Former USC guard Dwight Lewis talked often about it.
It was, like many college basketball players, his dream — his eventual goal: being selected in the NBA draft.
Thursday, Lewis’ dream may well come true. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard has a good shot at landing in the second round of the 2010 NBA draft alongside teammate Marcus Johnson.
“I know it’s something that they’ve dreamed about for the past four years,” said Jio Fontan, a teammate of Lewis and Johnson on the USC squad last season. “I think they’ve both got a shot.”
Both players have been making the rounds in pre-draft circles over the last few months, Lewis reportedly working out for the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks and Johnson for the Los Angeles Clippers.
All three of those teams possess second-rounders they could use to select either of the former Trojans.
If they are not selected among the 60 picks making up the two rounds of the draft, Lewis and Johnson will presumably test the undrafted free-agent waters by attempting to latch on to a team through summer-league play, which can lead to more opportunities.
It’s a process many college players have perfected in recent years. Former Marquette guard Wesley Matthews wasn’t selected in the 2009 draft but signed a summer-league contract with the Utah Jazz.
By the time the 2010 playoffs came around, Matthews was starting in Utah’s backcourt and playing the third-most minutes on the team.
Matthews isn’t all that different a player than Lewis, weighing in just five pounds heavier and owning a similar slashing style of play on the offensive end. The Jazz guard is perhaps more polished defensively than USC’s draft hopeful, but Lewis often earned praise for stout defending during his USC career.
Lewis accomplished a good deal in his four-year Trojan career, becoming the career-leader in games played in USC history while also leading the team in scoring in each of his final two years.
When most players left in a mass exodus at the conclusion of the 2008-2009 season, Lewis stayed — the only returning starter for the 2009-2010 season.
That, combined with his ability to consistently convert clutch shot opportunities late in games, gave him the status as de facto leader of the new era of the USC basketball program under first-year coach Kevin O’Neill.
“Dwight is definitely a big-time shot-maker,” Fontan said. “And, Dwight, with him having a great career at USC, being drafted would be something that’s big for not only him but for our program too.”
Where Lewis is known as a do-everything-well-but-nothing-great type of player, Johnson’s reputation is very different.
His athleticism trumps most every player in the draft — and his defense isn’t too far behind — but his shooting needs significant work.
For that reason, some NBA draft experts see him as a perfect second-round selection for a team with an established starting five.
Give him structure and an opportunity to develop those shooting skills and Johnson could very well develop into a this-generation edition of 2000’s lightning bolt Darius Miles as a dunking specialist.
“Marcus has that athleticism and the ability to play defense,” Fontan said. “And he’s been working really hard.”
As have the rest of the 100-plus hopefuls who will sit and wait Thursday when the draft begins at 4 p.m. PST on ESPN.
One prospect won’t have to wait: Kentucky point guard John Wall will almost assuredly become the first overall pick of the draft when the Washington Wizards get on the clock Thursday.
After him, most expect Ohio State guard Evan Turner to be the selection of the Philadelphia 76ers, although nothing is set. Other college players expected to go in the lottery include Syracuse forward Wesley Johnson, Georgia Tech forward Derrick Favors, Georgetown forward Greg Monroe and North Carolina forward Ed Davis.
Basketball powers Kentucky and Kansas each have a host of players expected to go high in the draft. The Wildcats have centers DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton, forward Patrick Patterson and guard Eric Bledsoe. The Jayhawks have center Cole Aldrich and guard Xavier Henry — plus point guard Sherron Collins, who is expected to go in the second round.