In 60-plus years of the NBA draft, teams have used first-round picks on players out of four-year colleges, community colleges, high schools and from countries across the globe.
Former Georgia Tech guard Glen Rice Jr. could become an unlikely first. A little more than a year since being dismissed from the team, Rice could become the first player to be taken in the first round out of the NBA Development League, which began play in 2001. The draft takes place Thursday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“It’s a great turnaround,” NBA senior scouting director Ryan Blake said Wednesday.
Various mock drafts peg Rice to be picked late in the first round or early in the second. If he goes in the first 30 picks, it would make him the first former Tech player to be taken in the first round since Iman Shumpert in 2011. Overall, he would be the 19th former Yellow Jacket to be selected in the first round.
Phoenix, Minnesota, Boston and the New York Knicks are among teams who brought him in for predraft workouts. At 6-foot-4 1/2 and 211 pounds, he projects to be a shooting guard. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Were he taken in the first round, “I’d be ecstatic, just knowing all the hard work had paid off,” Rice told the Timberwolves’ website after his workout there. “The route’s a little unconventional, but I’d just be extremely happy.”
Blake said Rice is a first-round talent, but that there are 45 players in the draft worthy of getting selected in the first round. Rice, from Walton High, drew scouts’ attention in the second half of the D-League season, when he averaged 17.7 points per game in the final 25 games of the regular season for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers before leading the team to the league championship.
“Good shooter, became a better defender,” Blake said. “He’s not a great creator, but improved his scoring, especially from his Georgia Tech days. It can happen. People tend to forget that people continue to develop.”
Tech coach Brian Gregory, whose repeated confrontations with Rice led Gregory to suspend and then dismiss him in March 2012, is not surprised. Gregory said that Rice always had NBA-caliber talent and that in a number of games during the 2011-12 season, Rice was the best player on the court.
He scored 28 on 17 shots against Duke. At Clemson, he fired in 15 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes in a two-point loss. What was lacking was maturity.
Former Tech guard Mfon Udofia, a close friend of Rice’s, often tried to counsel his teammate, urging him to be level-headed and respectful. They stayed in touch after Rice was dismissed and have talked daily in the run-up to the draft. Udofia himself has worked out for the Hawks, Sacramento and Utah and hopes he can sign as a rookie free agent.
“Going to the D-League and sitting on the bench and getting that time to know himself better and thinking about the things he did wrong, it kind of woke him up,” Udofia said.
Gregory bears no animosity toward Rice. He hopes that, as other former Tech players have, Rice will return to finish his degree work.
“I think he knows that people at Georgia Tech and our program, we want him to be successful,” Gregory said.
Just past the entrance to the Zelnak Basketball Center where Tech practices, a wall is filled with photos of former Tech players who have reached the NBA. Gregory is ready to add the picture of a former Jacket whose path to the NBA was hardly direct, but honest.
Said Gregory, “He’s earned that.”