Eighteen NBA hopefuls, every one with a story to share and a dream to chase, are doing their best to be noticed on the practice court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The young man once responsible for Monroe County’s most-recognized beard was noticeably fatigued following a recent practice. His reversible blue-white jersey wet with perspiration, Christian Watford stood against a wall and calmly began speaking into no fewer than 10 miniature tape recorders.
On an Indiana Pacers rookie/free-agent roster littered with no-names and vaguely-familiars, Watford, who over the past four winters helped pull Indiana University’s men’s basketball program from the depths of insignificance, is given star treatment.
Such geographical clout won’t help the 6-foot-9 forward make the Pacers’ 2013-14 roster. Watford knows this. However, a sought-after skill set based on franchise needs just might.
Name: Christian Watford
Weight: 232 pounds
Born: Birmingham, Ala.
High school: Shades Valley High School (2009)
College: Indiana University (2013)
Did you know? Watford ranks ninth all-time among IU men’s basketball players with 1,730 points ... He posted 17 double-doubles ... started all 36 games for the Hoosiers this past season ... was ranked the No. 72 recruit nationally coming out of high school
“You’ve just got to get better,” said Watford, who aside from draining one of the most famous jump shots in Hoosiers’ hoops history finished his collegiate career with 1,730 points. “It’s about constantly being in the gym.”
Watford was with family in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., on June 27. He watched with great interest as NBA commissioner David Stern greeted Watford’s former IU teammates, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, after they were selected with the Nos. 2 and 4 picks, respectively, at the outset of the 2013 NBA Draft.
More names were called. And later more. But not Watford’s.
After averaging 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds for a 29-7 ball club competing in the nation’s toughest league (Big Ten Conference), the Alabama native figured he had done enough to warrant first- or second-round consideration. That plus the fact he performed well when brought in by NBA teams for workouts prior to the draft.
Finally, Watford had seen and heard enough.
“I was very disappointed. I was getting all kinds of feedback that I was an NBA player,” Watford said. “I got up and left at the No. 20 pick. Me and my family went out to get something to eat, and when we got back it was the middle of the second round.”
The result was the same. No franchise had selected him.
Watford is convinced the Pacers would have taken him with the 53rd overall pick had they not traded it to Boston in exchange for cash. Instead, he’s testing himself against journeymen such as Micah Downs, Djibril Thiam and 34-year-old Rasual Butler.
Spending four years in Bloomington isn’t what pointed Watford in the direction of Indianapolis.
“After the draft, a lot of opportunities opened up for me,” Watford said. “I sat down with my agent and looked at what were the best opportunities for me. At this point in time you just want to go where you’re wanted. I feel I have a great chance to make this roster.”
Longtime Pacers assistant coach Dan Burke presides over rookie/free-agent practice sessions. He’ll also coach Indiana’s summer league games beginning Sunday in Orlando, Fla.
Asked about Watford, Burke couldn’t resist the opportunity to feign indifference.
“Who’s Christian Watford?” he joked. “I tell you what, it looks like every shot is going in. You’re always intrigued by that. I hope (not being drafted) puts a little chip on his shoulder, but he has to come in here and show he belongs. Raise his effort every day.”