And Jeffery Taylor just stared into the middle distance for the entire 45 minutes of this interview, never blinking.
The NBA Draft is only 17 days away, and it stands to be the most exciting selection show of all time for Commodore fans. For the first time in school history, Vanderbilt is likely to have multiple players taken in the first round on June 28. Festus Ezeli, Jeffery Taylor, and John Jenkins have all been staples of mock drafts since their NCAA careers ended last March.
This past week solidified their statuses as high level prospects. The 2012 Draft Combine was held from Wednesday to Saturday in Chicago, pitting the best eligible players up against each other in drills and exercises to gauge their athletic abilities. Each player was measured, prodded, and put through the ringer in a series of tests designed to create an accurate representation of their talent.
All three Commodores participated in the highest-profile pre-draft workout in the country. While none have earned headline-level praise from the scouts and reporters in attendance, each was able to showcase their abilities and hopefully cement their status as first-round prospects. These guys are flying a bit under the radar right now, but that also means that they could end up making some very good NBA teams very happy towards the end of the first round.
Here's what we gathered from last week's action. The reports below only reflect on Combine results, and not on how the players may have done in their individual interviews with different NBA teams. There haven't been too many reports on how the Commodore trio may have done when it came to speaking with league executives, but no news is good news in a situation like that.
Stock Rising: Festus Ezeli. Ezeli has always been known as an athlete, but his measurements and exercise results put him amongst the elite in Chicago. He checked in at just a shade under seven feet (6'11.75" in shoes) and posted the second longest wingspan in the camp (7'5.75"). Combine those with his 34" standing vertical leap (3rd best at the Combine) and you can understand why he has developed into such an effective shot blocker.
Ezeli also bench pressed 185 lbs 18 times and ran a full court sprint as quickly as his teammate Jeffery Taylor did (3.29 seconds). Despite measuring out as a true center, he showed off athletic abilities that would be comparable to a small forward. While many mock drafts predict that he'll be selected early in the second round, results like these suggest that he could move past Fab Melo to be the second full-time center chosen in the draft. He'll have to put together similar performances in individual workouts with NBA teams in the coming weeks, but if he can be consistent there's a chance that he can become a top 20 choice.
Stock Rising: Jeffery Taylor. Taylor had a good combine, but it wasn't the lights-out performance that some had expected from the player who may be the greatest pure athlete to play under Kevin Stallings. He measured in at a sound 6'7" but at 213 pounds he was a dozen pounds less than his reported playing weight at Vanderbilt. After working hard between his sophomore and junior years to gain 25 pounds of muscle, has the Sweden native decided that he's more comfortable at a lighter weight?
Still, it's difficult to knock his strength after he showed up with just 4.3% body fat and then pumped out 15 reps on the bench, ranking him sixth amongst the wings. His 40 inch vertical leap was good for 5th amongst all NBA Draft prospects as well. Taylor presented himself to be every bit the top-level athlete that he was expected to be, but he may have had to post freakish numbers to reverse the stigma of being a college senior with less potential to grow than a younger player. Is that expecting too much? Probably. But that also stands to make Taylor one hell of a bargain towards the end of the first round.
Stock Holding: John Jenkins. Jenkins was always known to be a bit small for the shooting guard spot at 6'4", but a long wingspan and a 36.5" vertical leap should help assuage some of those concerns. He also showed off average strength and agility when it came to drills, making him a safe - if unexciting - pick for teams looking for someone who can immediately fill a role off the bench.
Of course, Jenkins's true value comes from his shooting, something that can't be measured in a combine setting. Unless he absolutely aced or failed his measurements and tests, anything gathered from last week's stat sheets would have been complementary data at best. Jenkins went in and showed off what a hard offseason workout regimen can do. Now, he just needs to prove to teams that he can get off his shot from behind the NBA three-point line in order to slide his way into the first round.
One more for the road: Former Commodore Charles Hinkle wasn't invited to Chicago, but he did earn a trip to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, which selects some of the most talented senior talent in the nation. Hinkle broke out in a big way last year after transferring to American University, scoring 18.4 points and shooting 41.9% from three-point range to finish second in the Patriot League in points per game.
Reports from the PIT weren't encouraging, and Hinkle's measurements probably didn't do much to boost his stock either. Still, if he can show teams that his shooting and scoring ability can make him an asset, there may be a summer league invite waiting for him in July. Hinkle is a longshot to make it to the NBA, but his refusal to give up on his dream has been inspiring. Expect him to be one of many players with a Commodore resume to earn some money playing in Europe in 2013.