Hello, I’m P.J. Dozier. Nice to meet you.
The NBA Draft Combine shines a public spotlight on measurements, athleticism and game play. The private moments, however, provide valuable opportunities to meet NBA team leaders, South Carolina’s Dozier and Sindarius Thornwell say.
“To be able to talk to these coaches, the GMs and the staff face to face, that’s really big,” Dozier said. “You build relationships like that. I love to meet new people.”
The weeklong event at the Quest Multisport complex, less than two miles from the Chicago Bulls’ United Center, is the first real taste of the NBA for Thornwell and Dozier. Five-on-five games and combine drills take place in the presence of such NBA executives as Larry Bird (Indiana), Danny Ainge (Boston) and Jerry West (Golden State). Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is here, as is Lakers coach Luke Walton.
The past few weeks were about physical and mental preparations, with Dozier training in California and Thornwell in Chicago. This week is about putting that prep work into action, and, perhaps, meeting your future bosses.
Dozier, who turned pro after his sophomore season with USC, met Thursday and Friday with Portland, New Orleans, Utah, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Memphis, New York, Miami, Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Clippers. There were no strange questions he could recall, and he admitted he was in awe when talking with Heat president and NBA coaching legend Pat Riley.
“It was good, just sitting down and talking to Pat himself. It was surreal,” Dozier said. “I used to watch the games. Pat has a great history of coaching. Just being able to sit down and talk to him and answer his questions, and he allowed me to ask questions as well.”
Dozier pitched to NBA teams his versatility of being able to play all three guard positions. Thornwell touted his expertise at playing defense while being a threat to score.
Thornwell met with 13 teams Thursday and Friday, including San Antonio, Orlando, Miami, Brooklyn, Denver, Golden State, Milwaukee, Detroit, Portland and Dallas. He is set to meet Atlanta on Saturday.
The Heat asked Thornwell about his family, his suspension and, of course, basketball. The USC graduate from Lancaster said he was prepared to answer anything and everything.
“I don’t have anything to hide,” he said. “I’m a talkative guy. I like having conversations. … These interviews are easy. It’s just a conversation. It’s easy to talk and have a conversation. I enjoyed it.”
Thornwell said his interview with the Magic went well: “They’re a building program. I feel like I can come in and help them right away.”
Dozier liked his time with the 76ers: “They have a great team. They have a lot of talent. I definitely see myself in their system.”
It’s those types of opportunities and interactions that are making the biggest impressions this week on the two who helped lead the Gamecocks to their first Final Four.
Their participation at the combine came as NBA superstar Kevin Durant called the event a waste of time for the top prospects. With 67 reported invitees, 38 took part in the games.
With Dozier and Thornwell both trying to raise their stock ahead of the June 22 draft, they saw the value in showcasing their talents and shaking some hands.
“I think character is a big part,” Dozier said. “That’s really what the combine is all about. You get to meet these coaches, talk to them face to face. It’s no more, ‘He said, she said.’ It’s facts. You’re hearing it from the horse’s mouth.”