Thursday's NBA draft will be will be dominated by Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley and other names who have been at the center of the draft conversation for the past 12 months. And then, later in the night when top five picks have been made and franchise-changers have each found new homes, there will be dozens of other players hoping to land in an NBA location of their own.
Rawle Alkins is one of them. He played two years at Arizona, helping lead the Wildcats to back-to-back Pac-12 Championships. He averaged 16.7 points per game as a combo guard this past season, and at 6'4", 220 pounds with explosive leaping ability and a 6'9 wingspan, he's one of the most athletic guards in the draft. He shot 36.5% from three-point range as a wing. He should be able to guard multiple positions at the next level. He has all the makings of a killer role player if he finds the right situation. The question, now, is where that might be.
Andrew Sharp: OK, we're close to finish line here. There's 72 hours to the draft. How are you feeling?
Rawle Alkins: I'm actually out in Indiana right now, getting ready to work out for the Pacers tomorrow morning.
AS: Oh, wow, so you're still on the move. How has that workout process been the past few weeks?
RA: It's a great process. I wouldn't say it's the best, because... Well, certain players they have one workouts, two workouts, then some guys have five or six or even more. That's where I am right now. It's a different flight every day. One day I'm on the East Coast, next day the West Coast, and then the day after that I'm back on the East Coast. So there's been a lot of airplane time. It's a grind. But hopefully by Thursday night it's all worth it.
AS: What's the best draft advice you've gotten so far?
RA: Some of the best advice, and it's come from a lot of people—I've talked to a bunch of NBA players—has been that the draft is just one day. You get drafted, you get picked, and then it starts all over again. You have guys like Kyle Kuzma, Donovan Mitchell. They didn't go number one in the draft, but they're probably doing better than a lot of guys picked above them. So the draft is one day. Some guys get picked above others, and obviously there's more money the higher you go, but at the same time, it's not where you start it's where you finish.
AS: Which NBA guys have been talking to?
RA: Just thinking off the top of my head right now... Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Bell, Blake Griffin, Stanley Johnson. I've met with a lot of them. Working out in L.A., and you see a bunch of NBA guys. I talked to guys who've been successful, and guys who haven't been. So it's both worlds. They tell me that the adversity is real. There's gonna be great days, but the NBA is a long year. 82 games. You might have a great day one game, and the next day play your worst game. It's important to stay level headed and just keep that positive mindset.
AS: Last year, you declared for the draft but came back to school. What convinced to stay in the draft this time?
RA: I felt like I was ready. We had a successful season despite not winning the National Championship. All the adversity that we dealt with, I felt like everything... The stuff that we went through, not many people can say they've been through that. Not many NBA people or college basketball players. That brings us as a team closer together. We won. And personally, I won back-to-back conference championships.
AS: Did it help you to have a little bit of experience from last year as you went through the draft process again?
RA: It was great. In some ways I was a rookie and a vet at the same time. It helped me a lot. Last year at the combine I was going into it blind. I was nervous about everything. This year, I already knew most of the people working the camp. The coaches were familiar faces. It felt like home.
AS: Yeah, the combine is always a little bizarre with all the teams in one place. How did you like the interviews out there?
RA: It's funny, because the NBA teams know all the players are talented. So they're just looking for a reason not to pick someone. Whether it's the interview process and a guy rubs them the wrong way, or maybe it's a case where a guy is polite and surprises them. The stuff that they say, they say to get a reaction out of you. See how you respond, see if you're wild or something. All the stuff that I've done, I can only speak for myself, I just answered to the best of my abilities.
AS: Were there any particularly weird questions?
RA: A couple psychology questions. Like, if it's a yellow light do you slow down or speed up?
AS: So how did you handle that?
RA: I told them it depends on how close I am to the light.
AS: Smart. That's a good hedge. But looking at the bigger picture now: what sets you apart in this draft?
RA: I feel like I can be the best two-way guard in the draft. Defense is going to be my signature in the draft, and then in the NBA. I feel like some guys in this draft, they're talented, for sure, but as of tomorrow I can step on the court and contribute. Some guys, they get drafted to be a project.
AS: You're the guy who will come in and do the little things.
RA: Yeah. I play with toughness and a motor that you can't really test, you know? You can test how high a guy jumps, you can measure how tall someone is, but you can't really test how big their heart is. That's something that got me where I am today.
AS: Is there anyone in the NBA that you pattern your game after?
RA: I take things from multiple players. There's no one player. The more people you take things from the more versatile you become and the harder you are to guard. They won't know where you're getting stuff from. So I try to watch guys like Dwyane Wade, Donovan Mitchell, but honestly I tell teams I want to be seen as a guard version of Draymond Green.
AS: It's funny, that final combine game you put up 17 points, six rebounds, and five blocks. At the time I saw it and thought, that's a very Draymond-ish line for a guard.
RA: (laughs) You always want someone to see you the way you want to be seen. So that's good to hear. I don't remember the last time a guard had five blocks in a combine game. I looked it up and the last time anyone had five blocks in a combine game, that was a center in 2014.
AS: How much time have you spent on three-point shooting over the past few months?
RA: Teams have said it's much improved. I changed my mechanics a little bit—higher arc on the shot, and consistency in the form. That's all I've been working on. And then I've been showing in these workouts all the types of shooting I can do. Teams are usually surprised. I'm making all the threes that people thought were a knock on me. And even if I do have a bad shooting day, teams see all the other stuff I can do and they start thinking: "We can teach this guy, and once his jumpshot gets there, the sky is the limit."
AS: Yeah, if you can hit threes consistently, you'll have an NBA role for 10 or 15 years. Do you think about that?
RA: For sure. That's something I've thought about. But at the end of the day, I don't want to limit myself to just being 3-and-D. I'm thinking beyond that. I'm thinking everything. Playmaking, defensive versatility, two-way player. All these things. And that's something that most of these teams like about me—my ability to switch on screens, guard one through four. If you at the NBA right now, everyone's switching everything. Bigs on smalls, guards on bigs. That's the NBA right now.
AS: That versatility is what you want NBA teams to see from you.
RA: Definitely. You watch the playoffs, like the Rockets, and there are stretches when it's five guards on the court. Or the Warriors, I count KD and Draymond—I look at them versatile players. One executive told me during the interview process that I'm on their All-Jack team. I didn't know what he meant. But then he was like, "Jack of all trades." And that makes sense. That's how I see myself.
AS: And I saw you actually worked out for the Warriors last week. Was it cool to be out there right after they won the title?
RA: It was crazy. I actually had the workout the day of the parade. Normally each workout is like 9 a.m., but that one was like 12 or 1 o'clock. And then, literally right after the parade, they came back and we got the workout going. I was watching the parade through the window, watching them celebrate, and then after that Bob Myers and Steve Kerr come back to the court and they're down there doing yoga.
AS: Right back to work.
RA: (laughs) I told them, "I'd be out there still celebrating if I was you guys." But it sounds like they're used to it.
AS: How much do you pay attention to mock drafts through all this?
RA: I don't really care about the mock drafts. I see them. You can't help but see them. They're almost everywhere on Twitter. But at the same time... Some guys have me higher than others, it's cool, but where are they getting their information from? Some guys may actually talk to teams, but a team above that pick may like you, and [mock draft writers] don't know that. So we know that mock drafts don't matter. There's been a lot of surprises in recent years.
AS: Over the past few months I've seen you listed anywhere from the end of the first round to the middle of the second. How do wrap your head around a range like that during a week like this?
RA: This whole week is probably going to be... A nervous week for me. Thursday I'm going to be sweating, not knowing how to feel. But at the same time, once I hear my name called, it'll be a sigh of relief. Obviously, like you said, my range varies. It's been really high and really low, but talking to these teams I've been getting great feedback. So it's just going to be an interesting night on Thursday.
AS: And your family is right there in Brooklyn, right? Will you guys attend the draft Thursday night?
RA: Right now we're still talking about it. We don't know what we should do yet. We're still talking to teams and to my agent to see what's best for us. And right now I'm still in Indiana, and I've got this workout for tomorrow. So... who knows? Maybe I'll kill this workout and get a promise from them.