PORTSMOUTH, Va. - Chris Webber never played in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament NBA draft camp, but for a few seconds someone tapped into his spirit here this weekend.
With less than 10 seconds remaining and his team trailing by two points during Friday's elimination game, University of Toledo forward Greg Stempin rebounded a missed free throw and started what he hoped would be the game-winning drive for his Norfolk Naval Shipyard team.
But he waited on the left wing out near the 3-point line, calling for a pass that would never come. He could only stand and watch a missed drive, a scramble for control and, with one second left, a call for a timeout ... a timeout they did not have.
The Portsmouth Sports Club squad won 88-85, ending Stempin's tournament run at two games and not doing much to affect his draft position.
“It's frustrating,” said Stempin, who led his team with 17 points despite playing much of the contest in foul trouble. “When you play with a lot of new teammates, it's tough to get going and I never got into the flow.”
It showed in his first game, when he shot 2-for-8 from the field and scored just six points in the Naval Shipyard's 72-69 loss to the Norfolk Sports Club.
“We only had practice, and that was basically a shoot-around,” said Stempin, who averaged 18 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his final season for the Rockets.
Stempin broke out in the second half against the Portsmouth Sports Club, scoring 11 points as the Naval Shipyard nearly rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit.
The biggest problem, according to Stempin, is that when 64 players perform in front of a gathering of pro scouts, team basketball is far from their minds.
For many here this weekend, Portsmouth represents possibly their last opportunity to ingrain themselves in the thoughts of NBA teams. Do well here, and an invitation to more prestigious camps in Phoenix and Chicago wait. Don't do well here, and it's a warm hello to the IBL or overseas ball, if that.
To that end, fundamentals are out, fast break layups are in. Making your own plays supercedes running set plays.
It took all of Thursday's contest for Stempin to alter his game.
“I was expecting it a little, but not this much,” Stempin said. “The adjustment took time. In the first game I was stuck in the corners. But (Friday) I ran the floor a lot more. That was the big key.”
Stempin's team had a number of big-school players, including Nolan Johnson (Oklahoma), Kenny Inge (North Carolina State) and Calvin Bowman (West Virginia), but Stempin said that careers at prominent college didn't necessarily equate to overwhelming talent.
Stempin's next move: the NBA draft camp in Phoenix. Any shot at following Wally Szczerbiak as a Mid-American Conference first-round pick will hinge on a solid performance there.
“At this point, I'm probably a second-rounder, if I get drafted at all,” said Stempin, who also noted that he would rather go to an American minor league than overseas if he were not picked in the June draft. “The agents that saw me know I'm a better player than I showed here. They said I definitely have the athletic ability to make it, and that's the best compliment I've had.”
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