SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. — Slightly more than 48 hours before Thursday’s NBA Draft, representatives of 11 NBA teams showed up at Seton Hall’s Walsh Gym to scout the latest International Man of Mystery in the NBA Draft.
His name is Walter Tavares.
He is listed as 7-foot-2 without shoes, 7-4 with.
A native of the the island country of Cape Verde — located 350 miles off the coast of West Africa — Tavares only began playing basketball at the age of 17.
Now he’s 22 and is projected as a late-first or early second-round pick in the NBA Draft. DraftExpress.com has him going No. 31 on Thursday to the Milwaukee Bucks, while some think he might be prime pickings for the reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs at No. 30 because of their history of stashing players overseas.
Tavares, who was coming off a flight from a workout in Phoenix, has already worked out for the Suns as well as Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, San Antonio and Indiana. He is signed with Gran Canaria for next season and has a $600,000 buyout, his agent, Andy Miller, told SNY.tv.
While Australian guard Dante Exum — a projected top 5 pick — may be the primary International Man of Mystery, Tavares might be the Big Man’s version of that title.
“He passes the eye test, right?” one NBA scout on hand told SNY.tv. “He walks in the room, you’re like, ‘Whoa.’ And then you see him shoot jumpers and you’re like, ‘Wow.'”
Asked if he saw any similarities between himself and Exum in the Man of Mystery category, Tavares, who primarily speaks Spanish, said through an interpreter:
“Nobody really knows about me so that way I won’t have much pressure myself and I’ll have more freedom to do things and get better.”
Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, Knicks Director of Player Personnel Mark Warkentien and Nets Basketball Operations Manager Matt Riccardi were among those sitting courtside in folding chairs watching Tavares go through a private workout in which he showed a nice mid-range jump shot and impressive athleticism, while also raising questions about his motor and lower leg strength. (The Knicks and the Nets are both hoping to acquire a pick in Thursday’s draft.)
It was a scene straight out of the latest Jon Hamm movie, “Million Dollar Arm,” in which Indian cricket players audition in front of Major League Baseball scouts for a chance to pitch in the big leagues.
Tavares grew up playing soccer and handball in Cape Verde and only came to basketball late in his life.
After discovering basketball, he made the Cape Verde National Team and has spent the last three seasons in Spain’s ACB, the last two with Gran Canaria. Last season he averaged 6.4 points and 8.0 rebounds while leading the ACB in blocks per game (1.56) in only 21 minutes per game.
Miller touted his client’s athleticism and said he believes he’s a borderline first-round pick.
“I think that he’s showed that he’s obviously evolved and developed from where he first started coming from Cape Verde and what the expectations were, which was he was obviously a project back in the day,” Miller told SNY.tv. “So the fact that he’s developing this quickly and is this big and this long and he moves well and he’s got great hands and he shoots the ball well, I think that he’s going to end up somewhere in the later part of the first round.
“In a draft like this, with teams having multiple picks, he’s the kind of guy that you would pick, whether you were doing it because you want to have a player go back overseas and save it, or if it’s for development purposes.”
Still, the NBA scout on hand said he wasn’t awed by Tavares’s mobility.
“He’s a legit 7-2, 7-3, huge hands,” the scout told SNY.tv. “Very Euro with the jump shot, beautiful touch.
“I was shocked at his lack of mobility. He has real good footwork, but doesn’t have good mobility. I think someone’s going to fall in love with his size and I would probably say, late first or early second. Stash him for a year.”
He added: “I’m not coming away impressed. He’s got no strength in his base. Twenty minutes into it he was gassed. He’s in good physical shape, awful condition. It doesn’t look like he has a real motor….He’s only been playing four years, so people are going to fall in love with that….Let’s say he played for Syracuse, he’d sit behind Rakeem Christmas.”
Both Miller and Tavares are aware of the criticisms and seem to understand them.
“He’s gotta have the right kind of training, which he hasn’t had necessarily,” Miller said. “Over here he can get more sophisticated development, but I think it’s all on the come for him in terms of his development and growth.”
Asked about those concerns, Tavares said: “I know it’s something that I need to get better at and I’m going to try to improve.”
Come Thursday night, the Man of Mystery from Cape Verde will wait to hear his name called and he will be just as nervous as everyone else who might hear their name called.
“I’m going to feel nervous the minute I sit down and wait until my name is called,” he said. “But it’s one time in your life so I think I’m going to feel nervous.”
Photos: Justin Zanik