With the Staples Center just down Figueroa Street from the Galen Center, playing in the NBA does not seem out of reach for most USC basketball players.
The dream will be even closer Thursday for several former Trojans who hope to hear their name called during the NBA draft at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Nikola Vucevic is expected to be the first Trojan to go in this year’s draft.
After averaging a team-high 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game last season and being named First-Team All-Pac-10, Vucevic decided to forgo his senior season to enter the draft.
And his stock has been rising in recent mock drafts.
Although most universities exaggerate the size of their student-athletes, USC modestly listed Vucevic at 6-foot-10, 240 pounds. At the annual NBA draft combine in Chicago, Vucevic surprised scouts by measuring just under 7 feet when wearing shoes, making him the tallest player at the combine. Vucevic also weighed in at a muscular 260 pounds and recorded the highest standing reach and the second-longest wingspan.
Vucevic also impressed the scouts with how much his offensive game improved from when he averaged 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game as a freshman.
“Nikola’s great advantage is that he is going to be able to guard [NBA power forwards and centers], which very few people can do,” USC coach Kevin O’Neill said during Vucevic’s press conference in April, where he declared his eligibility for the draft. “He is going to have to become an NBA 3-point shooter. The lines on an NBA court are considerably longer, and it is a huge adjustment.”
Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amick and DraftExpress.com predict Vucevic will be picked 16th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Playing alongside Vucevic in the frontcourt for two seasons, Alex Stepheson, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward who transferred to USC from North Carolina, worked out with the Charlotte Bobcats.
As a junior, Stepheson led the Pac-10 with an average of 3.4 offensive rebounds per game. As a senior, he averaged 9.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.
Senior Marcus Simmons also has professional aspirations. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound guard developed a reputation as a lock-down defender, often guarding the opposing team’s best player. As a senior, he was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, averaging 5.1 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.
Simmons had workouts with the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors.
No Trojans were selected in the 2010 NBA draft. DeMar DeRozan and Taj Gibson were first round picks in the 2009 NBA draft.