MANHATTAN — Three months after his college basketball career ended, Rodney McGruder thinks his time at Kansas State couldn’t have gone much better. He will always remember the Elite Eight as a freshman and a Big 12 championship as a senior.
Those accomplishments, along with averaging 15.6 points and 5.4 rebounds as a senior, provided him a solid foundation as he began preparing for his professional career. It wasn’t enough to assure him selection in the NBA Draft, which begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday, but it was definitely something he could build on.
That’s what the past few months have been about – reminding NBA coaches of his successful past while also proving there is more to his game than what he showed at K-State. Basically, McGruder has tried to add an improved outside shot and better ball-handling skills to a resume that already featured strong defense and leadership qualities.
After months of practice, and workouts with seven NBA teams, McGruder is optimistic about his NBA chances, even though most experts expect him to go undrafted.
"I feel like I have put myself in position to be a draft pick," McGruder said. "I have been getting positive feedback from teams, but it is really a waiting game. You just don’t know what is going to happen. I feel like I put the work in, so I feel like the opportunity should be there for me."
McGruder has faced an uphill climb. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, he possesses the ideal size of a NBA guard, but he played on the wing at K-State. His toughness and versatility allowed him to score and rebound from mid-range against college competition, but some wonder what his niche will be as a pro.
He won’t be a do-everything player. So what role can he fill?
K-State coach Bruce Weber thinks he can become a consistent three-point shooter and a reliable defender. He has urged NBA scouts to take a long look at McGruder.
"He has a chance at maybe a second-round pick," Weber said. "I think the other part is just getting with the right team. The Spurs are a great example. Rodney has that mindset and that mental toughness and that work ethic that he is going to go and he is going to work at it.
"I told him the pathway to the NBA could be a lot of different ways. He might be like those guys with the Spurs. It might take a couple years overseas. Keep improving on your game and then you get your opportunity. You hope for the best with him, because he is just a tremendous young man. You hope guys like that get rewarded."
If McGruder hears his name called on Thursday, it will likely come near the end of the second round. He has been left off most mock drafts. NBADraft.net ranks him as the 80th-best prospect.
McGruder thinks he helped his chances by working out in front of the right people. He has auditioned for only teams that have a need for him. Wherever he plays next season, in the NBA or overseas, he wants to fit into that team’s system.
He wouldn’t name the teams he has worked out with, but Weber said the list included the Thunder, Mavericks, Wizards and Jazz.
"I feel like they all really liked me," McGruder said. "The interviews have gone well. I don’t have character issues, so they mostly just ask about my family and my upbringing and try to get to know me better. In the NBA, you are playing with guys that are much better athletes. It’s a faster game and it takes a high IQ. I think I’ve shown I have that."
If McGruder goes undrafted, he can still join a NBA team as a free agent or play with a NBA team during the summer league before trying to make a roster next season. He could also decide to play overseas.
"That would mean everything to me, just a dream come true," said McGruder, who will watch the draft with family in Washington, D.C. "I have been dreaming about being drafted since I was a little kid, just watching the NBA. That has always been my dream. For my dream to come true would be really nice."