Sixers Continue to Fact-Find, Keeping Mind Open at No. 3
After spending recent days traveling around the country to attend agent-organized pre-draft workouts, the Sixers did some hosting themselves Monday, welcoming prospects to the team’s training complex in Camden for the first time this spring.
Derrick White, the Pac-12’s third-leading scorer last season, headlined the group, which also featured accomplished guards Isaiah Briscoe, from Kentucky, and Melo Trimble, who spent the last three years at Maryland. George Washington’s Tyler Cavanaugh, Tennessee State’s Tahjere McCall, and Middle Tennessee State’s Reggie Upshaw rounded out the rest of the sextet.
From his two-plus decades in the NBA, Bryan Colangelo has learned that workouts such as the one the Sixers conducted Monday offer additional opportunities to gather valuable intelligence leading up to the draft.
“We’ve done a lot of scouting over the last few weeks, following up and confirming some of the thoughts and impressions we’ve had over a much bigger body of work,” said Colangelo, now entering his second year as the Sixers’ President of Basketball Operations. “This is the chance to bring guys in, and talk to them for the first time, in some cases.”
The face time can be particularly beneficial for the likes of Brett Brown, his assistants, and the Sixers’ development coaches. More often than not during the season, this contingent hears about prospects second-hand from counterparts in the team’s personnel department.
“It’s a first impression for them,” Colangelo said. “It’s an opportunity for them to see who we’ve been talking about.”
As familiar as he and his scouts usually are with players prior to them coming in for auditions, Colangelo has found that every now and then, surprises surface.
“I’ve got several cases in history where I’ve gone from really liking a player to absolutely being assured that that’s the guy I wanted to pick,” said Colangelo, citing as examples Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire.
During his stint with the Phoenix Suns, Colangelo chose Marion ninth overall in 1999, and Stoudemire ninth in 2002. Both went on to become All-Stars.
“Sometimes you see something different,” he said. “It might just be something that clicks at one of these group workouts that you might not have seen before. There are some things that do come to light at these workouts.”
Based on projections from current mock drafts, none of Monday’s invitees are considered candidates for the lottery phase of this year’s draft, where the Sixers hold the number three selection. As Colangelo pointed out, these workouts will also serve the purpose of shaping the club’s decision-making in the second round. The Sixers own picks nos. 36, 39, 46, and 50.
White, slated to go either in the back-end of the first-round or early in the second round, was the highest-rated prospect on the floor Monday.
In terms of what the Sixers intend to do with the third pick, Colangelo indicated Monday that a list of potential targets is presently in place. Still, he’s keeping his ears to the ground, and mind open.
“I think there’s a number of things that we’ve listened to and heard in terms of interest about our pick,” Colangelo said Monday. “It’s the time of year that you have to explore everything – we’re going to look at all options. It doesn’t mean we’re going to do something with the pick, but I have to listen, and also seek out what kind of value number three has.”
Colangelo estimated that, with less than three weeks to remaining before the June 22nd draft, the Sixers have identified “six or seven names…who we would really be happy with” at number three.
“That sounds like a lot right now,” said Colangelo, “but [picks] one and two are going to go off that list, and now you’re down to a more finite number. We’ve got to be ready for any scenario. In a couple of the trade scenarios, maybe it’s moving up, maybe it’s moving down. I can’t assure or promise you that’s going to happen, but we need to be prepared for those situations.”
During treks to agency-run pro days and private workouts in New York, Washington, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, Colangelo and the Sixers were able to get up-close looks at and interact with some of the top-tier members of this year’s draft class. The days ahead figure to be filled with even more fact-finding, now just a little bit closer to home.
“This next couple of weeks will be a deep dive into the individual and group workouts here,” said Colangelo. “This is the fun time of year, this is when things really get to pick up steam as it relates to that team-building process.”
McCall Savors Chance to Workout for Hometown Team
About six years ago, Tahjere McCall didn’t have much of a basketball resume to stand on. In fact, at that point, whatever credentials he did have were essentially limited to pick-up games and informal exhibitions at local gyms, like Simon Gratz.
Nevertheless, even with such limited experience, the North Philadelphia native didn’t shy away from trying out for the team at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering & Science before his junior year. Good thing he did.
After riding the bench and not getting into games during his first season, McCall took on a more prominent role as a senior. To this day – and he still doesn’t know exactly how – word of his potential reached then-Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich, a man whose Philadelphia hoops roots run deep.
Despite McCall never having played on the city’s AAU circuit, and receiving virtually zero recruiting interest, Mihalich extended him a late scholarship offer. McCall, who had considered signing with Division II Holy Family, subsequently took a visit to Niagara’s campus, and committed to the Purple Eagles immediately.
On the heels of McCall’s debut collegiate campaign, Mihalich left western New York for the top job at Hofstra. McCall eventually started contemplating a change of scenery himself.
Thanks to some lobbying from the late Anthony Mason, whose son was a teammate of McCall’s at Niagara, McCall landed at Tennessee State. The school happens to be not only Mason’s alma mater, but that of Robert Covington as well.
Following his redshirt transfer year, McCall took off. He averaged 14.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.6 steals, respectively, at Tennessee State, ranking among the top 10 in the nation in steals in each of his two seasons with the Tigers. He was twice named Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
“Honestly, I think [TSU coach Dana Ford] instilling the confidence in me that I can be better than what I am,” McCall said Monday, when asked about his breakout two-year run in Nashville. “I wasn’t always the star guy, I just did my part. Whatever you asked me to do, I’m going to try to do it to the best of my ability. Once I had the confidence, it was just on me to put the effort in. I just keep working, trying to get better and better.”
If not for Mason’s assistance, McCall doubts he would have found another Division I opportunity. The odds are also pretty solid that guard never would have connected with an NBA All-Defensive Team candidate whom he now refers to as a “big bro.”
“I see Rob a lot,” said McCall, as he discussed his relationship with Covington. “He comes back [to TSU], gives me pointer, picks my brain. It’s just been a great experience.”
Covington, of course, went undrafted out of Tennessee State in 2013. He’s since turned himself into one of the top 3-and-D wingmen in the NBA.
In Covington’s path, McCall discovered a roadmap.
“It was more than an example, it was motivation,” McCall said. “Sometimes, it kept me going, because my name’s not really out there. To see Rob, even though the journey he had wasn’t scripted like a top 10 draft pick, he’s still where you want to be, in the NBA, and playing for – I think – my favorite team.
“To be able to talk to somebody like that, keep me pushing, and to have visual proof – it’s not just him saying, he’s actually been through it – you can’t beat that.”
And yes, speaking during an interview on Monday, the enthusiastic, engaging McCall left little doubt that the Sixers were the squad he rooted for growing up. He said the significance of being able to tryout for his hometown club was hard to put into words.
“You see all the Sixers games on TV, you go to the games. Then you come and see the facility and meet the coaches, it gave me goosebumps.”
Although McCall has travelled a relatively brief road in respect to his roundball pursuits, he said that whenever he plays, he makes a point of competing with an edge that, in his mind, defines Philadelphia.
“On the court, outside on the streets, everybody wants to score,” he said. “I was the opposite. I was the only person playing defense. Growing up in Philadelphia…you don’t want to be shown up, the reason why your team lost.
“I hate being scored on. I can’t say it enough. I hate it. Definitely, on the defensive end, you can see the Philadelphian in me.”
An attitude that certainly could earn him some fans inside the Sixers’ training complex.
Briscoe Believes Leadership Will Pay Off
Isaiah Briscoe was part of an elite cast at Kentucky the past two years. As a freshman, he competed alongside first-round picks Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere. Then, in his second campaign in Lexington, 2017 projected lottery prospects De’Aaron Fox, and Malik Monk were teammates.
Briscoe, a native of Newark, New Jersey, felt he benefited from being situated in such a talented environment, particularly in terms of learning “how to play with other great players.”
As a sophomore, Briscoe accounted for 12.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. He hopes his versatility will boost his appeal among NBA executives.
“I think I bring a lot to the table,” Briscoe said Monday, “not only scoring, passing, playing defense, [but] being a leader.”
Sports Illustrated named the 21-year old to its All-Glue team last season. In the NBA, Briscoe feels his leadership will better position him to be a full-time point guard.
“I feel like I’m always vocal, the leader of the team, ball-dominant. Who wouldn’t like the ball in their hands?,” he said. “Whatever team picks me up, I’ll try to come in and contribute however I can.”