Lonnie Walker IV, so eager to begin his professional basketball career that he left the University of Miami after his freshman season, is in Chicago this week for the NBA Draft Combine and projected as a potential lottery pick – or somewhere just below.
He spent Tuesday and Wednesday interviewing with general managers, getting measured, taking medical exams and on Thursday was scheduled to be tested in vertical jump, bench press, sprints, and agility.
Asked how he feels about the draft process thus far, Walker summed it up in six words: “I feel like I’m in heaven.”
Reached by phone, Walker said he can hardly believe his lifelong dream is unfolding right before his eyes.
“Just the fact that I’m sitting here in this hotel room in Chicago for the NBA Combine feels like a dream,” he said. “I grew up thinking, `I wonder what it’s like to be in the NBA?’ and `I can’t wait to get to the NBA,’ and here I am, entering this world. It’s insane. I’m trying to look calm, but inside, I’m jumping around like a little kid.”
Walker was one of 60 players invited to the Combine, along with Miami teammate Bruce Brown. He was one of just 15 to 20 players invited to the Draft Lottery Draw on Tuesday night, where he got to mingle with league executives.
“For the first time in my entire life, I’m focusing only on basketball, and I can’t put into words how different I feel and how amazing it is,” said Walker. “I look different. My body fat is down. I look more toned. I feel different. Physically, I’ve never been pushed like this before and never been in such great shape. My friends and my family say they’ve never seen me in this type of zone.”
Walker, an honor student in high school and at UM, is excited to introduce himself to general managers and coaches.
“I’m very confident with what I bring to the table on and off the court,” he said. “Teams are going to be shocked when they find out who I am and how I speak and that I have a lot of interests outside basketball.”
Before heading to the Combine, Walker worked out for three weeks at Chris Gaston’s basketball academy in Thousand Oaks, California, alongside other NBA Draft prospects. He was in the gym by 8 a.m. and trained hard until 2 p.m. His day consisted of on-court basketball drills, shooting, speed and agility, sports psychology, massage, and yoga. Most nights, he was back in the gym for more shooting.
Walker said he has been spending extra time working with his left hand, and “I’m turning some weaknesses into strengths.”
One of his main objectives is to prepare his body for the grind of an NBA season.
“We all forget that the college season is 30-something games, including the tournament, and in the NBA, that’s your preseason and the first three weeks of the season,” said Walker’s agent, Happy Walters. “NBA teams play about 100 games, so that’s three college seasons.”
Walters said he has high expectations for Walker on draft day, June 21. He has been getting positive feedback about his client, who has drawn comparisons to Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, a candidate for Rookie of the Year who was drafted No. 13 last year.
“A lot of teams look at what Lonnie might be able to do going forward that he didn’t really get a chance to do at UM in a short season where he didn’t play a ton of minutes early,” Walters said. “Teams draft on potential, and in Lonnie’s case, he showed some signs of greatness, and I think teams want to see how great he can be, what the real upside is for a kid who just turned 19 in December.”
UM coach Jim Larranaga has been in close touch with Walker since he left campus. He is in Chicago for the Combine and will be in Los Angeles on May 30 for a Pro Day, where approximately 120 NBA coaches and executives will watch Walker and other prospects work out.
Walker insists he doesn’t care where he lands “as long as I have on a jersey with an NBA name across the chest,” he said. The biggest challenge, he suspects, will be adjusting to the intensity of the pro game.
“Those are grown men out there, and some of them have kids as old as me,” he said. “They have families to feed. It’s still a game, but this is serious. But I don’t feel nervous. Not at all. I can’t wait.”