Two ex-Gophers await NBA draft

Murali Balaji

On Wednesday, ex-Gophers men’s basketball players Sam Jacobson and Eric Harris will find out where they will start their professional careers.
The NBA Draft, which will be held in Vancouver, will determine the pro careers of two players who paced the Gophers’ backcourt for the past four years.
Jacobson, a 6-6, 220-pound swingman who averaged 18.9 points per game as a senior, was considered by NBA scouts a late-first rounder at best prior to the lottery. However, he could jump into the mid-first round of the draft after posting impressive workouts for the Los Angeles Lakers and Seattle Supersonics.
“I think he is definitely a late-first rounder, early second rounder,” said Gophers men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins, who prognosticated that his star player would be taken in the “20-30” range.
Jacobson, who spent most of his career at Minnesota playing the small forward position, is projected as a shooting guard, where his size and athletic ability can be better utilized. Haskins dismissed concerns about the transition that Jacobson would need to make in order to be a backcourt player in the NBA.
“(The NBA) is looking for players, and Sam is a player,” said Haskins. “He was a wing-type player for us, which is what he’ll do in the NBA.”
Harris’ situation is a lot less certain. The 6-3 point guard, whom Sports Illustrated labeled one of the five best on-ball defenders prior to the 1997 NCAA Tournament, is considered by many draft publications to be a late-second round pick at best.
Haskins, however, believes being drafted would pose a disadvantage for Harris.
“Eric would be better off going into (the NBA) as an undrafted free agent,” said Haskins. “This way, he has more freedom to choose where he wants to play and is not restricted to one team.”
Harris helped his stock by playing steadily at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, averaging 9.6 points, 3.7 assists and 3 rebounds per game.
Another ex-Gopher to look out for is forward Courtney James, who played last season for Larissa (Greece) and averaged 12.9 points in just nine games. James, who weighed 350 pounds at a recent pre-draft tryout, is not eligible for the draft because he did not apply as an undergraduate.
Prior to his dismissal from the Gophers last year, the 6-9 James averaged 7.9 points and seven rebounds per game in two seasons with the team.
“I don’t think Courtney is ready for the NBA yet,” said Haskins. “He is really raw and could definitely use some seasoning before he is ready.”
Haskins was quick to point out that James could benefit from trying out with an NBA team this summer, an experience that could help the former Gopher get back into playing shape.