Thursday, June 16, 2011
Posted: 6:20 p.m.
By Brian Kotloff
For Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, the pursuit of an NBA dream has consisted of cross-country flights, exhausting workouts and probing interviews over a hectic June schedule.
Those challenges are on every prospects plate this time of year, but the difference for the recent Villanova graduates is that teams are not investigating how well they can play in the league, but whether they can play in the league.
So although the two Coreys worked out Thursday for the Sixers at the PCOM just 20 minutes from their former campus, this was no homecoming.
Home implies security, certainty and acceptance, and Fisher and Stokes have none of that.
Theyve been labeled as fringe prospects, doubted for their deficiencies rather than touted for their strengths. They are not the complete packagethe Kyrie Irvings and Derrick Williamses of the world, gift-wrapped to a lucky teambut the incomplete package, the one with the holes and scratches.
Thursday, both received another chance to prove to NBA talent evaluators that their basketball gifts could suffice at the highest level.
I think Im an NBA player, Stokes said after the workout. Well see on June 23rd (draft day) or whenever after that.
Fisher was more adamant.
I can play in this league, he said.
The six-foot Fisher, who averaged 15.6 points and 4.8 assists per game as a senior, was so determined to drive home that point, he said he hadnt even talked to friends during his stop in Philly. Theres no time to chat on what the point guard called his business trip, with workouts in New York, New Jersey, Indianapolis, Denver, Cleveland and Portland before Philly and Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Sacramento and Toronto after Thursday.
Its been a grind, flying from city to city, team to team, Fisher said. Thats what it takes to be an NBA player.
Hes learned that lesson along with Stokes, who has also worked out in New York, New Jersey and Cleveland, plus Charlotte. Both will continue to learn that lesson given their limitationsFisher being small for an NBA guard and Stokes being considered a one-dimensional shooter.
Even the leaders of their Final Four team, guard Scottie Reynolds and forward Dante Cunningham, have already bounced around.
Reynolds, an All-American as a senior, played for the Phoenix Suns in the summer league, signed with an Italian team and then came back to play for Tulsa and Springfield in the D-League. Just as Cunningham was finding his niche in Portland this year, he was traded to the Bobcats.
Speaking to guys in the league, they say its a grind. Youve got to be mentally strong, Fisher said.
Both Fisher and Stokes said that playing in the ruthless Big East would help them through this arduous process and potentially help them at the next levelwhatever that level may be.
Theyve got ability to play professionally, Sixers director of player personnel Courtney Witte said. Its to be seen whether its going to be in the NBA.
To make that determination, Witte and the coaching staff tested how each would respond to NBA challenges. Fisher was tasked with attacking sizable wings like Tulsas Justin Hurtt, the other perimeter player at the workout, while Stokes had to stay in front of the quick, penetrating guards defensively. Seven-footers Bengaly Fofana of France and Charles Okwandu from UConn also attended.
Theyre put in NBA positions, Witte said. Coach Michael Curry put them in different situations, pick-and-rolls, things theyre not normally used to in the college game.
Its good to work out against guys like Hurtt and C-Fish because theyre small guards and it just gives me a chance to see where Im at defensively, Stokes said, adding that he wanted to show he was the hardest-working and best defender in the workout.
Not that the Sixers would be surprised by anything they see. Witte said that team officials know Fisher and Stokes a lot differently given their local ties, and its unlikely that either is a target with the No. 50 pick in the second round.
Plus, with four years of game tape available to NBA evaluators, it will be difficult for the two to negate any perceived weaknesses in their games before the draft. Making matters worse, the looming lockout could shorten or even cancel the summer league, a time reserved precisely for players like Fisher and Stokes.
Yes, the two Villanova fixtures are now at the mercy of the league, and all they are left to do is enjoy the grind of upcoming months.
I just try to go into a workout focused on one thing: play hard, Fisher said. Everything else will take care of itself.
E-mail Brian Kotloff at firstname.lastname@example.org
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