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Intensity Rising as Draft Nears

Say this for the slew of college athletes about to become NBA players: they seem to have the media training down pat. Heading into next Thursday’s NBA Draft, they are saying all the right things, demonstrating humility and refraining from burning any bridges along the way.

They don’t care whether they’re picked first or 60th, as long as the fit’s right.

They don’t pay attention to any of the projections being bandied about as to where they will land (heck, Brandon Knight claimed not to know what a mock draft was).

They aren’t nervous heading into draft day because they know that whatever happens is what was meant to be.

But, as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and Wednesday’s pre-draft workout in Toronto which featured Kawhi Leonard, Tristan Thompson, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Cory Joseph and Demontez Stitt, made it clear how eager these players are to emerge from the pack.

Calling it “by far our best and most competitive workout,” Raptors’ Director of Scouting Jim Kelly was quick to point out that this wasn’t just a run of the mill opportunity for the six draft-eligible players to go through the motions.

“We’re getting down a little bit closer to draft day and some of these players realize that they are getting pretty close to where we’re picking,” explains Kelly, “and they want to get into the best possible position heading into the draft.”

According to HOOPSADDICT.com’s most recent mock draft, the four forwards that hit the floor of the Raptors’ Adidas Practice Court are projected to be separated by just 10 picks (Leonard – 6th, Morris – 9th, Thompson – 11th, Harris – 16th), highlighting the importance of each having a standout showing against the others.

All four are seen as versatile frontcourt options with similar size (all range between 6’7” and 6’9” from 210 to 235 lbs.), making the need to differentiate themselves through the workout critical.

Even with the depth of talent on hand, there was no mistaking the marquee attraction of Wednesday’s workout.

Along with likely second rounder Joseph, Thompson grew up a little over half an hour from the Air Canada Centre in Brampton and had been on the Raptors’ radar since, according to Kelly, the two played in an Under-16 exhibition game in Toronto. While a top five selection would be a reach for the former Longhorn, he would set a Canadian draft record if he’s selected before the No. 15 pick (Steve Nash, 1996).

But on Wednesday, Thompson seemed less interested in his own potential record (he hadn’t even heard of the Nash mark) than in the influence that his rise could have on other young basketball players in the Greater Toronto Area.

“It’s exciting that me and Cory led the way for the younger generation and I want to know who’s after me – who’s going to take my place,” says Thompson. “[…] I think there are a lot of young guys coming up now that might beat me and might surpass that No. 15 record.”

The “Local Kids Realize Their NBA Dreams” storyline represented the over-arching theme on Wednesday (more than twice the media was on hand compared to the Kemba Walker / Brandon Knight workouts), but the intensity of the session made it abundantly clear that we are just days away from the NBA Draft.

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