Blazers scour talent pool for draft picks

Pre-draft workouts began Thursday in Tualatin

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. -- Over the next few weeks when aspiring NBA players drop by the Trail Blazers' practice facility, they might leave with a few scrapes and bruises.

On Thursday morning, Tony Mitchell -- the projected late first-round draft pick from North Texas -- noticed a deep, inflamed slash over his right shoulder.

"Yeah, my boy was fouling," Mitchell joked after his intense job interview, otherwise known as a pre-draft workout. "The workout went well. We all competed and got after it. We showed athleticism, we were making shots, so it went real well for all of us."

Mitchell, along with five other NBA hopefuls, spent an hour on Thursday morning challenging one another while trying to impress Portland coaches and front-office personnel during the team's first organized pre-draft workout.

The Blazers will host at least nine more workouts before the NBA Draft on June 27 and evaluate a range of 40-50 players. Just like on Thursday, each workout will be crafted in the mind of general manager Neil Olshey.

"It's exciting to get these guys in the gym and watch them compete," Olshey said. "We're looking for guys to compete. We're looking for guys to come in and take the process seriously… (and) what we can we glean from these workouts that we wouldn't necessarily see by watching film or doing live scouting based on the positions they played on their college teams."

The lively trial was closed to the media, so it is unclear whether or not Olshey took great delight in the fact that Mitchell drew blood during the 1-on-1 and 3-on-3 drills. However, every Blazer employee inside the gymnasium understands Olshey's main directive.

"One of the things that (Olshey) really looks for is competitiveness and having the drills be active and competitive," head coach Terry Stotts said. "You want to get a feel. Competing is very important in this league."

Stotts looked on as Blazer assistant coaches ran the drills and said he expected to take on more of an adviser role during this process.

"I've always been very much of the opinion that this is Neil's domain," Stotts said. "This is a general manager's domain. The draft pick goes on his record. It's important that he feels comfortable with any decisions that are made. I'm there to assist him. I'm sure that any decision that is made, we'll all be in agreement. I'm there as kind of a consultant (more) than anything else."

Within the first group of players invited for Blazer workouts, only Mitchell, an athletic 6-foot-8 power forward from Dallas, is considered a late first-round draft pick. The others, according to several draft websites, are projected in the late second round or not being selected at all. However, one player has ties to Portland.

Adonis Thomas, who declared for the draft after his sophomore season at Memphis, was a college teammate of Blazer backup guard Will Barton. A Memphis Tiger reunion in Portland may come in June, but Thomas still has to complete a slew of other workouts, including an upcoming visit to the Washington Wizards.

Thomas, who had just arrived from Houston, noted the variances between the Blazers and how the Rockets handled their own pre-draft process.

"They were completely different. Houston was two hours long, it was fast paced. It was quick, quick, quick, intense," said Thomas, who also described the Rockets' workout as a test of wills and endurance. "I think this one was more kind of settle (but) it was a lot more competition as far as 3-on-3 and some 1-on-1s but at the same time, it was more half-court sets."

On Friday, the Blazers will invite in a new batch of players with expected appearances from 5-foot-10 Ohio guard D.J. Cooper and Gregory Echenique, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound center from Creighton.