Overlooked on draft day, former Illini attempt to make NBA rosters



By Jeremy Werner

Shaun Pruitt’s and Brian Randle’s dreams of hearing their names called in the NBA Draft did not come true on Thursday night, but the former Illini basketball players’ hopes of playing in the NBA are still alive.

Pruitt reached an agreement to play with the New Orleans Hornets’ summer league team July 11-20 in Las Vegas, while Randle will join former Illini teammate Dee Brown to play with the Seattle SuperSonics July 7-11 in Orlando. Randle said he has also had talks to play with the Atlanta Hawks during the Rocky Mountain Revue July 18-25 in Salt Lake City.

Randle said he hopes his athleticism and defensive prowess help him “find a niche” with an NBA team.

The Peoria, Ill., native averaged 9.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for the Illini last season.

“I’m going to play to my game, play to my strengths,” Randle said. “I’m not going to go and try to be Kobe (Bryant) or (Kevin Garnett) somebody who’s going to put up 25 points and 15 rebounds. But if a team asks that of me, that’s what I’m going to have to do.”

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    Pruitt will have a five-game audition with the Western Conference semifinalist Hornets, who have a need for depth in the post. The Aurora, Ill., native averaged 12.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season with the Illini, both team highs.

    “New Orleans is going to see a player they already really liked, but they are going to be surprised by the player they’re getting, a much, much, much improved player,” said Mike Naiditch, Pruitt’s agent of Naiditch Entertainment.

    Naiditch said Pruitt has already received a contract offer “in excess of $150,000” from an Eastern European team but turned it down to keep his options open, including making an NBA roster or receiving an offer from a Western European team.

    “It’s really important to have Shaun in the right place,” Naiditch said. “Just because a team offers a contract early doesn’t mean it’s the right place for him. We want to see what developments will happen between now and then.”

    If NBA teams don’t show interest in Pruitt or Randle after their stints in summer league, Europe is the likely destination for both.

    “Spain and Greece are really target markets for Shaun,” Naiditch said. “We feel they’re countries where he can mix in on a social level real well and a basketball level at the same time. We know that there might be more money in other places, but there’s not really any better combination for a rookie socially and financially, especially in Spain and Greece.”

    Randle – who hopes to catch on with a team in Spain, Greece, Turkey or Italy if he does not make an NBA roster – said he has kept in close contact with former Illini teammate Warren Carter who played in Turkey this year.

    “(Carter) said it does get lonely,” Randle said. “But it’s better, at least as far as I understand it, than working a 9 to 5 everyday, to be able to play a game that you love that you played so long and reap some benefits from it.”

    Randle’s NBA dreams may never become reality, but he said he is more than happy to continue playing the game he loves.

    “Not everybody can play in the (NBA), and Europe is great for some … The biggest thing is to realize that I can still play and make some money and have the experience of being over there and seeing different things and different cultures.”