ND's Ryan Humphrey recalls swim in NBA Draft Combine fishbowl

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

CHICAGO – Walking into the NBA Draft Combine last week was like stepping back in time for former Notre Dame power forward Ryan Humphrey.

Still the last Irish player selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, when he was selected No. 19 by the Utah Jazz in 2002, Humphrey remembers well the feelings of auditioning in front of a hoops who’s-who.

Thirteen years have passed and the Combine now calls the near-west side of Chicago home after spending so many springs – including 2002 – on the north side. But little else has changed about the way draft hopefuls feel when on such a bright stage. Humphrey felt the same way back then, and felt it a little this week as he attended the workouts at Quest Multisport Complex as a member of the Northwestern University men’s basketball staff.

“You’re almost like a goldfish in a tank,” Humphrey said. “Everybody’s sitting there and watching your every move, every shot. It’s surreal. I still remember being one of the guys that was out there, and I understand the excitement and nervousness that the guys go through.”

In many ways, the NBA Draft Combine helped rocket Humphrey up the draft board and into the first round. Coming off a first-team All-Big East season in 2001-02, Humphrey was pegged as a late-second round pick or possible free agent signee. That was before the Combine at Moody Bible Institute. Specifically, the Combine’s five-on-five scrimmages, which were dusted off and brought back last week by the NBA for the first time in seven years.

Early in one game, Humphrey soared to snare a rebound, lost his balance, fell hard to the floor and landed on the top of his head. He needed four stitches to repair the damage, and still feels the scare. He returned to action as soon as possible.

Humphrey finished that game with 21 points, four rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal in 23 minutes. Less than three weeks later, he was a first-round draft pick thanks to a motor that seemingly never quit.

“You just try to concentrate on playing hard and tell yourself to play hard,” he said. “You can’t get caught up in who’s getting shots, who’s not getting shots.

“You just play hard and play the right way and good things will happen.”

Following a 12-year pro career that took him from the NBA to Development League, to Europe and even South America, Humphrey embarked on a new phase of his basketball life in November when he was hired by Northwestern coach Chris Collins.

Humphrey, now 35, serves as the Wildcats’ director of player development.

“I love it,” he said. “Just being on the staff that we have here, we’re trying to change the culture. It’s an exciting time for us.”

The position limits Humphrey’s on-court coaching duties, but every once in a while he’ll share a word of wisdom with a Wildcat player, then see the proverbial light bulb come on for the kid in a game or week or two.

“It’s very gratifying,” he said. “I’m in it for the long haul.”

Special day

Former Irish guard Jerian Grant met with nearly a dozen NBA teams during his five-day Combine stay. Some of them had hoped to set up a workout with the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament most outstanding player for Sunday, but that day was strictly off-limits.

Had to be.

It’s a big day for Grant, one that, at times, he thought might never come. That’s the day Grant will receive his undergraduate degree as a sociology major from Notre Dame.

“For me, it means a lot,” said Grant, who missed the spring semester of 2014 after an “academic misstep” forced him to withdraw from school. Grant re-applied to Notre Dame, re-enrolled last June and finished his course work this spring. “Every time I go to a meeting and tell them that I’m going to graduate, everybody gets excited.”

That excitement will be short-lived for Grant. He’s scheduled to visit Monday with the Indiana Pacers. Grant will then head for home in Bowie, Md., which will serve as his home base for workouts heading into the June 25 draft.

Grant likely will be the first first-round draft pick from Notre Dame since Humphrey. Coming out of the NBA Draft Combine, where he did not take part in testing or scrimmages on advice of his agent, Raymond Brothers, Grant is projected to go anywhere from 10 to 20.

Until then, he’ll be on the private workout/interview grind that likely will take him coast to coast from team to team.

“You just have to be professional, be honest, and be yourself,” Grant said of interviews. “That’s what they want to see the most.”

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Former Notre Dame forward Ryan Humphrey hustled his way into a first-round NBA draft pick in 2002 following a strong showing at the Draft Combine that year.AP File Photo