By JOSH NEWMAN
Special to ZAGSBLOG
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – From his days at St. Benedict’s Prep with Samardo Samuels, Tristan Thompson and Lance Thomas, to one full season at Rutgers with Mike Rosario and three productive seasons at Creighton with Doug McDermott, Gregory Echenique has always been the man behind ‘the man.’
A 6-foot-9, 260-pound bruiser with an underrated offensive game, Echenique’s ability to carve out an NBA career will likely depend on him understanding and continuing to play that complementary role. Predictably, he is just fine with that.
“I don’t wanna say I’m not able to do stuff individually, but obviously, at this level, I understand there is a hierarchy, a ranking and I understand that if I get a chance, I’m probably going to be a role player, which is completely fine,” Echenique told SNY.tv after working out for the Nets on Wednesday morning at PNY Center. “Everybody needs those type of guys and I’m more than happy to do that if that is what a team needs or asks of me. It doesn’t bother me one bit.”
Echenique’s notion that all teams need players like him has been backed up by the fact that a slew of NBA teams either have or will give him an opportunity showcase his skills ahead of the June 27 draft.
The Venezuela native had previously worked out for Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Wizards and Houston Rockets prior to the Nets. He is slated to work out for the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, Phoenix Suns and Friday and Indiana Pacers next week.
If he goes undrafted, his agent, Ben Pensack, told SNY.tv that the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Blazers, Celtics and Timberwolves will all have interest in snagging Echenique for their respective summer league squads.
“The whole process is obviously new to me and it’s very strange,” Echenique said of all the pre-draft workouts. “I do feel like I have gained some momentum for the workouts coming up and I hope every workout I’ve had and everything I’ve done has helped my chances for a roster spot. That’s obviously the goal. I’m confident, I’m positive and I hope they like what I do.”
The fact that Echenique has gotten to this point was once in doubt. He wears goggles when he plays now, the product of getting poked in his left eye during a pickup game while at Rutgers. He suffered double vision, was about to take a medical redshirt for his sophomore season and instead, transferred between semesters after he had his family were unhappy with the way Rutgers handled the injury.
“Even though it was a real bad situation for me, I think I’ve been very optimistic and positive throughout my career,” Echenique said. “I never doubted my future. Even through the adversity, I always stuck with it and tried to just keep going and it’s paying off now. Regardless of what happens June 27, I’m gonna stay positive.”
That tumultuous time gave way to three solid years as a Bluejay. Last season as a senior behind McDermott, a National Player of the Year candidate as a junior, Echenique averaged 9.7 points and 6.6 rebounds for a 28-8 Creighton squad that won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament before falling to Duke in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
The MVC Defensive Player of the Year, Echenique was named to the MVC”s All-Defensive Team three straight times and finished his career with 1,364 points, 991 rebounds and 268 blocks in 140 career games.