in the draft to a lesser team vs. being picked lower and playing for a playoff team?
Smith: “If you go high, you’re setting yourself up for a long season (laughs). You’re not going to be very happy. The position I’m in right now, I’m used to winning, and I’m going to be going to a team that’s also winning, which is a very good thing and something I’m happy with. Being a winner my whole life, I’m much happier coming from 15-25 [in the draft] because all of those teams are playoff teams and all of the teams interested in me think I can be that piece to come in and help them continue to win and go further in the playoffs and possibly help them win an NBA championship. I’m very happy with my range and going to an organization that’s used to winning.”
GoDuke.com: What feedback have you gotten from NBA general managers and personnel people?
Smith: “I’ve heard so many different things, but the best thing I’ve heard is: ‘just know that even if we don’t get you, you’re going to be a very good pro.’ That’s the thing I’ve loved hearing – to know that even if they don’t get me, they feel confident that someone is going to get me and that I’m going to be very successful in this league. Larry Bird (former Celtics great and current President of Basketball Operations for the Indiana Pacers) told me that, and when Larry Bird told me that, I was smiling from ear to ear. To hear that coming from a legend like him just excites me. I know I have a lot to work on, but I can talk to Sam Cassell (three-time NBA champion and current Washington Wizards assistant coach) about that later – he’s somebody from my area. I’m just excited to hear the good things I’ve heard from Larry Bird and the other general managers from around the league.”
GoDuke.com: What have you heard about the workouts of two of your former teammates, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Singler?
Smith: “I speak to both of them regularly. I spoke to Kyrie Sunday night and he wished me luck in my workouts and he told me he had a good workout with the Cavaliers (first overall pick), so he’s excited for the draft. He’s trying to see where I’m going after the draft so he can come hang out (laughs) and we can celebrate together. Kyle won’t be able to because he’ll be in Portland and that’ll be too far to make it. I’m hearing nothing but great things about both of them. I went to Portland after Kyle did and they said ‘we had Kyle in yesterday and he had a great workout.’ I know Kyle as a competitor and as a person – when you get him in these workout situations, nobody is going to work harder than him – his skill set is ready for the pros and he’s a veteran just like me. We were in the same workout Monday and I got to see him up close and in action and he did the same thing – competed and played hard. He’s a warrior.”