Uncertain Process

If there is anything to be gleaned from the results of Thursday night's NBA Draft, it is that even though the vast majority of those who were selected to join the professional ranks are "known" entities to most observers, it is still an exercise in futility to try to predict where and when those players will be chosen.

One needs look only at the results from the pair of West Virginia players that were picked (the first time that has happened since the NBA moved to a two-round draft; the last time two Mountaineers were selected in the draft, in 1983, forward Russel Todd was a sixth-round selection) to know that is true.

Seemingly every mock draft and "expert" projection had Devin Ebanks being taken ahead of Da'Sean Butler -- if Butler, still in the midst of a very public recovery from the devastating ACL injury he suffered at the Final Four in early April, was to be taken at all.

Highly-respected web site DraftExpress.com had Ebanks coming off the board with the 11th pick in the second round, one of two back-to-back choices held by the Miami Heat. It did not have Butler as a projected selection.

Another popular mock-up, that of the web site NBADraft.net, was even more optimistic about Ebanks' chances, seeing him as the 28th overall pick (meaning the guaranteed money that comes with a first-round selection's contract) and going to the Memphis Grizzlies. Again, that site did not have Butler being chosen.

That Butler was picked wasn't a surprise because of any perceived lack of skill -- WVU fans know rather well what the 6-foot-7 swingman is capable of. Rather, it is because the entire draft process, much like that of other professional leagues, seems centered on the results of combine-style workouts.

One only needs look at the precipitous falls of both Ebanks and Hassan Whiteside, the Marshall center who was widely seen as a possible late lottery pick when he declared for the draft but ultimately fell to the second round, to see that.

But somehow, despite being physically unable to work out for teams, Butler managed to defy projections that he would go undrafted and even managed to edge out his teammate by one spot.

Butler and Ebanks, chosen with the 12th and 13th selections of the second round and now part of the Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers, respectively, still have much work ahead of them.

The Heat are in the process of essentially dumping nearly their whole roster, trying to convince star guard Dwyane Wade to stay in town, and possibly lure another major free agent into the fold as well.

Butler won't be able to compete in summer leagues and other areas where most second-round picks go to try to prove their mettle. So when he does get a chance, he'll have to quickly take advantage if he hopes to make good on the promise that he made in an "Outside the Lines" piece about his rehab, when he said if he got a shot at getting in the NBA, he "won't get out."

Ebanks will have to show the reigning world champions that he has a skill-set that could prove valuable for them. The Lakers already have the world's best big-man in Pau Gasol and a litany of other players of similar (or taller) height to Ebanks' 6-foot-8 frame.

Much as he did in college, Ebanks will have to be an exceptional defender and rebounder to justify a roster spot at the next level. But he will have to show himself as a capable scorer as well, and that will likely be one of his chief objectives when he begins play in the coming weeks.

On paper, neither of the newly-minted NBA Mountaineers has the easiest road to sticking around at the highest level of professional basketball. For all but a fortunate few, it is extraordinarily difficult -- Butler and Ebanks need only consult former WVU players like Kevin Pittsnogle, Mike Gansey and even former lottery pick Joe Alexander to find that out.

Butler has already defied the odds just by being chosen. Both he and Ebanks will continue to have to do so if they hope to ensure their NBA dream goes further than hearing their names called Thursday night.


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