You don’t have to be a five-star recruit, a superstar freshman or even a polished upperclassman to be an NBA Draft pick. Those things all help, of course, but they aren’t necessary. There are other paths for basketball players to take.
Just look at Wesley Iwundu.
The 6-foot-7, 205-pound swingman was an unheralded recruit with a goofy shot and what seemed like far-fetched NBA dreams when he arrived at Kansas State four years ago. Now he is in Brooklyn, preparing for Thursday’s NBA Draft with hopes of getting picked, maybe even in the first round.
“Wes has done what you hope every college basketball player will do,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “He is the old school guy that took a step all four years he was in school and became a complete player.”
That steady improvement resulted in a breakthrough senior year for Iwundu in which he became K-State’s best all-around player, averaging 13 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists. It’s not a stretch to say he did it all for the Wildcats, as he played both guard positions, spent time on the wing and posted up defenders.
Iwundu never rose above third-team all-conference status at K-State, but he was a force late last season, particularly in an NCAA Tournament play-in victory over Wake Forest when he had 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
He left college as one of the Big 12’s most improved players, and that progress carried over into NBA workouts. He is the top-rated senior in the 2017 draft class, according to NBADraft.net, and a projected selection in most mock drafts.
Some sites have him going in the first round. Others see him as a second-rounder. He has worked out for the majority of NBA teams once and finished up a second audition with the Orlando Magic earlier this week.
“I didn’t get the green room invite, but with the feedback we’ve been getting, we just felt like we should be there,” Iwundu told NBADraft.net..”And just the experience of it all will be great, too. Seeing the city and potentially walking up on stage will be awesome.”
Iwundu originally agreed to an interview for this story, but his agent, Austin Walton, advised him to focus solely on his workouts as the draft approaches.
Two traits have helped Iwundu reach this point. The main one is his versatility. Iwundu has an ideal body for the modern NBA and the ability to do many things on the basketball court. He can both play and defend multiple positions. But that wouldn’t be enough without his improved outside shot.
Iwundu was one of K-State’s worst three-point shooters for most of his college career, making a total of 19 threes on 66 attempts (28.8 percent) in his first three seasons. But he overhauled his shooting motion as a senior and made 32 of 85 (37.6 percent).
Not bad considering how flat and inconsistent his shot was a freshman.
“The spin of the ball was the worst,” Weber said. “We had to paint a line on the basketball to show him how the ball was spinning, and it was spinning like a globe sideways. Sometimes it was a knuckle ball. Now you watch it and it’s a real shot.”
Once Iwundu mastered his new shooting technique, Weber saw a future pro.
“One of the hardest things in life to do is to change a bad habit,” Weber said. “Well, he had several bad habits with his shot. For him to have the discipline to get rid of those bad habits and reconstruct a new shot, that says a lot.”
That wouldn’t have been possible without four full years at K-State.
“The experiences I had and went through all four years has really prepared me to be successful at the next level,” Iwundu told NBADraft.net. “I feel like staying all four years can make you a more NBA ready player as soon as you’re drafted. For me, I’m 22 years old but I don’t feel like I’m anywhere close to my ceiling. When they speak about potential, I still feel like I am still reaching my potential.”
If Iwundu gets picked on Thursday, it will be a win for K-State.
The Wildcats haven’t had a player taken in teh NBA Draft since 2008 when Michael Beasley was the No. 2 overall pick and Bill Walker went 47th. The last K-State draft pick before them was Steve Henson in 1990.
Former K-State stars Rodney McGruder and Cartier Martin both reached the NBA and found success there, but neither made it as draft picks.
“It would be a great accomplishment for him,” Weber said of Iwundu possibly getting drafted. “I hope it reflects in a really positive manner on our coaches and our staff, but also as a motivator for the next group coming up to watch his improvement.”
Iwundu can certainly provide hope for any dreamer that is in the same spot he was four years ago.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett