- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2008

James Gist knew he would face some questions as he hopped from one job interview to another in the last month.

One of the most difficult came as a surprise to the well-traveled Maryland graduate.

“The hardest is ‘Where did you just come from?’” Gist said earlier this week as he waited to catch a flight from Milwaukee to Detroit. “It’s like, ‘Man, I have to stop and think for a second. Was I in Miami? No, I was in [Portland, Ore.] No, I was in Cleveland.’ They just go day after day.”

Welcome to life as a projected second-round NBA Draft pick. The 6-foot-8 forward doesn’t enjoy the luxuries of the lottery-bound Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley, one-and-done college stars who can safely guess among two or three - at most - potential destinations when commissioner David Stern strides to the podium Thursday night.

There is no such certainty for Gist. Instead, he attended the league’s predraft camp in Orlando, Fla., last month. He has spent the last two weeks on the road, bouncing from workout to workout.

Among the stops: Houston; San Antonio; Sacramento, Calif.; Chicago; Portland, Ore.; Cleveland; Toronto; and Milwaukee. Less than a week ago, Boston called to arrange a workout less than 36 hours before the draft.

All could be destinations for Gist, who is listed among the final 10 picks on several mock drafts. NBAdraft.net projects him as the 51st pick to Dallas, while Draft Express (54th to Houston) and Collegehoops.net (58th to the Los Angeles Lakers) also have him being selected.

Gist also could go undrafted, which NBA assistant director of scouting Ryan Blake said could play to his favor.

“The benefit of not getting drafted is he may have more than one team calling,” said Blake, who anticipates Gist either going in the second round or not being picked at all. “He’ll have a choice to see what team or teams that he could play for in the summer. Even if he doesn’t get drafted, it isn’t the end-all for opportunities to get into the league.”

Gist’s strength is his athleticism, a trait he gradually tapped into more while at Maryland. The rim-rocking dunks and authoritative blocked shots were plentiful, but Gist also displayed increased shooting range as a senior.

His presence on the perimeter indicated his growing game and hinted to NBA teams what he might provide as a pro.

“Playing at Maryland, it’s more of a structured system,” Gist said. “You have to find ways to score in the offense. The best players are going to score the most points. It was a growing process for me, and each year I got better. Now it’s like you have a little more freedom. Some teams have structure, but if you can play, you’re going to play.”

Gist averaged 15.9 points and 7.9 rebounds a game as a senior, mixing some dominant nights (30 points against N.C. State, 31 points at Wake Forest) with some quieter outings.

Explosive performances provide a glimmer of what Gist can provide. But it wasn’t an every-night occurrence with the Terrapins.

“There’s a ton of athletes out there that can jump, run and shoot,” Blake said. “With his size and his ability to spread the defense, expand the range and block shots, his upside is still there. He’s still improving and progressing. If a team thinks he can fit that mold and he’s a hard worker, they might give him that shot. He has a lot of skills, but he still has a lot to prove.”

Of course, just about anyone going in the second round is in an identical position. There aren’t guaranteed contracts after the first round, and only 16 of the 30 second-rounders from last year’s draft played in the NBA this season.

That means quickly establishing a niche is essential for Gist, a thought further emphasized when he worked out for Cleveland earlier this month.

“They said, ‘We already got a guy who can score. No. 23 is going to have that ball. We don’t need you to come in and be a superstar,’” Gist said. “Hearing that, I was already going in with that mind-set. That’s probably the biggest thing - not to be a superstar and not to try to do too much. They’re looking for someone just to be a great role player.”

Gist, meanwhile, is eager to move on to trying to earn a roster spot after jumping from one city to another for much of the month.

“It’s been a little hectic,” Gist said. “It’s kind of like living the NBA life a little bit. They play 82 games, and there’s times they’re flying and playing the next night. It’s kind of weird, but it’s also good getting to meet new people, going to see pro arenas and all the cities. It’s definitely an experience.”

And one that won’t soon be forgotten, even if yesterday’s itinerary is already fuzzy.

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