Undrafted Mbakwe, Williams go to 76ers

by Jace Frederick

Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams both had the opportunity to be the first Gophers player taken in the NBA draft since 2004.

But after 60 selections in the June 27 draft, all 30 teams passed on the two forwards.

“You kept hearing names being called and you’re waiting for yours, but it never happened,” Mbakwe said. “It was frustrating. … Obviously you think that you’re probably better than some players who were drafted.”

Now Mbakwe and Williams face a difficult path to making NBA rosters.

Both will play with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers for the Orlando summer league.

Williams said Philadelphia was the only team to contact him after the draft. Mbakwe said he received several calls but felt the 76ers were a good fit.

Philadelphia appears to be in rebuilding mode. The team traded away its starting point guard Jrue Holiday on draft night and likely won’t be resigning center Andrew Bynum.

“They have a new GM coming in,” Mbakwe said. “Their roster’s kind of broken up. … They like the way I play and they have some open spots.”

Mbakwe sees advantages to rejoining his teammate of four years in Williams.

“We know how to push each other and get each other up,” he said. “It’s kind of nice going through this process with somebody who’s going through it with you.”

Mbakwe said he may consider joining a different team for the Las Vegas summer league, depending on how Orlando goes. Not every NBA team is represented in Orlando, so different opportunities could present themselves in the Las Vegas league.

Mbakwe was projected to be a second-round selection by numerous mock draft websites, while Williams’ stock appeared to lose steam as the draft neared. He was projected to go undrafted in many mock drafts.

Going undrafted isn’t necessarily a death sentence for NBA hopefuls. Players such as Ben Wallace, John Starks and David Wesley went undrafted before having long, successful careers. Undrafted forward Udonis Haslem played a large role on the Miami Heat team that won the NBA championship last month.

Former Gophers center Colton Iverson, who transferred to Colorado State following his junior season in 2011, was drafted 53rd overall by the Indiana Pacers, then acquired by the Boston Celtics via trade.

Only first-round selections are guaranteed NBA contracts. Second-round selections and undrafted players must earn spots on rosters through the NBA summer league and team training camps.

“There’s no pressure,” Williams said. “I’ve just got to go out there and play my game, show them that I know what I’m capable of doing, and I think everything will end up fine.”