As Nwora waits, he sees himself as an NBA first-rounder

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Much as he was on the basketball court for Louisville, Jordan Nwora is playing it cool as he waits for the NBA draft that will determine his immediate future, and maybe more.


The NBA draft is tentatively scheduled for June 25, but that could change. Whatever the case,  Nwora is in a 'What, me worry?' mode back home in Buffalo, N.Y., waiting out the restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


"I'm just sitting here waiting, trying to figure out what people are doing, what's gonna happen," he said during a teleconference Tuesday afternoon. "I'm not going to get too stressed out over it. I know there's going to be a draft and the NBA isn't going away or anything, so just got to see what happens.


"It's crazy not knowing when anything is happening. We still don't know when the draft is going to be. Hopefully, we can find out sooner rather than later. Only thing I can do right now is stay in the gym, keep getting better, and hopefully things will be figured out soon. It's a little weird doing everything from home, but I'm comfortable wherever I can get the job done."


This was supposed to be a busy stretch for the Cardinals' All-American forward that could have made a significant impact on his career, starting with what he, his teammates and UofL fans expected to be a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Then the plan called for him to showcase his skills at the NBA Combine, which along with postseason success, could have improved his draft status. Capping off the summer would have been playing for the Nigerian National Team, coached by his father, in the Tokyo Olympics. 


Instead, since NCAA basketball was put on ice in mid-March, Nwora has been living with his family and spending most of his time inside, like everyone else. His days consist of virtual interviews with officials of NBA teams, workouts, swimming in the family pool, talking to his representatives at Priority Sports, watching Netflix shows and playing video games.


He goes to a gym twice a day, at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., and works mostly on what NBA scouts recommended when he asked for an evaluation prior to his junior season -- defense and ballhandling. His dad, Alex, is the head men's basketball coach at Erie Community College in Buffalo, so getting into a gym isn't a problem.


"I'm fortunate to have a place to work out here," Nwora said. "Obviously, I work on a lot of stuff offensively, shooting a lot. But the two things I'm focusing on most is improving my ballhandling and getting quicker -- a lot of agility drills that will help me on the defensive end. I don't think people are worried about how I score the ball, how I shoot."


Nwora initially said he has had "a ton" of Zoom interviews with teams, later estimating the number at about 20 when asked.


"They'll get a bunch of people from whatever organization and we'll have a Zoom call for 45 minutes to an hour," he said. "On the calls I'm just going to be myself, give teams more information about me so they can get to know me better as a person. I think everything will end up working out.


"I feel like I could fit on almost any team in terms of my shooting. I'll be able to space, spread the floor for any team that picks me up. That's something the NBA is looking for now; shooting is like a premium for the league. I'll know what I'm going to need to do going in. I realize what teams need in terms of shooting and I'm going to know my role."


Nwora also insisted that contrary to some critical opinions, he feels he improved this past season despite being the main focus of opposing defenses. He averaged 18.0 points and 7.7 rebounds.


"Some people said I didn't get better," he said. "But there weren't a lot of players in the ACC getting box and ones or getting double-teamed, face-guarded all game and averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds on a team that was top 10 in the country most of the season. I don't think a lot of other players could have done what I did on our team.


"I know my game was under a microscope, and it helped me get a lot better. There's a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility that comes with that and it helped me mature and work harder."


Nwora has the size (6-foot-7), the length and the high-level shooting ability with a quick release (44 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s as a junior) to make it as a wing in the NBA and he is considered a lock to be drafted. Just where, however, is a matter of debate. Mock drafts have him slotted anywhere from late first round (27) to late second round (51). USA Today's Rookie Wire, which compiles a composite of over 40 mock drafts, projects him to be taken at No. 45.


"In terms of that range, I feel like I'm higher than that," he said. "When I got my evaluation and stuff, it showed where teams think I stand and it was higher. So I'm not too worried about what the mock drafts say right now. I feel like I'm a first-rounder. I think I'll go a lot higher than a lot of people think based on the feedback I've gotten. I personally think I could go in the late teens."


The difference in being drafted in the first or second round can be huge. The NBA's rookie-scale structure dictates that first-rounders will be signed to four-year deals, which includes two guaranteed years, then team options in years three and four.The value of those contracts depends on where a player was drafted, but a player selected last (No. 30) in the first round can expect about $1.7 million his rookie season. Second-round picks aren't subject to the rookie wage scale, get fewer guaranteed years (none, one, two) and could wind up in the G League for development.

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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