Pruitt prepares to sweat out NBA Draft



By Jeremy Werner

Steve Pruitt is hoping to hear his son’s name called during Thursday night’s NBA Draft, but his son Shaun doesn’t even know if he’s going to watch it.

“I always usually watch the draft, but I really don’t feel like watching it tomorrow; I’m kind of nervous,” the former Illini center said.

The 2008 draft marks the next step in Shaun Pruitt’s career. If he hears his name called, he will be the fifth member of the 2004-05 national runner-up Illinois team to be drafted —– following Deron Williams, Luther Head, Dee Brown and James Augustine into the NBA.

If Pruitt doesn’t hear his name called, he still has plenty of options, including playing in Europe or on an NBA’s summer league team in an attempt to make a roster.

Pruitt has been working out with Tim Grover, Michael Jordan’s trainer, in Chicago in preparation for the draft. He has also visited the Seattle SuperSonics, Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors for workouts.

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    If Pruitt is drafted, it would likely be in the second round. His most likely destination appears to be Seattle, who own picks 32, 46, 50 and 56 in the second round and worked out Pruitt twice.

    Although Pruitt said he’d be disappointed if he wasn’t drafted, his agent, Mike Naiditch of Naiditch Entertainment, said it might be better if Pruitt goes undrafted.

    “It’s always fun for people to see their name on TV,” Naiditch said. “But the business end of it would be that unless he’s a first round pick, we’d almost prefer that he’s not drafted.”

    Salaries are not guaranteed for second round picks unless they make the regular season roster. Naiditch said it would be better for Pruitt to go undrafted and play on a summer league team and try to earn a guaranteed contract from a team that needs a post player.

    If the 6-foot-10, 245 pound center cannot catch on to an NBA roster, Europe is clamoring for him. Naiditch said a handful of teams in Europe, including Spain and Greece, have already offered contracts to Pruitt.

    “(Europe’s) certainly an option; it always is, especially with the economy,” Naiditch said. “Europe has become not just an option, but for some people they’re priced out of the NBA because you’re paid so well.”

    But Pruitt is concentrating more on his NBA dreams than Europe.

    “I would rather be comfortable at home first,” Pruitt said. “The money’s good here too. You can’t complain about the money in the NBA. I’d rather be closer to home, but it’s good to know that I’ll definitely be stable in Europe too.”

    Steve Pruitt knows his streak of seeing every one of his son’s games would end if Shaun goes to Europe but said it might be best for his career.

    “(Europe) would probably, for him, be better even than getting drafted and sitting at the end of the bench, kind of like his freshman year at Illinois, playing 100 minutes and not really getting to develop his play,” his father said.

    The former Illini declared for the 2007 Draft but returned to Illinois for his senior season. Pruitt said going through the process last year helped him relax this time around, especially when talking to NBA legends – including Pacers President of Basketball Operations and Celtics legend Larry Bird.

    “It can be a little nerve-wrecking,” Pruitt said. “So coming in last year kind of gave me a sense of what to expect and not to be as nervous when I work out for teams.”

    Pruitt said teams told him they were impressed with his size, energy and work ethic. When asked if teams inquired about his benching for two games in January, Pruitt said, “they didn’t really get into anything negative that happened in college. They just pretty much asked me about how I thought my college career went, and I was just honest with them, and I was just being myself and let them see who I really was.”

    Pruitt’s Illinois career saw plenty of ups and downs. He played on Illinois’ most winningest team in 2004-05 – although he played only 97 minutes – and the team with the most losses in school history with 19 during his senior season.

    Pruitt has no regrets though saying, “everything happens for a reason.”

    The Aurora, Ill., native started 33 games for the Illini in his final season, leading the team in both scoring with 12.6 points per game and rebounding averaging 7.3 per game. The Big Ten All-Tournament Team selection ranked third in the league in field goal percentage at 57.2 percent and was the top Big Ten offensive rebounder, averaging 3.1 boards per game.

    “I think for the most part I’m satisfied (with my Illinois career) … but any time you can come away with a degree from a Big Ten school, especially a school like Illinois, and be lucky enough to play basketball and start for three out of four years and to have the opportunity to travel and things like that, there’s a lot of people that don’t get an experience like that,” Pruitt said. “There’s not too much I can hang my head about.”