Top picks and draft hopefuls converge at NBA Draft Combine

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It doesn't get as much attention as the NFL version, but the NBA Draft Combine is still a very big deal for those participating and those looking for the next player that will turn their teams around.

The West Side is playing host to dozens of NBA Draft entrants this week, and though they've all got the same goal, they are certainly not in the same spot.

The biggest media crowds gathered around a pair of Wisconsin Badgers, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, who both boosted their respective draft stocks with dynamic performances en route to an appearance in last month's national championship game. And it's for that reason that there's not much left to prove for the duo. Heck, Kaminsky wasn't even in uniform Thursday, conducting his interviews in street clothes. Dekker worked out, doing the measurable drills like vertical jump and shuttle run, but he — like many of the other big names expected to go early in next month's draft — didn't participate in the organized scrimmages.

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That doesn't mean, though, that those guys aren't working as hard to impress potential future employers. Dekker has his resume down to a few sentences, easily rattled off when asked what he can bring to an NBA team.

"I think I bring a lot of things," Dekker said, recounting his stump speech. "I bring versatility, competitive drive. The pro game is a style of game I like. I've learned a lot of things, discipline and being able to play in systems, so I think when you mix those together, it makes a pretty good combination of someone who can be with many different organizations and fit in well. I think offensively and defensively, I'll be able to be a good addition to any team. I'm looking forward to what's in store."

Expected to go in the lottery or not, it's still a process, and Dekker's finding it to be an enjoyable one.

"It's been fun, mostly," Dekker said. "You've got to enjoy it. As a basketball player, this is your dream, to be in this situation. So I'm waking up every day with a good mindset that I'm going to get better and keep improving and keep working on my game, trying to perfect my craft. I'm nowhere near where I want to be, but that's the good thing about basketball: You can get better every day."

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The experiences of Dekker and Kaminsky were similar to other stars of the NCAA tournament, like the massive Kentucky contingent and the tourney's most outstanding player, Duke's Tyus Jones.

Another Blue Devil, Chicago-native Jahlil Okafor, and Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns, the two guys who could be the Nos. 1 and 2 picks, aren't even at the Combine.

But the big names aren't the only names out there. Plenty of others have a lot to prove this week with hopes of drawing interest from NBA teams. Plenty of guys haven't interviewed with any teams yet.

Another Chicago native is looking to prove that a 6-foot-nothing point guard out of Wisconsin-Green Bay can realize the same draft dream as the guys who played on a national stage.

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Keifer Sykes, who attended John Marshall Metropolitan High School on the West Side, was thrilled to be back at home, citing his familiarity with the Quest Multisport Complex — just across the Eisenhower from Marshall — as a potential advantage to stick out to teams.

"I think it's fun," Sykes said. "I have a little more advantages than a lot of these guys. I can go get treatment, I can go do a lot of different things than these guys who've just got to get up out of a hotel bed. I know my family's here, so I can go home after a little bit, go see the family. It's just a chance for me throughout this process of going to the draft to connect with my family. I've been in this weight room hundreds of times, I've been in these gyms shooting on these rims hundreds of times. I was able to get here last night. So it was just fun to be in the city and be around familiarity."

Sykes might know the gym and the city, but he's still working on people knowing much about him. Coming from a mid-major that didn't get the same national exposure as teams in the Big Ten, ACC or Big 12, he's got a lot to teach people about his game. And having met with zero teams prior to Thursday, he considered that five-on-five scrimmage his chance to impress the NBA executives watching.

"I really liked the five-on-five today because it gave us an inside look at how you're going to play, how you're going to play under a coach, how you're against players in the summer league, how you're going to run different types of sets," he said. "The NBA game, it's structured, but it's not as structured as college basketball where your coach is directing you. They let you play.

"Today was my interview, I think, just playing out there. A lot of these guys got 20 interviews. I told them, 'My interview is 2 o'clock today when I go out there and play.' So I don't really look at the interviews. I'm pretty sure I'll have a ton of team workouts because I'm in the middle of the pack. A lot of teams are skeptical and don't know about me, so they're going to want to find out about me."

This is hardly the end of the draft process. In the upcoming month, all these prospects and more will have individual meetings and workouts with a variety of NBA teams as those franchises decide where to steer their futures with a selection or two.

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