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Wednesday June 27, 2012Beal's NBA Dream About to Become the Real Deal

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In 15 years at the University of Florida, Coach Billy Donovan has had 15 players selected in the NBA draft.

Nice track record.

But only a handful of those Gators have gone into the anxiety festival that is pre-draft preparation -- the decision whether to leave early; selecting an agent; the combine; workouts; individual team interviews; speculation -- with the slam-dunk security of an NBA future like Bradley Beal will wake up to Thursday morning.

David Lee, Matt Bonner and Chandler Parsons weren’t sure high how they’d go. Tauren Green and Vernon Macklin weren’t sure if they’d go.

But since announcing his intention to turn pro April 13, the most decorated freshman in UF history has been operating the past two-plus months knowing without a doubt he was in the Al Horford, Mike Miller and Joakim Noah high-lottery stratosphere.  

“Brad knows there’s only a couple places he can go because he’s going in the top five,” Donovan said in anticipation of the 65th NBA Draft, set for Thursday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. “He’s been dreaming of this day since he was a sophomore in high school. Now, it’s here, and it’s just unbelievable what’s about to happen for him.”

And Thursday is Beal’s 19th birthday, by the way.

Not long past 7 p.m., he can expect the greatest gift of his young life: a round-trip ticket (first class, no doubt) to either Washington, which picks third, or Cleveland, which picks fourth. Any other destination will be something of a surprise, but the 6-foot-4 shooting guard with the sky-high ceiling surely will be coveted by other personnel types making selections lower in the draft.

Those teams, however, will need to get to No. 3 for any chance at Beal.

“Honestly wherever I may land, wherever I may fall, whatever team drafts me, I’m going to be happy regardless,” Beal has said repeatedly during the whirlwind tour of teams at the top of the draft. “I’m going to try to make an impact as best I can.”

That’s exactly what you’d expect Beal to say.

All he did during his brief but impressive stay on UF’s campus was everything his coaches asked him do; on and off the court. Donovan has been known to go after a player or two at practice, but never had to do it with Beal because the former Gatorade National Player of the Year was always where he was supposed to be and giving his all.

That’s the picture Donovan painted for NBA teams as they poked and prodded around Beal, the player, trying to find holes in his game, flaws in his character and any red-flag reasons not to take him.

“There’s a level of comfort with him as a person,” Donovan said. “The questions I fielded weren’t really about that.” They more along the lines of:

Why did he struggle at the beginning of the year?

How tough is he mentally?

Can he handle adversity?

Can he lead?

When things get tough, will he compete?

Is he as laid back as he sometimes looks?

Does he want to be great?

Does he want to win?

The answers to all of those questions are obvious, with only the first one requiring any sort of in-depth explanation.

Yes, Beal did struggle early on with the transition from McDonald’s All-American to Southeastern Conference freshman, especially on the road. The kid from St. Louis so often compared to Ray Allen did not shoot the ball well for the first half of the season.

That changed.

As Beal settled into his comfort zone -- with his role as a rebounding guard, and the relationship with his teammates -- his game came together in all facets. He shot better, he attacked the rim and through it all (NBA guys loved this) he rebounded well above his height (nearly seven per game).

Here's something else they loved: Beal was spectacular during the postseason, all the while with his teammates encouraging him to be more aggressive. In two Southeastern Conference Tournament games and four NCAA Tournament games, Beal combined to average 16.5 points, making 53 percent from the floor and nearly 46 percent from long-distance, eight rebounds and 3.7 assists.

About that time, NBA scouts started taking second, third, fourth and fifth looks.

The Gators, meanwhile, rode Beal to the Elite Eight, falling a loss to Louisville in the West Region title game shy of the Final Four. 

“It was never about him or his numbers. Never,” said UF assistant coach Matt McCall, who will be alongside Beal and his family in the draft night green room. “From Day 1, our guys did an unbelievable job of accepting who he was and what he could bring to our team. It would have been easy for some of them to say, ‘Sheesh, who’s this guy?’ But it was never like that. That’s says a lot about our guys, but it also says a lot about Brad.”

In the end, however, his skills did the talking and are reason Beal will be off the draft board maybe one pick after Kentucky center Anthony Davis goes No. 1 overall to the New Orleans Hornet.

Beal won’t be there after the third pick. The Charlotte Bobcats choose second, but their recent acquisition of Ben Gordon to a roster of perimeter players suggests they’ll be looking for size in the front court. Probably Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson, the runner-up to Davis for NCAA Player of the Year.

Washington selects third and Beal is exactly what the Wizards need: a face-up scorer in the backcourt to pair with point guard John Wall, presumably for years to come. Washington GM Ernie Grunfeld once had Allen on his roster while overseeing the Milwaukee Bucks.

But the Cleveland Cavaliers, picking fourth, also covet Beal. The Cavs, with their own point guard of the future in 2012 Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving, are expected to make a play to jump the Wizards and trade into the No. 2 hole by packaging that No. 4 selection with the No. 24 pick in Round 1.

Another draft night scenario, a somewhat unlikely one, could have the Oklahoma Thunder dangling James Harden, who has a year left on his rookie contract and figures to command a max salary (like teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbook). The Thunder also have upcoming contract decisions to make on Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha.

Worth noting: An OKC personnel type paid a visit to the UF basketball complex last month to chat about Beal.

Obviously, there could be other suitors waiting in the draft-night weeds.

“I can’t go wrong with any situation,” Beal said. “Honestly, all the teams considering me are young teams and they all have great point guards.”

Once again, saying all the right things. In a matter of hours, all the speculation will cease. Bradley Beal will pull a hat on his head and begin living his dream-come-true life.

He won’t have to wait long to get started.

 

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