The NBA Draft is on Thursday, and the buzz around the league is that the University of Miami’s Lonnie Walker IV could be picked as high as No. 9 by the New York Knicks or No. 10 by the Philadelphia 76ers.
If that happens, Walker, who left the Hurricanes after his freshman season, would become the highest UM draft pick since Rick Barry was selected No. 2 by the San Francisco Warriors in 1965. Only four Miami players have been picked in the first round — Barry, Shane Larkin (No. 18 in 2003), Tim James (No. 24 in 1999) and John Salmons (No. 26 in 2002).
Walker, who raised eyebrows at the NBA Combine in Chicago last month, spent the past few weeks doing private workouts with several teams, including the Knicks, 76ers, Lakers, Bulls, Hornets and Clippers.
His UM teammate, sophomore Bruce Brown, has also been working out for teams, including the Hawks, Bulls, Pacers, Knicks, 76ers, and twice with Boston, where UM coach Jim Larrañaga’s son, Jay, is an assistant. Brown is projected to be picked in the low 20s to mid-30s.
In a video interview after his 76ers workout last Monday, Walker said: “It’s kind of like a dream. You wake up and realize you’re about to work out with the Sixers. This is a very surreal moment. My heart is pumping out of my chest. I’m just excited that my entire life — I talked about, I dreamed about it, but I never knew how fast this would come.
“Being here, playing for the Sixers. I grew up watching Allen Iverson, 45 minutes from my house, so this is pretty intense for me, honestly.”
According to a report by NBC Sports Philadelphia, Walker, a native of Reading, Pennsylvania, and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges stood out at the Sixers’ pre-draft workout, which also included Oregon State’s Drew Eubanks, SMU guard Shake Milton, Maryland’s Jared Nickens and Baylor’s Nuni Omot.
“I thought they came in and had a tremendous spirit,” coach Brett Brown said of Bridges and Walker. “You saw different things athletically from them both. They made shots. … It’s obviously deeper than just looking at an hour-plus workout. There’s a lot of information that we have to digest. I thought those two guys were good today.”
Walker told NBC: “Always been a Sixers fan. Growing up, I used to watch a lot of AND1 and my dad is an old-school type of guy. Julius Erving was my first favorite player ever. Allen Iverson was my end-all, be-all, top player; greatest player in the world.”
According to ESPN.com’s Ian Begley, the Knicks’ front office is also impressed with Walker and considering drafting him.
“Earlier this month it was clear that Miami's Lonnie Walker had support among decision-makers in the Knicks' front office. That remains the case today, a few days from the draft, per sources,” Begley wrote. “The Knicks worked Walker out individually earlier this week. Opposing executives believe Walker and Kentucky's Kevin Knox are among the players in the conversation for the Knicks, who pick ninth in the draft. Members of the organization were impressed by Knox's workout and some were also impressed by Walker's athleticism, defensive versatility and shot-making.”
Walker led Miami with 11.5 points per game (41.5 percent from the field), 2.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He was named to the All-ACC Freshman Team and All-ACC Academic team.
ESPN’s Bobby Marks (front office insider) and Mike Schmitz (scouting analyst) both spoke highly of Walker in a conference call Monday.
“He's one of my favorite kind of non-consensus top 10 picks in the draft,” Schmitz said of Walker. “ I think he's the type of guy who's going to look much better in the NBA than he did in college. He has positional size. He's long. He's explosive. ... His game really pops. Every move he makes in the perimeter is an NBA move.”
Marks added: “I think he's a player that's taken advantage of the draft workouts. We saw him out in L.A. a month ago, and he's somebody who's tested well. ... I think there was some uncertainty with Lonnie coming into the draft process as far as where he could fall, and originally, we were thinking teens, maybe now it's likely he's going to crack the top 14. I think the individual draft workouts kind of confirmed what a lot of teams thought of him before he got to Miami.”