Rickert’s draft position up in the air

Brett Angel

Based on past decisions in his young but eventful basketball career, it’s a safe bet to say Rick Rickert is a gambling man.

Two years ago, the Duluth, Minn., native opted out of a verbal commitment and turned down a scholarship offer from Arizona to play college ball in his home state at Minnesota.

This April, Rickert announced his decision to forego his final two years at the University to pursue a pro career.

Now, the first-team All-Big Ten selection and the Gophers’ leading scorer is hoping his latest gamble pays off – in more ways than one.

Rickert will find out Thursday just how much he’s worth – at least in the eyes of NBA management.

That’s when league commissioner David Stern will stand at the podium in New York’s Madison Square Garden and announce this year’s NBA draftees.

Every player picked in the first round is rewarded with a guaranteed three- to five-year contract. Rickert is hoping to be among them.

“We’ve heard he could go anywhere from 20 to 50,” Rickert’s father Lew said Sunday. “Nobody wants to guarantee anything, which to me says they haven’t made up their mind on him yet.”

Rumors abound that the younger Rickert has fallen out of contention to be a first-round pick and is more likely to be taken somewhere in round two. NBAdraft.net predicts he has slipped all the way to 51 out of 58 total picks.

But say this about Rickert: He is willing to commit to his decisions. He realized that in order to cash in professionally, he first had to invest in himself.

After making his decision to turn pro, the 6-foot-11 Rickert left school to train at the International Management Group strength and conditioning complex in Bradenton, Fla.

Rickert has since put on nearly 10 pounds and increased his weight to 225 in hopes of proving he can play with the NBA’s big men.

But he has yet to silence his critics.

“He should have stayed in school, in my opinion,” Minnesota Timberwolves Vice President of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale said June 11. “Probably all kids should stay.

“(Rickert) is a good kid, though. He does have talent.”

Rickert worked out for the Timberwolves on June 10.

One thing that has worked in Rickert’s favor, however, is the number of NBA prospects who pulled their names out of the draft prior to last Thursday’s deadline.

High-profile names that will not be drafted this year include Marcus Moore of Washington State, Chris Thomas of Notre Dame, Jason Parker of Tulsa, Andre Emmett of Texas Tech and Jameer Nelson of St. Joseph’s.

“That can only help Rick’s position,” Lew Rickert said.

Rick Rickert has worked out with several NBA teams in recent weeks but will spend the next few days at his parents’ home in Duluth before leaving for New York on Wednesday.

Rickert declined to speak when reached via phone Sunday afternoon.

Whether he’s picked first or 58th, the ultimate objective is to end up on an NBA roster.

“When it comes down to it, it’s what you do on the floor,” Lew Rickert said. “(Thursday) is just one day in his career. It just happens to be a very important day.”

And while it appears unlikely that Stern will be announcing Rick Rickert’s name as a first-round selection Thursday, if it does happen that team and their pick will share at least one thing in common.

They thought it was worth the risk.