College all-star game showcases borderline NBA draft picks, hoping to hustle way into league



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INDIANAPOLIS — Oklahoma coach Travis Ford's advice to Le'Bryan Nash was simple: play hard.

The Oklahoma State forward did just that in the National Association of Basketball Coaches' all-star game Friday and ended up co-MVP, helping the West squad to a 109-87 victory.

"I just went out there and had fun. I'm always going to be in shape because I like to play basketball so much and I like to move so much," said Nash, who had 17 points and eight rebounds for the West. "Talent's going to come out when you play hard."

There were likely no NBA lottery picks on the floor at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday night. Unlike Saturday, when the Final Four is played. Kentucky brings a handful of potential lottery picks into its game against Wisconsin. The Badgers have a couple of projected first-rounders in Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker.

Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor is likely to be one of the first players to come off the board on June 25 and forward Justise Winslow is rising quickly. The Blue Devils face a Michigan State team with more marginal NBA potential.

The all-star game showcased those types of players. Some guys who might be able to work their way into the bottom of the first round, but mostly those on the borderline of being drafted at all.

Ford had a front row seat to watch Nash. The coach clapped and hollered, "Yeah, L.B," when Nash was named co-MVP, along with Corey Hawkins of UC Davis. Hawkins scored 20 points and was 4 of 5 from the 3-point range.

Ford stresses effort and attitude to players in Nash's situation.

"I've seen so many players, their future could be decided in the next four to five weeks and a lot of them stop playing or get out of shape," said Ford, the former Kentucky guard who just completed his seventh season at Oklahoma State. "I told him you can get ahead if you just stay in shape. And when you go to these workouts, when you go to these all-star games, show everybody how serious you are by how great you stayed in shape. You kept working out. You just didn't end the season and take a vacation."

That's not so easy.

Northern Iowa star Seth Tuttle, whose team lost to Louisville in the second round of the NCAA tournament, said he had to take a week to recuperate.

The all-stars practiced for a couple days in Indianapolis and Tuttle said it felt good to shake the rust off.

"I wanted to come out here and have fun," the 6-foot-8 forward said. "But at the same time I wanted to showcase my different skills set. Obviously, I'm not going to be a back to the basket guy in the NBA. I had to showcase my passing and my shooting."

Tuttle didn't shoot much, but his one and only 3-pointer went in and he finished with five points, three rebounds and two assists.

"Just come out here and play hard, be unselfish like I have been and just play," he said.

The next stop for many of these players is the Portsmouth Invitational in Virginia next week, where they will showcase their talents to pro scouts. The next big draft camp after that is in Chicago.

The NABC all-star game doesn't draw quite as much attention so it is a little more relaxed. And just because a player didn't put up big numbers like Nash, Hawkins or Murray State's Jarvis Williams, who led the East with 16 points and had a reverse dunk, doesn't mean he had a bad game.

"You just got to show people what you do best," Sacramento State guard Mikh McKinney said. "I think our team did a good job of playing together and also showing our strengths."

The NBA is the goal for all of these players, but there are other options like playing overseas that can lead to a lucrative career.

"You just got to put in as much work as you can and at the end of the day you'll fall where you're supposed to fall," UC Santa Barbara forward Alan Williams said. "If that's in the NBA then great and if not and you're playing somewhere else it's another opportunity for you to continue to grow and get better."


Follow Ralph D. Russo at http://www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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