Originally published May 30, 2009.
CHICAGO - An appreciation and love of basketball is something that friends and former high school teammates Wayne Ellington and Gerald Henderson share. And they're both banking that their passion for the game will pay off in next month's NBA draft.
Both players took part in the NBA draft combine Thursday and yesterday, where they were tested, measured, weighed and put through a series of light drills.
"You don't even really think about it," said Ellington, who played prep ball with Henderson at Episcopal Academy before playing at North Carolina. "It might hit me later that this is a process I've been waiting for all my life and it's a dream of ours. At the same time, all you can do is work. I've been working hard and preparing myself to the best of my ability.
"I'm just having fun with it. A lot of guys look at it a different way. They look at it as pressure and a lot of work. At the same time, it's something I'd rather do. I love basketball. I'm just having fun with it. It's such a small window. Not a lot of guys get an opportunity here. People always say, 'You're going to the NBA,' but I don't listen to that. I just work."
Henderson, who played at Duke, could be a top-10 pick.
"I want to go as high as I can, but, at the same time, I want to play," said Henderson, who averaged 16.5 points per game for the Blue Devils last season. "So the highest pick might not be the best place for me. But we'll see how it turns out. I definitely want to be in the lottery [top 14 picks]. That's one of the goals that I set in my junior season."
Although it got intense with the eyes of coaches and general managers on the players at the combine, Henderson still enjoyed the experience.
"There's pressure for you to do well in these workouts," Henderson said. "It's fun, though. I love the game, I love competing. You put a lot of work in these last few months to see how good you are. So you just go into those workouts and show what you got, and hopefully come June 25 everything works out."
Ellington averaged 15.8 points per game to go with a blazing .417 three-point shooting percentage last season for the Tar Heels. He led North Carolina to the national championship and was named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
"Fortunately, I had a great run at the end," said Ellington, who averaged 19.2 points per game in the tourney. "I played well in the tournament and I think a lot of teams were impressed by that and I think it's definitely going to help me in the draft."
Ellington, who might be selected between 10th and 20th in the draft, met with 11 teams during the 2-day combine.
Henderson met with his share of teams, too. In fact, he was so busy that yesterday afternoon, he got cleaned up and dressed before meeting with the media instead of staying in his warmup outfit. That was because he had another team interview scheduled, so the media session was cut short.
"It's a difficult process, because you don't want to do too many teams," Henderson said of the team interviews. "You don't want to disrespect anyone. You want to go everywhere you think you might want to go. So you have to play it right, and hopefully everything works out."
Playing it right is what Ellington and Henderson have done since high school. And it looks as if they'll continue to do so in the NBA. *