Things are moving fast for the departing Tennessee basketball players who weren’t selected in Thursday night’s NBA draft.
“I remember talking with my agent as soon as the draft was over, and he was making calls and looking for deals,’’ said former UT player C.J. Watson, who worked his way into the NBA through stints in Europe and the NBA D-League after not getting drafted in 2006. “It’s both a hard time and an exciting time, but more hard because you still don’t know for sure what’s going to happen.
“You just have to be confident in your abilities, and try to go out and work hard to get the respect you deserve.’’
None of the Vols eligible for Thursday night’s draft — Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince, Tyler Smith and Bobby Maze — were selected.
They worked hard over their careers to help establish the UT program. Now, it’s about establishing themselves in the pro ranks, stateside or overseas.
Only six UT players have been drafted during the past 22 years, since the NBA went to its current two-round format in 1989. Watson is the only former Vol currently in the league.
Marcus Haislip and Vincent Yarbrough were the most recent Tennessee players drafted, in 2002, with Haislip going in the first round (13th overall) to Milwaukee and Yarbrough selected in the second round by Denver.
“You look at what some of the teams Tennessee has beat are putting into the NBA, and (Coach) Bruce (Pearl) has done a helluva job there,’’ said one NBA scout.
But there’s not much more Pearl can do for his departing seniors; it’s in the hands of the players’ representatives to find the best deals.
Jared Karnes, a former Bearden High School basketball standout who represents Chism and Smith with the a3 sports agency, planned on working the phones late Thursday night and into the early hours of Friday morning in the event neither was selected.
“The (NBA) summer leagues get filled up right after the draft, so it will be a long night,’’ Karnes said prior to the draft. “Players like the warm, fuzzy feeling associated with hearing their name announced (at the NBA draft). They’ve dreamed about that moment their whole lives.
“But you’ve also got to realize there are a lot of paths that can get you into the NBA.’’
Watson was cut by San Antonio after signing a free-agent deal out of UT and went to play in Italy, Greece and eventually the NBA D-League before the Warriors signed him in January of 2008.
The current crop of outgoing Vols face more of a challenge out of the gate.
Karnes explained that the possibility of an NBA lockout — the collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2010-11 season — has led to a frenzy of sorts, with more young players entering the draft than normal.
“So while you look for an (NBA) free-agent deal, trying to get your player into a good summer league position to make a team camp, you realize that some spots overseas are being filled, too,’’ Karnes said. “You don’t want to miss a good opportunity there.’’
Chism, Smith, Prince and Maze could make six figures playing overseas, but not all leagues are created equally, and money isn’t the sole factor to be considered.
Former UT star Chris Lofton plays in Spain’s ACB League, which is generally regarded as Europe’s best.
Other top leagues in Europe include Lega Basket Serie A (Italy’s top league), as well as the leagues in Greece, Turkey and the Russian Superleague.
After that, it’s Germany, Belgium, Japan, China and Korea, among others.
“I’d like to keep my guys in the traditionally visible, high-level European leagues,’’ Karnes said. “I feel more comfortable placing them where it is easier for them to adapt; I know Chris Lofton really likes Madrid.
“With Wayne and Tyler both NBA-caliber players, I prefer to shop them to premier and valued leagues where they aren’t out-of-sight, out-of-mind.’’
Both Chism and Smith already have six-figure deals on the table from European teams, according to Karnes, and Chism had a provisional summer-league offer from an NBA team before the draft started.
The NBA D-League is another option, but it’s not without risks.
“The advantage is you stay stateside and you can get called up within 24 to 48 hours with no buyout,’’ Karnes said. “But the money is drastically lower.’’
Only a handful of NBA D-League players approach making six figures, with many making less than a quarter of that.
John Prince, a former collegiate coach, said there wasn’t any firm contingency plan in place for his son, J.P., going into Thursday night.
“We’re prepared to sit down after the dust clears and help J.P. make the best decision for his future,’’ the elder Prince said. “His goal, of course, is to play in the NBA. But you have to be realistic about your decisions. This is about money, and your future, and how you’re able to provide for yourself.’’
“You only have so much of a shelf life.’’
Pearl believes one or more of the most recently departed Vols will find their way to the NBA.
“Not getting picked in the draft isn’t the end of the world,’’ Pearl said. “It’s not devastating, because through other channels of free agency and other teams you can make it into the NBA.
“But if a couple or a few of them aren’t playing in the NBA in the next year or two, it would be disappointing.’’