Auburn Hills — It’s back to the grind for Michigan’s Zak Irvin and Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene.
Not that the grind ever really ended, but they’re not looking to take on prominent roles like they did at their college programs; rather, they’re just trying to get a shot. With a week left before the NBA draft, they’re finishing their final workouts and hoping they can make enough of an impression to be selected in the second round.
Even if they don’t get their name called in the draft, they still could try to earn their way to a roster by making a summer league squad, hoping to get a better shot at an invitation to a training camp in the fall.
It’s been a long road just to get to this point, with plenty of workouts and flights across the country to get some face time with team scouts and front-office staff.
Wednesday’s opportunity with the Detroit Pistons was the ninth NBA pre-draft workout for Irvin. There’s plenty of game tape on him — he played 142 games, tied for the career mark at Michigan. Michigan’s run to the Big Ten tournament title and a spot in the Sweet 16 gave him a little extra exposure.
“I took some strides in the right direction toward the end of the year,” Irvin said. “I really wasn’t focused on my draft stock throughout the season.”
But now, it’s time to start making some strides. Neither Keene or Irvin is projected as a draft choice and if that doesn’t change, they’ll have to work with their agents to wade through the waters of free agency to try to find the right team and the right fit.
In some ways, it’s better not to be drafted, to allow for that freedom to pick a fit, but a shot is a shot. For Keene, a 5-foot-9 guard, the challenges are obvious, in trying to show that he can contribute with a smaller frame.
The comparisons to the Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas are obvious, but Keene is leaning on his scoring ability as his calling card. He averaged 30 points per game — the first player to achieve that feat since 1997 — but the questions will come about whether it really matters at a mid-major school.
“I’m showing teams what I can do throughout the workouts, which is what I did throughout the season and it feels like it’s going well now,” Keene said. “Teams compare me to Isaiah Thomas and I feel I can bring that type of scoring power off the bench and whatever the team may need.
“That’s what I’m going to continue to work on: getting in better shape and showing teams I can score at the highest level and keep working on my game and everything else I do.”
After having major roles in college, the two must prove themselves all over again, at two of the most critical spots on the floor. As wing players are plentiful in the NBA, Irvin knows that he’ll have to have a specific skill set to stick — hitting 3-pointers and playing good defense.
At 6-foot-6, he has the size and after shooting 34 percent from beyond the arc, he’s looking to show that he’s over the back surgery he had two years ago that slowed his Michigan career. After his sophomore year, in which he hit 36 percent from 3, he struggled some, but can see a path to the league.
For Keene, it’s another issue, with having to show that he can overcome his size. He hit 37 percent and averaged about four made 3-pointers per game. He can look, though, at other recent players under 6 feet who were able to make it in the NBA, including Oakland’s Kay Felder, who was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round.
“I saw what (Felder) did at a mid-major and I watched him a lot because I knew I could do the same thing he did to get to this spot,” Keene said. “Even Tyler Ulis, who played at Kentucky. When the Phoenix Suns gave him a chance toward the end of the year, he showed that little guards can play in the league. Watching (Thomas, Felder and Ulis) throughout the year has motivated me and helped me get to where I am now.”
Those are good templates, but it’s going to take more work and convincing at least one team to take a chance on him, looking mostly at the offensive end as the benefit.
Irvin has many more Michigan teammates, including Caris LeVert, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. Irvin’s backcourt mate, Derrick Walton Jr., also worked out for the Pistons on Tuesday and gave Irvin a heads up on what to expect.
“I have two more workouts left,” Irvin said. “The process goes by quick and I’m enjoying every step of the way.”
He’ll enjoy it more if he hears his name called during the draft next week.