After impressing NBA scouts and general managers with his athletic test results this month, former UCLA forward Kevin Love had just one thing to say to his critics: I told you so.
The power forward (don't call him a center, he says) had heard skeptics all year say he wasn't fast, tall or athletic enough to be successful in the NBA. He might be fundamentally sound and was first-team All-American as a freshman, but his physical limitations would be too much to overcome, some said.
But in the weeks leading up to the NBA's combine, where players are poked, prodded and tested, Love told anyone who would listen that his results would surprise people.
Only after Love backed up his talk with a better-than-expected outcome across the board did some evaluators believe. "Everybody is trying to pick at you," he said. "I read a quote from Steve Nash when he was coming out of college that said, 'People are more caught up in what you can't do than what you can do.' I kind of look at it like that when people say I'm undersized or slow."
Since the Bruins lost to Memphis in the Final Four in early April, Love has had little to do but work out and wait. He has lost 12-15 pounds, cutting his body fat substantially and giving him more mobility in the post. Days and nights have seemed to go by slowly recently, he says, but now that the culmination of his lifelong dream is within sight, the Pacific-10 player of the year says it feels "very, very strange."
In an era when prospects are coached by handlers to say as little as possible, Love is candid when discussing what teams best fit his style. He would like to go where he can play immediately, but is particularly keen on being picked third overall by his childhood idol Kevin McHale, the general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Otherwise, he hopes to go fifth to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Should he end up there, point guard Mike Conley and forward Rudy Gay will be the beneficiaries of Love's famous outlet passes. Love's middle name, Wesley, is an homage to Wes Unseld, a master at outlet passes who played with Love's father on Washington Bullets teams in the '70s.
Bryan Blake, the NBA's assistant director of scouting, says that Love's skill-set is so advanced for a 20-year-old big man that it should overshadow worries that he is not, as Blake says, "the biggest, quickest or highest jumper." Blake added that Love uses his moves and counter-moves so well that he gains the same edge other players do with sheer athleticism.
Love feels teams tend to overlook things like outlet passes in favor of raw athletic numbers and untapped potential when they evaluate prospects.
"People say 'He's so skilled already, I don't know how much better he can get' and put their emphasis on things like wingspan and standing reach, but I think a lot of it is how big a heart you have and how good you are between the ears," Love says. "I think my basketball IQ is higher than anyone else's in the draft and I'm more ready to contribute than anyone out there."
Alexander the Great has arrived
Joe Alexander has always enjoyed a good workout.
Every day, the former West Virginia forward runs, shoots and lifts in preparation for what was once a far-off goal: the NBA draft and, eventually, the league itself.
Now, the hard work is about to pay off. Literally.
Propelled by universal praise for his strength, athleticism and rapidly developing skills, Alexander's stock has skyrocketed the last two months, launching the Maryland resident from a probable mid-first round pick to a likely top 10 selection.
The positive feedback was the main reason Alexander - who spent much of his youth in Asia because of his father's job - decided to forgo his senior year at West Virginia. The decision wasn't easy.
"I still don't know 100 percent if (going pro) was the right decision," says Alexander, who decided to stay in the draft just a day before the June 16 deadline. "I don't think you can ever know."
Alexander came on the national scene to stay when he strung together a series of impressive performances late this past season, including a 34-point explosion against Connecticut in the Big East Tournament. He then led the Mountaineers to the NCAA Sweet 16.
Soon, he started getting invited to teams' workouts and showing up in mock drafts.
During the draft combine earlier this month, Alexander tested as the second-strongest player in the draft (benching 185 pounds 24 times) and the second-fastest in the three-quarter court sprints (2.99 seconds). He also tied for the seventh-best vertical jump.
But Alexander, who credits West Virginia coach Bob Huggins for his strong showings, has proved to be more than just a workout wonder. He is also a smart, capable passer for his size and has shown the ability to finish strong around the basket.
His streaky jumper and suspect ballhandling skills were question marks before the season, Bryan Blake, the NBA's assistant director of scouting, says, but Alexander quelled much of those doubts.
"Anybody that you take in this draft is going to have strengths and concerns, but (Alexander's) progress and how rapid it's been can't be overlooked," Blake says. "What you get with him is a strong work ethic and high upside."
Not surprisingly, Alexander is a fan of the way modern NBA prospects are evaluated. "If you can play," he says, "people will find you."
Other forwards of note
6-9, 216, Kansas
2.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg
Arthur is skilled and athletic, but also inconsistent. He is a versatile scorer and is as agile and fast as any big man in the draft. The question is how hard he is willing to work to become a star in the NBA and how he will respond to adversity. He is not a very good rebounder or passer.
6-8, 239, Kansas State
26.2 ppg, 12.4 rpg
Had one of the best freshman years in NCAA history last year, and was the Division-I rebound leader. Extraordinarily versatile, able to score inside or outside, with finesse or with power. Questions of immaturity have followed him since high school, but he was by all accounts a model citizen during his year at Kansas State. A sure thing at No. 1 or No. 2.
6-10, 197, LSU
15.6 ppg, 8.5 rpg
More than just another athletic, high-risk forward because he has a rapidly developing set of offensive moves. Still, he is still underdeveloped physically and does not turn 19 until July, making it hard to project his potential definitively. The best case scenario is he becomes a Chris Bosh-type player.
6-9, 212, Italy
17.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg
One of the most skilled players in the draft. The point-forward is proficient at nearly everything on the court - especially on the offensive end, where his decision-making ability shines. His high basketball IQ allows him to make excellent passes, cuts and drives, even if he is a notch below some other players athletically.
6-9, 221, Syracuse
17.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg
A streaky shooter who uses his excellent leaping ability to get off mid-range shots. Perhaps because he lacks strength he tends to play on the wings instead of banging down low. He needs to improve his shot selection in order to be more consistent, but his length and athleticism hint at potential for growth into a more complete player.
6-6, 230, Kansas State
16.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg
His history of ACL injuries will prevent him from being a high lottery pick, and a torn meniscus suffered during a pre-draft workout won't help his stock. He is at his best when he uses his quickness and ballhandling to put the ball on the floor and drive to hoop, but he also has NBA shooting range. If he can completely regain the athleticism he was known for, he could be a steal.
6-9, 242, N.C. State
14.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg
The consensus among scouts is that he would likely have been a lottery pick if he stayed for his sophomore year in Raleigh. He is best inside the paint, where he can use his strength and athleticism to get easy baskets. He needs to develop a mid-range game.
6-8, 210, France
8.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Has a good understanding of the game and is exceptionally versatile on both ends of the floor, as many European players are. He is long and athletic but needs to be more assertive, a weakness that can be exploited by experienced NBA players.
6-10, 270, Australia
17.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg
Big, strong and mobile - a good combination for the NBA's faster-paced game. He impressed as a rookie in the Australian league this year. He needs more experience to develop his ballhandling, post-up moves and conditioning. His workouts surprised many scouts who did not expect him to be as coordinated as he is.
6-10, 228, Congo
He's just 18, so he is still raw and relatively new to the game. However, he is super-athletic even by NBA standards and has great size and mobility. He also has an advanced skill set considering his experience. His weaknesses, such as ballhandling and passing, can be attributed to inexperience, and it will be interesting to see if he can develop them over time.
6-10, 235, California
21.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg
A versatile offensive machine, shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point territory and almost 90 percent from the free-throw line. He also averaged 10 rebounds last year but will need to add muscle if he expects to do that in the NBA.
The recent success of Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and LeBron James is proof that a transcendent forward can get a team to the NBA Finals. Here's a look at 10 teams with first-round picks looking to improve at the forward position.
Minnesota (third pick): Yes, they need guards too. But another quality big man will ease the pressure on franchise player Al Jefferson.
Memphis (fifth): Rudy Gay is a rising star, but he needs help up front unless you believe in Darko Milicic and Kwame Brown.
L.A. Clippers (seventh): Elton Brand is a potential free agent and Corey Maggette's potential is tapped.
Milwaukee (eighth): Charlie Villanueva isn't bad, but rising frontcourt youngsters Yi Jianlian and Andrew Bogut could use help.
Charlotte (ninth): Gerald Wallace's chronic concussions are a concern and Emeka Okafor is a restricted free agent.
Sacramento (12th): Ron Artest's main frontcourt mates are Mikki Moore and Shelden Williams.
Phoenix (15th): Amare Stoudemire still must play some center with Shaq around; Grant Hill is another health worry.
Cleveland (19th): Power forwards Ben Wallace and Joe Smith are nearing the end of their careers.
San Antonio (26th): Next season Bruce Bowen will be 37, Kurt Thomas 36 and Tim Duncan 32.
New Orleans (27th): There is no reliable forward scoring option off the bench behind Peja Stojakovic and David West.