Zags' Daye hopes to prove he can be physical

May, 25, 2009
Austin Daye was scheduled to be in Phoenix on Sunday for his team workout before heading to Chicago.

The onus is on Daye to prove he can be a physical player. If he meets that challenge at stops like Phoenix, proves he is an exceptionally skilled player in front of NBA decision-makers in Chicago, and does well during the strength and agility tests, he may take the gamble and stay in the NBA draft, forgoing his final two seasons at Gonzaga.

"I definitely think I can prove that I'm one of the best players in the draft class," Daye said before his Phoenix workout. "I have to be that confident. I'll solidify my decision here soon."

Daye said he has been working out with Joe Abunassar in Las Vegas. Other players in the mix include Georgia Tech's Gani Lawal, Memphis' Antonio Anderson and NBA players Rashad McCants and Cedric Simmons.

A number of NBA personnel have said that Daye has first-round talent, meaning he is as skilled as any player in the draft. The potential is there for him to be selected, but these same NBA decision-makers have told that he has to prove he can take a hit and still stand.

With Daye's slight frame, he needs to show that he has that inner strength that similar slender players (Tayshaun Prince, Reggie Miller, Richard Hamilton) used to dismiss concerns via their exceptional shooting and driving skills.

Daye, whose father, Darren, played for the Boston Celtics in the 1980s, said he understands that if he goes in the first round, it would be as a middle or late pick. But that's actually what he is hoping for, because he wants to be on a playoff team without the expectations to produce too early.

"If you go to a good organization, then there isn't a lot of weight on your shoulders to help the club win right away and be a star," Daye said. "You get better by playing against pros every day. You learn things that you don't know. It's a different experience than the college experience."

Daye said the positive of going back to Gonzaga is that it still gives him the chance to compete for a championship.

The window for the Zags' title run may have been last season with seniors Jeremy Pargo and Josh Heytvelt anchoring the team along with senior Micah Downs.

But Gonzaga's staff sees next season's team -- with Daye -- as just as formidable. The staff looks at a potential lineup of Demetri Goodson at the point, Steven Gray and Matt Bouldin on the perimeter with Daye and Robert Sacre at the forward position as just as tough a scoring crew for opposing defenses.

Daye isn't closed to listening to the right people. He said that if the general managers make it clear that he's a shaky first-round pick and that is conveyed to his father, he would return to school.

But he knows he has to show he won't back down in a workout. "It's going to be a different type of atmosphere, in a two-on-two rather than a college game," Daye said. "I'm a tough kid. I don't shy away from anything, and I don't care who is in the workout."

Daye averaged 12.7 points a game, third best on the team. He's listed at 6-foot-11 but is only 200 pounds. He made 42.9 percent of his 3s and grabbed 6.8 boards and had 2.1 blocks a game.

While he had plenty of breakout games (for example, scoring 25 points against San Francisco), Daye was shut down by a stronger Memphis squad, going just 2-of-6 from the field and hitting his only 3-point attempt to finish with six points in 27 minutes. He also struggled toward the end of the season, save putting up 28 points against Santa Clara in the WCC tournament. He scored in single digits three times in his final nine games and scored 10 points in four of those nine games.

Daye will have two weeks after the Chicago pre-draft combine to get in a few more workouts and make a decision. Every scout understands that Daye can win a HORSE contest, but can he finish a play after taking a hit on the way to the basket? That's the question he will face in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Daye had no idea that the NCAA instituted a new rule making May 8, 2010, the new withdrawal date for underclassmen -- a week after the early-entry declaring date.

The NBA's official withdrawal date won't change in 2010 -- 10 days before the NBA draft.

"That's scary," Daye said. "That could lead to a lot of kids making bad decisions. That's before any of the workouts, before the GMs let you know where you would go. May 8 would put a lot of weight on the kids' shoulders."

Daye said that if the May 8 deadline were in place this spring, "I might have gone back," without the chance to work out.

• Florida coach Billy Donovan was never too confident that Nick Calathes would return for his junior season. Calathes was coveted by a Greek team and had a real shot to be a first-round pick.

That's one of the reasons why Donovan tried to get involved in the John Wall recruiting process late. He couldn't nudge his way in far enough, as Wall stayed true to his original decision -- to play for John Calipari, regardless of locale.

While Calathes hasn't officially announced that he's signing with a Greek professional team or staying in the draft, the assumption in Gainesville is that he's not coming back.

"We're going to have to play Erving Walker at the point; that's who is going to be our point guard," Donovan said.

Walker was the Gators' third-leading scorer last season, averaging 10.1 points a game, shooting 41.9 percent on 3s and averaging 2.4 assists a game. Walker, at 5-foot-8 and 161 pounds, has a point guard body, but he's hardly the deft playmaker that Calathes was for Florida.

However, Donovan won't limit the playmaking position to Walker. He expects incoming freshman Kenny Boynton, who is 6-3, to be bringing up the ball quite a bit as well. Boynton was rated as the third-best shooting guard by ESPN's Scouts Inc., but he certainly can handle the ball.

Donovan said he will also use forwards Dan Werner and Chandler Parsons as "facilitators to help continue the flow of the ball" within the offense.

The Gators will be experienced, just not as talented, at a few key positions. Walker, Alex Tyus (the second leading scorer, who flirted with transferring but decided to return), Werner, Parsons, Ray Shipman and Eloy Vargas all have game experience. So, too, does Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin.

Donovan has said that Macklin won't be expected to be a double-double performer. But he'll have to do more scoring with the departure of Calathes.

"We've got a good group of guys," Donovan said. "We're talented enough, but whether we're deep enough on the perimeter will be an interesting thing."

The Gators missed the last two NCAA tournaments after winning consecutive national titles in 2006 and 2007.

Kentucky's top-rated recruiting class, coupled with the return of Patrick Patterson (and possibly Jodie Meeks) as well as Tennessee's likely being an SEC contender, means the Gators may have a hard time finishing above third place in the SEC East.

Mississippi State got Jarvis Varnado back from the NBA draft, making the Bulldogs the team to beat in the SEC West. If Renardo Sidney and John Riek are eligible, the Bulldogs will be even more formidable up front. That means the Gators would be the fourth-best team in the SEC (at best). South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, LSU and Ole Miss will likely be on the Gators' tail as well.

• There is one high-profile player still available whom Florida and any number of schools could still try to get: Lance Stephenson. But the problem with recruiting Stephenson is that the NCAA will look into his amateur eligibility the moment he commits, according to one school that was formerly recruiting him. The late signing period ended, so Stephenson would no longer be signing a binding national letter of intent but rather a scholarship offer.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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