As we look ahead to the 2010-11 season, there is no doubt one of the most intriguing storylines around Oakland basketball will be redshirt senior Keith Benson's professional prospects. Benson is coming off a junior season that saw him win Summit League Player of the Year and declare for early-entry in the NBA Draft only to withdraw his name after a thumb injury prevented him from participating in information-gathering workouts. While Benson was projected as a second-round pick this summer by many outlets, there is no telling what the workouts would have done for his chances at a first-round pick. Now, he'll spend another season in an Oakland University uniform attempting to impress scouts with his individual game while still trying to lead his team to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. It should be a fun ride.
Even though Benson will determine his own NBA fate through his play on the court this season and afterward at team workouts, the pre-draft combine, and assorted meetings, it's interesting to look into some of the other aspects that can be used in predicting a prospect's chances. Previously, we dove into some analysis on the draft possibilities of four-year seniors and big man availability in 2011, and how these factors could influence Benson's chances of finding himself in the first round of next year's NBA Draft. Today, we're looking at what participation in summer skills camps can tell us about a prospect's chances of being drafted. And the results, for Benson, are promising!
During the summer of 2009, Keith Benson was invited as one of the nation's top big men to participate in Amar'e Stoudemire's Skills Academy, a camp sponsored by the NBA player and his shoe company, Nike. While at these sessions, big men from colleges as well as high schools have the opportunity to learn "big man" skills from those with professional experiences. For a school like Oakland University to have a player invited to one of these camps is a big deal, for the simple fact it never happens. While it's impossible to know exactly what moves or advice Benson received at this camp, one can reasonably deduce that being there added to his skillset and played at least a minor role in him earning conference honors, not to mention competing at a high-level against several great opposing big men throughout the season.
One of the camp's participants, former Kansas player Cole Aldrich, was one such center who Benson performed well against in 2009-10; in fact, at this point his performance opposite Aldrich is part of Oakland U basketball lore (he went for 20 and 6 while holding Aldrich to 4 points on 2/10 shooting from the field). In the end, though, Aldrich got paid by declaring and staying in the draft, ultimately landing with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. A look at Benson's fellow Stoudemire Academy attendees in 2009 reveals that they also fared well when it came time for draft night.
Excluding a few of the guards listed on the Amar'e roster, there were ten players who participated in the 2009 camp. From those ten players, here is a brief breakdown on the fates of each:
- Only two were entering their senior seasons, and both of these players - Jerome Jordan out of Tulsa and Dwayne Collins from Miami - were both second round draft picks. Jordan was selected by the Bucks but was acquired by the Knicks as the third part of a trio of second-rounders hoping to make the Knicks squad. His Summer League performances left a lot to be desired, and it looks like he will be heading to Serbia shortly. Collins was the last overall pick by the Phoenix Suns, and he was unable to play in the Summer League. He has since signed to play in Italy next season. Overall, the word is that being a senior going into the camp means you'll get drafted but only in the second round where roster spots are far from guaranteed.
- Of the five junior participants, four declared early for this year's draft, though only two had enough information to guarantee they'd be first-round locks. And boy did it work out for those two guys. Cole Aldrich and Larry Sanders landed with the Thunder and Milwaukee Bucks, respectively. These guys will be in the line-ups for their respective squads in 2010-11.
- The other juniors were Benson, Purdue's JaJuan Johnson, and Virginia Tech's Jeff Allen. Benson and Johnson both looked into staying in the draft but ultimately backed out. Johnson's decision looks great as he returns to a Purdue team expected to compete for a national title, and he just recently nabbed one of 10 spots on USA Basketball's Men's Select Team which played scrimmages against the USA Basketball team consisting of NBA ballers. Pair this with the fact that Johnson is already projected to be a high second-rounder in 2011 and we have everything we need to know Johnson will be drafted next season.
- Jeff Allen is definitely capable of putting up big numbers in the ACC, yet over the course of his junior season he averaged 12 points and 7 rebounds. He's also undersized for the NBA at just 6'7", though he is a solid 250 pounder. Allen would likely need a monstrous season not unlike what DeJuan Blair put together two years ago at Pittsburgh to prove he has what it takes to compete in the NBA. He may work himself into the draft, but he's not as sure a thing as others on this list.
- The last three players at the camp were all going into their sophomore seasons: Georgetown's Greg Monroe, Cincinnati's Yancy Gates, and Wake Forest's Tony Woods. Monroe's story is well known as he was a lottery pick in this season's draft. Gates is an undervalued player who played second-fiddle to Lance Stephenson's hype at Cincinnati last season. While he's just 6'9", he's a huge dude who can cause trouble in the paint - in fact, when I watched Cinci last season to see Stephenson, I often came away more impressed by Gates. Presently, DraftExpress has him as a late second-rounder, but he has a whole season to work his way up as a workhorse in a Big East lacking the kind of big-time big-men it's had in recent seasons.
- The poor-man of this bunch is Tony Woods. The 6'11" big man only played about 13 minutes a game last season, failing to achieve a single double-double throughout the year. We feel for Woods because all-everything guy Al-Farouq Aminu was busy scoring tons and cleaning up the glass on the reg. Now, though, Woods will have a chance to take some of the spotlight in Winston-Salem. Scouts love him because of his NBA body and athleticism, now he'll have to give new WF coach Jeff Bzdelik a reason to love him right now, in the college game. The jury is not out of Woods, and for all we know he could become yet another person out of this camp to be drafted.
- Overall, the Amar'e Stoudemire Skills Academy has a perfect 5/5 record when it comes to eligible participants from 2009 getting picked in the NBA Draft (we would still need 3-4 years to see how many of these talents actually stick). Using early predictions for 2011, it is entirely possible that 8 out of the 10 participants will have been drafted by an NBA franchise when all is said and done.
Studying the successes of these athletes post-Stoudemire Academy surely points in a positive direction for Keith Benson. While we're not saying that being a participant at this summer camp causes one to become an NBA draft pick, there is enough evidence to suggest that there is at least a minor correlation. For Benson, this means that he has as great a chance of hearing his named called next June in New York City as any of these past participants. Now whether his name is called by David Stern or Adam Silver is up to Benson with his play in 2010-11. We can only hope that a spectacular season from OU's senior center will also mean plenty of wins for the Golden Grizzlies and hopefully a trip back to the NCAAs!