Ryan Gomes Slips to the 50th Pick

I'm sitting in San Diego International Airport on Tuesday night. It's 9:30 and I'm awaiting (and dreading) an all night flight that will take me back to Rhode Island after the best vacation of my life. I should be reliving memories of that vacation, but I find myself thinking of one thing: the NBA draft and what's happening with Ryan Gomes.

I sidle over to a mini-bar set up in the center of the airport concourse where a television hangs in the corner. The TV is tuned to the draft and I see that the picks are already in the forties. I watch as the pick numbers and the names scroll across the bottom of the screen… and no Ryan Gomes. I watch through again, figuring that I missed him, and again, no Ryan Gomes.

I see Charlie Villanueva at number seven… someone named Fran Vasquez from Spain goes eleventh… the Celtics take Gerald Green, an athletic high schooler who looks like a future replacement for Paul Pierce with the eighteenth pick… and so on.

Figuring that I'm somehow jinxing Ryan from thousands of miles away, I back away from the television and return a half hour later, only to see that Ryan has been chosen by the Boston Celtics with the fiftieth pick. I'm stunned. I don't have to talk to Ryan to know how disappointed he must be. Privately, I had thought that Ryan might likely slip out of the first round, but all the way to fifty? No way.

While Villanueva is going to be a pretty good offensive player and is loaded with the magical U word (Upside) and while Green is maybe "the best athlete in the draft" and is loaded with the equally magical P word (Potential), and while Vasquez, I'm sure, is loaded with something (admittedly, I'm not up on the foreign guys), hasn't Gomes proven himself over four years?

All Gomes had accomplished was scoring 2138 points, along with 1028 rebounds over four years, and he had averaged over 20 points per game as a senior, while rounding out his game more and more each year that he was at Providence.

But maybe his buzz was never greater than it was after his junior year. He was named a First Team All-American, and most mock drafts had him going late in the first round. That was a little too close for comfort, and the conventional thinking was: pull out of the draft, come back for your senior year, show you have some small forward skills, and solidify your first round hopes. After all, last year was the year that had a record number of quality high schoolers and foreign players in the draft, something Gomes wouldn't face as much of this year.

It didn't work out that way. Ryan slipped to honorable mention All-American status as a senior, despite better overall statistics, while a player like Hakim Warrick, who is more explosive athletically, but lacks Gomes' all-around game, swept past him as the Big East Player of the Year and First Team All-American, and went nineteenth in the draft. Looking back now, with the results firmly in hand, there can be little doubt that Gomes would have fared better had he stayed in the draft last year.

Now some of this was Ryan's fault. There were far too many large chunks of games where Ryan seemed to float on the perimeter, content to let the game come to him, instead of forcing his will on games. To settle, instead of taking over. Often, he would wait until the last five minutes of games before asserting his dominance, and he piled up a lot of numbers in those last five minutes. Often, it was too little, too late. And his rebounding numbers were down, to his lowest average since his freshman year, much of that having to do with his new approach of playing on the perimeter. I saw all of this early on in the Mal Brown scrimmage and worried about it all season long, and the results have come to fruition.

If this were a perfect world, Ryan Gomes would have been rewarded for his four year career and for sticking around to get his diploma, and would have been picked in the first round. But the NBA is a business and teams won't squander draft picks. They won't pick a player because he was loyal to his school, or because that school's fans think he was a great player and all of those teams were crazy not to select him. They pick players strictly based on who they think can help them.

Today's NBA draft is all about Upside and Potential. That's why high school seniors who have proved nothing have been the first pick in past drafts. That's why foreign players who nobody (except uber hoops junkies) have heard of, get picked in the middle of the second round ahead of a player like Gomes.

Now the direction becomes difficult, yet crystal clear. Forget for a minute whether the Celtics were a good team for Gomes to get picked by (that's a different story for a different day). Any player picked in the lower middle half of the second round faces a daunting task to make an NBA roster.

So, in the end, maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised. Maybe it was a combination of Ryan's height, the concern teams had over what his position would be, his lack of explosive athleticism, his ability to defend smaller, quicker forwards and bigger stronger forwards… maybe, despite the reports of his good workouts, it was something else.

Ryan Gomes proved everyone wrong coming out of high school… his job now is to prove the teams that selected forty-nine players ahead of him wrong.

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