In the short time Rakim Sanders has spent as an NBA hopeful, the Pawtucket native has learned an invaluable lesson – when opportunity knocks, it’s best to jump all in.
Fresh off spending the weekend at a draft combine in East Rutherford, N.J., at which representatives from all 30 teams were in attendance, Sanders now embarks on a vagabond tour of NBA cities scattered across the country.
According to his agent, Brian Samuels, Sanders’ workout schedule is just about filled up, a telltale sign that there’s strong interest within pro basketball’s inner sanctum with the draft on tap for June 28.
The six clubs on Sanders’ itinerary include the Celtics, Wizards, Warriors, Clippers, Lakers and Pistons. The showcase session with Boston is on the docket this Friday at the team’s practice facility in Waltham, Mass. Samuels mentioned that two additional NBA teams have stepped to the forefront, but dates have yet to be confirmed.
“The response from teams has been absolutely amazing,” notes Samuels. “Rakim’s mentality is such that he’s laser focused to get himself ready for the draft.”
When his basketball future isn’t under a microscope, you’ll find Sanders in Houston working out under the direction and guidance of ex-NBA player and coach John Lucas. The day after taking his last final exam at Fairfield, Sanders was on a plane bound for Texas. How this arrangement came to fruition stems from a 25-year relationship that a colleague of Samuels at Evolution Group, LLC has with Lucas.
Since landing in Houston, Sanders has come across and been exposed to all types of basketball life, from prospects cut from the same cloth as himself to NBA players just passing through and in need of some reassurance that only Lucas can provide.
“He’s going up against some good competition,” Samuels stated. “What we wanted him to do is get a chance to go up against those guys who are perceived to be the top picks in the draft. Not that he needed a confidence boost, but we wanted to reassure Rakim that he could more than hold his own.”
The other perk of having Sanders based in Houston is that from a geographic standpoint, he’s no more than a two or three-hour plane ride away from the teams that have already lined up to bring him in.
“The teams want to see these kids at the top of their game, not jet-lagged and dragging on the court,” said Samuels about the amount of time his client figures to spend in the air in the coming weeks.
Right now, Sanders’ name has yet to surface on the numerous mock drafts that are readily available. If you think Samuels is alarmed or put off by this development, think again.
“It’s funny that when you look at those mock draft boards, it’s difficult not to get sucked in by those rankings and such. What we’ve learned is that from talking to teams, those [projections] are not necessarily accurate,” said the agent, who inked Sanders shortly after the swingman’s strong performance at last month’s Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational, where in three games he averaged 19.3 points and 8.7 rebounds.
“It comes down to the [individual team] workouts,” Samuels continued on. “Rakim is a confident enough kid and his skill set is such that if he goes out and does what he’s been doing, he will have a ton of success.”
Samuels is “optimistic” that Sanders will garner an invite to next month’s NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago. As of late last week, the ballots had yet to be returned to the league office. On those ballots contains the list of names of players that teams would like to see. Once the results are tabulated, a list of 50 names will become available.
“In the event he doesn’t get invited, it’s not the worst thing in the world because that combine [meaning Chicago] isn’t what it used to be,” Samuels said. “That’s why going to New Jersey is such a big deal. It served as an opportunity for him to continue to build on the success he had in Portsmouth and solidify his position as a guy who can come into the league and really be an asset to a team.”
While clubs will no doubt focus on Sanders’ basketball intangibles – these days his body measurements are 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, which represents a 15-pound increase from where Fairfield listed him last season – Samuels feels that when the time comes for the 22-year-old to sit down and partake in face-to-face interviews, Sanders will handle everything with aplomb.
Such assuredness on Samuels’ part comes from the heart-to-heart dealings he’s had with Sanders along with conversations with URI assistant coach Preston Murphy, a close confidant of Sanders dating back to their days together at Boston College where the relationship was player/coach.
“He’s a very, very rare bird,” said Samuels before expounding further with, “He’s going to have these team interviews, and I’ve never worried less about a guy. There’s no skeletons, no storied history that we need to cover with the right verbiage. It’s just clean.”