Philly's Waiters can't wait to begin NBA career

Dion Waiters' interesting journey has taken him to the top half of the NBA draft. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Dion Waiters' interesting journey has taken him to the top half of the NBA draft. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted: June 29, 2012

NEW YORK — The weeks leading up to the NBA draft are often a stressful time for basketball's top prospects. Simply staying in shape often gives way to private workouts for a handful of NBA suitors and media appearances amid the speculation of where that player might be selected. Philadelphia native Dion Waiters has not taken this approach. In fact, he's stepped into the spotlight by stepping out of it.

How many teams has the former Syracuse guard worked out for?

"Zero," Waiters said.

That Waiters has chosen to go about the past few weeks in such an atypical manner wouldn't come as a surprise to most. His entire basketball career has been unconventional, to say the least.

When asked why he had not entertained any teams' invitations for private workouts and canceled all of his interviews, Waiters simply said, "I didn't have to."

He did not have a typical predraft experience. Waiters tried to put on his best poker face at the NBA draft's media day Wednesday afternoon in New York City, but it was clear that he knew something nobody else knew. With a sly smirk on his face, Waiters deflected questions about rumors that had run rampant since he elected to leave the NBA draft combine in Chicago without even working out for the scouts in attendance, leaving the media to assume that a lottery team had promised him their pick.

It is widely held that Waiters' most viable destinations are the Toronto Raptors, who select eighth Thursday night, or the Phoenix Suns, who hold the 13th pick. When pressed at the draft's media availability, Waiters became increasingly uncomfortable when reporters questioned him about a possible offer from the Suns, specifically. It appears Waiters will not be available when the 76ers select 15th overall, but he did say that "it would be unbelievable" to play in his hometown.

As he prepares to join the ranks of the NBA, Waiters reaches back to his roots in Philadelphia, which he still considers his home despite never having played a single game for a Philadelphia high school. While most of tonight's lottery picks were working out for teams around the country, Waiters has been training at home and taking advantage of his hometown connections. He has sought knowledge from Philadelphia basketball players who came before him, such as Kyle Lowry, Rasual Butler, Cuttino Mobley and Alvin Williams.

"They just told me to make the city proud and show the world that Philadelphia produces a lot of talent," Waiters said. "Words like that coming from those types of guys make you want to get out there."

Waiters did not have a typical childhood. He was raised by his single mother, Monique Brown, and had a knack for basketball at a young age, but couldn't seem to stay at a single school. He attended a total of four high schools, two in the Philadelphia area (Bartram and Southern, though he never played for either school) for his freshman year, before switching to South Kent School, a prep school in Connecticut, and finally settling at Burlington Life Center in New Jersey for his final 2 years. These transitions were difficult, Waiters said, but forced him to face adversity head-on from a young age.

"I had to grow up fast. I wasn't a normal kid. When I went away for prep school I was on my own at age 14," Waiters said. "That was a turning point in my life. I had to do things without my mom being there to pick me up."

He did not have a typical college career, either. At Syracuse, Waiters had to adjust to yet another new school as well as a new role — coming off the bench. After a prolonged adjustment period during his freshman year, he became so accustomed to coming off the bench that he never started a single game during his 2-year college career, despite the fact that he was second on the team in scoring his sophomore year at 12.6 points per game.

It isn't every day that a player makes the jump from sixth man to lottery pick, but NBA teams are salivating over Waiters' ability to create off the dribble and get to the basket, as well as the versatility he shows at either the point or off-guard. Waiters added that he does not see himself as a career sixth man, and aspires to work his way to being a starter in the NBA.

"At Syracuse, I had to be a sixth man because of the situation I was in. It was hard to adapt to as a freshman coming in. You're used to everything going your way being a top-15 prospect in the country," Waiters said. "I didn't know how to handle it, but once I learned my role, it was a matter of working hard and being ready when coach called my name."

He did not have a typical relationship with his coach. After numerous spats with Jim Boeheim led to Waiters almost transferring after his difficult freshman year, his relationship with the Hall of Fame coach has since taken a turn for the better. Waiters' improved attitude has convinced NBA teams of his maturity and that character will not be a concern.

"He's like a father figure to me. Coach Boeheim is a great person who knows a lot about basketball," Waiters said. "I definitely needed the tough love when he gave it to me. I think it made me a better person on and off the court."

Not knowing what the future holds, Waiters is searching for his first taste of normalcy. When commissioner David Stern calls his name Thursday night, Waiters will take the first step toward normalcy. That is, if you can call signing a multimillion dollar NBA contract "normal."

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