Story by KL Chouinard
Alpha Kaba had previously come close to going through the NBA’s draft process.
In 2015, he entered his name into the draft before eventually withdrawing a week before the deadline and signing to play for Mega Leks in the Adriatic League. In 2016, he withdrew again on the day of the withdrawal deadline.
The 2017 draft process wasn’t any less stressful for Kaba. On the day before the draft, he worked out for the Washington Wizards before flying home to Serbia with his Mega teammate, Ognjen Jaramaz.
“We were watching the draft on the plane getting stressed,” said the 6-foot-9 forward. “(We landed) in Belgrade at the end of the first round.”
After bolting home in a taxi, Kaba was pleased to see his Mega teammates Vlatko Cancar (49th pick) and Jaramaz (58th pick) get chosen.
“I was so happy and just called (Jaramaz to say), ‘What’s up?’ And then I realized I wasn’t drafted yet, you know?”
If Kaba had gotten a little groggy and not noticed that the draft would be ending after two more picks, he had a good excuse: It was 6 a.m. local time.
“I was pretty scared,” he said. “I just like saw 59, still not drafted. And then I see 60, and I can’t explain the feeling I had.”
Kaba laughed and said that he may have woken his neighbors with his reaction and some joyful phone calls to loved ones. But then in short time, he was ready to make a U-turn to head back to the U.S. for a press conference and a week of training in Atlanta to prepare for Las Vegas Summer League.
“My agent called me to say congratulations. Then he called me back to say that they want you here to practice for Summer League. It was really quick. I had to pack my stuff and do everything quick. I didn’t have time to go back to France to see my family.”
Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk said he thinks Kaba has potential in a lot of parts of his game.
“Alpha (has) length with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and (the) ability to rebound and ability to run,” Schlenk said. “He has got a really nice touch on his jump shot that we feel like we can develop.”
Schlenk’s wingspan comment caught fellow rookie John Collins by surprise.
“Did you say 7-foot-5?”
“I did,” Schlenk replied.
“Mmmmm,” Collins howled under his breath.
If Kaba has a rare wingspan, he certainly put it to good use in the past season. He led the Adriatic League (ABA) with 7.5 rebounds per game, averaging 3.0 offensive rebounds each game. He also scored 10.8 points per game while making 57.1 percent of his two-point field-goal attempts and 27.8 percent of his threes.
It remains a strong possibility that Kaba could continue to play another season for Mega Bemax. For now, Kaba is focused on the short term. He wants to get to work in Summer League and measure his skills against NBA-level talent.
“I’m here to practice and to evaluate myself and to see if can stay this season or not.”