With the NBA draft set to take place Thursday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., SI.com captured the sights and sounds from media day held at the Westin Hotel in Times Square.
Jahlil Okafor spoke at length about his relationships with current NBA players. First, when discussing the potential of being drafted No. 1 overall to Minnesota, Okafor said he had prior relationships with a lot of the Timberwolves’ younger players. Okafor told reporters Andrew Wiggins hosted Jahlil Okafor during his recruiting visit to Kansas. The two played Call of Duty in Wiggins’s room before touring the campus. Okafor also said he idolized Tim Duncan, revering the San Antonio Spurs big man for his professionalism and longevity.
Okafor dropped perhaps the quote of the afternoon, referring to Duncan: “For as long as I’ve been alive, he’s been in the NBA.” While Okafor is widely expected to go No. 2 to the Lakers, the former Duke center said he’s “prepared for the worst.” Still, for Okafor, that worst-case scenario wasn’t too bad. Okafor said “I’ll at least go top-five and realize my dream of playing in the NBA.”
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Despite having one of the best ranges in the draft, Kelly Oubre Jr. was extremely confident of his ability to compete with some of the league’s best. When asked who he’s most looking forward to playing against, Oubre, who prides himself on the defensive end, cited James Harden and LeBron James. “If I want to be amongst the best I have to compete against the best,” Oubre said. At 19 years old, Oubre is one of the youngest players in this year’s draft class. One of the recorders stationed at his podium was almost twice his age, hailing from the 1980s.
Arkansas sophomore forward Bobby Portis has impressed reporters and team executives with his dedicated personality and passion throughout the pre-draft interview process. Some have even compared Portis’s intensity to that of Kevin Garnett. But, Portis broke the serious act when his cell phone unexpectedly began to ring during his media availability. When SI.com asked who was on the line, he responded "God’s calling.” There’s a good possibility that Portis will still be on the board when the Atlanta Hawks pick at No. 15. Wednesday morning, the Hawks unveiled a new uniform design, which Portis hadn’t seen, but when he heard about the color scheme, he was skeptical. “Green? They’re not blue anymore? Naw, no way,” he said. Then he saw a picture of the jerseys. “Oh, they’re nice though,” he said. “They’re nice.”
At 18, Kentucky’s Devin Booker is the youngest player in the draft. He was also the best-dressed lottery prospect on Wednesday, sporting a forest-green blazer, a light-blue, french collar shirt, cream pants, and brown shoes all tied together with a white pocket square with brown trim.
Booker spoke very highly of his Kentucky teammate and expected No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns, calling him “a model person.” Booker also praised the culture John Calipari has created in Lexington, K.Y., calling the program the, “Best team to prepare for the NBA."
UCLA forward Kevon Looney was one of the most animated players at the Westin. Looney seemed especially excited about the opportunity to play for the Milwaukee Bucks. "They have Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek Freak, Jabari Parker is coming back and Michael Carter-Williams. I think I could be a great fit." But it was a meeting for the New York Knicks that gave Looney his most memorable moment of the draft process. Looney, Trey Lyles and Frank Kaminsky were having dinner with Knicks management when a fan approached Kaminsky asking for an autograph. The management told him there would be no autographs at dinner, which prompted the fan to spitefully throw a brownie at the table. He was removed from the restaurant, but the experience ended well for the players. “We got free brownies,” Looney said.
One of the best stories of draft media availability came from Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker. The swingman, projected to go anywhere from the late lottery to the late teens told reporters how, after visiting Boston with his family back in second grade, Dekker made a timeline with intricate steps to follow in order to be drafted by the Boston Celtics in the 2015 NBA Draft. Coincidentally, Dekker is very much in play for the Celtics at No. 16.
Justise Winslow’s versatility and left-handed nature makes him one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft. Winslow has spent time perfecting the Euro step and watching some of the game’s best lefties that happen to play near where he grew up. “It’s something that I saw growing up in Houston, seeing a lot of the Spurs game, seeing Manu Ginobili implement that. As I got older, James Harden came to the Rockets, watching their games every night, seeing the little things he does to get in the lane and get to the line.”
Arizona guard Stanley Johnson is one of the most confident 19-year-olds you’ll ever come across. Johnson, projected as a late lottery pick, said he believed he was the best player in this draft. When a reporter from Utah asked if Johnson could possibly fall to the Jazz at No. 12, Johnson smiled wide and responded: "I hope I don't get to 12." If video games have any grounding in reality, that could be true. Johnson is an NBA 2K enthusiast, and is eagerly awaiting the chance to play with his virtual self next year, but said he hassettled for the create-a-player “My Career” mode in years past. “Whenever I play My Career,” Johnson said. “I always get drafted by the Pistons.”
The night before media day, Cameron Payne showed his father the list of players who would be answering questions at the Westin. “Tell me what’s funny about this list,” he said. His dad didn’t have an answer. “I’m the only mid-major on it,” Payne responded. The 20-year-old from Murray State never played in the NCAA Tournament in his two years of college, so he says that the level of media attention he’s gotten recently is “something extra.”
Payne said he used to have one or two interviews every other Monday at Murray State, whereas at the Westin, he had to fight his way through dozens of cameras and recorders when his scheduled interview time was over. He’s still enjoying every second of the process and is thankful for the attention. “The media does a lot for me,” he said. “They put me in this position.”