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NBA draft prospects endure long road before big day

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2014

What are the chances Billy Baron gets drafted by the Washington Wizards next week? What are the chances he gets drafted at all?

The harsh reality facing the former Canisius guard is that only 1.2 percent of college basketball players will make a living in the NBA. But there Baron was this week at Verizon Center, working out for the Washington Wizards' staff alongside five fellow hopefuls in another attempt to catch someone's eye. Anyone's eye.

"You only get one opportunity," said Baron, who shot 40.5 percent from beyond the 3-point arc in his college career. "You only have about 60-90 minutes to really interview for this job but I think we all did a great job with that."

Every summer NBA teams spend several weeks hosting pre-draft workouts to determine which of these players fit best with their organizations. The players, in turn, spend varying amounts of time on the road, answering invitations to come and prove themselves in NBA arenas all around the country.

"I mean, the traveling is bad," said Arizona guard Nick Johnson, who is projected to go early in the second round of next Thursday's draft. "That's pretty much the only thing. This is my 12th [workout] so far, and I've got a few more. The workouts are hard, but they're about an hour and you're pretty much used to that."

No matter what job you are trying to get, the interview process can be nerve-wracking. These hopefuls have watched their competition throughout the year and played against them; they are well aware that they are going up against the most talented individuals in their field.

Despite the competition, though, these players tend to develop bonds with one another. They see each other at workouts regularly and often have similar travel schedules.

Justin Cobbs of the University of California and Josh Huestis of Stanford were conference rivals in the Pac-12, but have grown close as they attempt to make their way in the world of basketball.

"With Josh it's good," said Cobbs. "I'm very familiar with his game. I've had him in a lot of workouts, he works out with me in Vegas [development league] so it was good seeing a familiar face out there competing and trying to fight for a job."

Added Huestis: "It's been great [playing with Cobbs]. We were rivals for a couple years playing each other every year, so it's good. It's been really competitive, he's a good player so I'm looking forward to where we're going."

If they are to survive the tryout process with any level of success, they will need friends. The arduous process of workouts will continue for many up until the draft. Plane rides, jet lag, late nights and early mornings will continue to be their norm.

"I think I have about six or seven [workouts left]," said Cobbs. "Right now I'm at 10 so just keep going. You only get to do this once so you might as well cherish it for what it is and keep grinding."

For athletes in their late teens or early twenties, their careers are full of promise, but also full of doubt. It takes a peculiar mix of competition and brotherhood to vault them successfully onto a bigger stage.

"You've just got to keep competing," said Baron, who could be seen cheering on the others and giving out high fives during the workout. "All it takes is one team to love you — one guy and one team to love you — and that's just what I'm trying to get."

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