Seniors at Sixers' workout counting on benefits of 4-year college career

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The six players in the Sixers' group workout Tuesday had one thing in common aside from their NBA goals: they were all seniors.

While the projected first two picks in this year’s draft are freshmen — as it has been the case in many years past — those who play four years of college ball can bring their own set of strengths into the league. 

“My freshman year, if I would have came out, I would have been very immature not only as a person but as a player,” UC Santa Barbara shooting guard Michael Bryson said. “Being able to be in college for four years, you learn to deal with the media, you learn to deal with the social life, you learn to deal with the basketball end of it. [It] really allowed for me to hone in on skills, be able to see what I can do, what I can’t do, be able to kind of hide my weaknesses and flourish with my strengths.” 

In a one-and-done era, there have been negative stigmas against four-year players. Back in 2006, Joakim Noah was considered to be a top pick after winning a championship with Florida. He returned for his fourth year (and won another title), and his stock dropped. He was selected ninth by the Bulls in 2007. Seven years later, the Bulls drafted another senior, Doug McDermott, with the 11th pick out of Creighton. 

This year's top two candidates, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, both played one season at LSU and Duke, respectively. Oklahoma's Buddy Hield currently is the only senior projected to be a lottery pick.

There is a thought that if a player was that good, that NBA-ready, he would leave school for the draft earlier. Those at the Sixers' workout said staying through their senior year helped them become enhanced players, not hindered their game. 

“You get better,” Iona shooting guard A.J. English said. “I feel like it prepares you for the next level. … I gained a decent amount of weight, got stronger. The approach to the game [improved], trying to bring it every single day in practice, don’t take days off.”

Last year, four seniors were selected in the first round. The participants at Tuesday’s workout are projected to be late-second-round picks or undrafted, and rushing into a decision to forego the remainder of their college career was not a path they wanted to take. 

“I think the biggest thing was just to really get myself completely ready,” Iowa State power forward Georges Niang said. “It’s one thing just to make it to the NBA, it’s another thing to stay in the NBA. I wanted to cover all my bases where the fact that I could stay [there].” 

Maturity was a resounding theme among the prospects. Many spoke on experiences influencing strong leadership skills and setting good examples for younger teammates.

“When we talk to these guys, they’ll obviously be mature," Sixers director of basketball operations/scouting innovation Vince Rozman said. "They’ve been through a lot."

There are also unique circumstances that staying can school can help address. Mississippi power forward Tomasz Gielo grew up playing basketball in Poland, Oregon. He also attended college at Liberty, and those two programs helped him get acclimated with a new style of play before pursuing the NBA.

“For me, being a European player, it helps me understand the American mentality,” Gielo said. “They showed me what it’s like to be in America, what it takes to get to the next level and how you need to carry yourself to be a professional.”

Dayton small forward Dyshawn Pierre now finds himself better prepared for the NBA after seeing the style of play evolve while he was in college. 

“I feel like the game’s changed a little bit [since my freshman year],” he said. “The stretch four is a lot of athletic bigger bigs that can put the ball on the ground. It’s more of a team game than an individual game.”

These players will enter the draft next week with a complete college career on their résumé and years of experience they believe can translate on to the court.

"I think the biggest thing [after four years] is having a winner’s mentality," Niang said. 

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