D.J. selling his specialty

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D.J. Strawberry insists he doesn’t have time to analyze his team workouts in preparation for Thursday’s NBA Draft.

But one piece of advice has stuck with the former Maryland guard, even after he completed 10 team workouts — the latest yesterday with the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center.

The advice came from Phoenix Suns assistant coach Alvin Gentry before Strawberry’s workout with the Suns on June 8.

“Don’t come out here and worry about scoring. That will come. We like you for your defense so do what you do best,” Strawberry recalls Gentry telling him.

Strawberry liked the Suns fast-break style in their workouts but also said it would be a great accomplishment to play for the Wizards, his favorite team.

But most draft experts, including NBA director of scouting Marty Blake, expect Strawberry to be selected in the second round. Strawberry hopes his defensive skills will attract interest from the league’s general managers — particularly with the fresh memories of San Antonio Spurs forward Bruce Bowen limiting Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James in the NBA Finals.

Strawberry ranks fifth all-time in steals (202) for Maryland and built a reputation for limiting production of opponents’ star players.

“He’s probably the only guy that is entering the NBA Draft with a defensive specialist title attached to his name,” Blake said. “In college today, if you’re a good player you usually never guard a good player. Your star usually does not guard their star.”

Strawberry and his agent, Bill Duffey of BDA Sports Management, hope to bank on the fact that his style of play is rare in the league today. But Blake acknowledged that most NBA teams will prefer the complete package over a specialized player.

Although Strawberry is counting on his defense to attract more offers, he’s aware of his criticism as an inconsistent offensive player. He averaged about two turnovers both his junior and senior years while also shooting inconsistently from the perimeter.

“When D.J. shoots the ball well, he is definitely a player that can play at the next level,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “If there is a knock on his game, that’s it. What you do in those situations is you work so that’s not a weakness anymore.”

Strawberry — who finished his four-year career with 1,126 points — started working to address that weakness two weeks after Butler eliminated Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament. He traveled to North Babylon in Long Island, N.Y., to train with Jerry Powell of Basketball Results, a training company started in 1986. Powell also has trained future NBA players like Ben Gordon, Tony Allen, Hakim Warrick, Tim Thomas, Jermaine O’Neal, Luis Flores and A.J. Price.

While training leading up to the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando, Strawberry completed shooting and ball-handling drills at game speed, followed by weight lifting and five-on-five scrimmages.

After seven weeks, Powell noticed Strawberry appeared more confident in his shooting.

And, at the Orlando camp, the son of former major league baseball star Darryl Strawberry scored as the best athlete in attendance.

“Best defensive player. Best defensive player on the ball I’ve ever seen in my life,” Powell said. “What the NBA doesn’t know, he can score, too, and is super athletic. I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people.”

The only question that remains is when.

Bowen went undrafted and played in France and the Continental Basketball Association before the Miami Heat signed him to a 10-day contract in 1997. The Phoenix Suns‘ Raja Bell — also a defensive specialist — finished his collegiate career at Florida International in 1999 and also went undrafted by the NBA; he didn’t play a game until he joined the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001.

While Strawberry acknowledges he may have to travel the same road as those players, for now he still has workouts lined up with the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Bobcats. He’s going to take Gentry’s advice and do what he does best — and also try to show an improved shooting touch.

“With the right system, I think I can be a good offensive player, too,” Strawberry said. “A lot of teams are going to need a defensive player like me. I try to go out and continue to work hard on defense and get better on offense. Whatever happens on draft night happens. Wherever I end up and wherever I go, it doesn’t matter to me.”

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