When/where: 7 tonight, ESPN; Madison Square Garden, New York.
Top of the order
1. Chicago Bulls 2. Miami Heat 3. Minn. Timberwolves 4. Seattle SuperSonics 5. Memphis Grizzlies
The Bulls are expected to take Memphis guard Derrick Rose or Kansas State forward Michael Beasley. The Heat might trade the No. 2 pick or look for a guard to pair with Dwyane Wade (does Pat Riley like O.J. Mayo?). The Magic picks 22nd. 5C
GAINESVILLE — When Marreese Speights decided to declare for the NBA draft in April, his decision left many wondering, "What is he thinking?"
Speights, 20, spent his freshman season at Florida playing 5.7 minutes per game behind eventual NBA rookie of the year runnerup Al Horford.
So in essence, he chose to leave after one year of significant playing time, where he was the second-leading scorer with 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds on a team that won just 20 regular-season games and missed the NCAA Tournament.
Conventional wisdom said the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Speights likely could improve his draft status with another year of college. But tonight, he is expected to prove his decision to move on was sound after all.
The St. Petersburg native, who attended Admiral Farragut and Gibbs before spending his senior year at Hargrove (Va.) Military Academy, is projected to be a mid-to-late first-round pick as a power forward. He will watch the draft from his grandmother's home in St. Petersburg.
"He is a first-rounder," said ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who has Speights rated as the 15th-best prospect, ahead of former Stanford center Robin Lopez. "I don't see any scenario where he doesn't end up in the first round."
Apparently neither do many other experts.
As of Wednesday evening, SI.com and NBADraft.net have Speights at No. 16 going to 76ers. SportingNews.com has him at No. 21 to the Nets, and Chad Ford of ESPN.com has him at No. 22 to the Magic.
Speights has worked out for about 10 NBA teams that are impressed with his defense as well as his shooting.
Yet some concerns linger.
"They (general managers) are saying offensively he's very gifted, he can block shots and he can rebound," Bilas said. "He's got the body, he's got all the tools that you want. The question is, will he be able to put that all together to be the best possible NBA player he can be? And that's hard. He's not where he needs to be, he's not reached his potential. So that's what they are talking about: Does he have the heart and desire to get better in order to reach his potential? And that's the decision they are trying to make, and how high do you take him?
"At some point, the lower he goes, the better value he is. And the higher you take him, the more risk there is because you are passing up players that are just as talented, maybe moreso, in order to bet on him."
Speights closed out his collegiate season at his best, averaging 17.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in his final eight games, and also had 49 blocks during the season. He spent a good part of his NBA workouts trying to shed the stigma of a guy who struggled with conditioning and stamina.
"He feels like he's had very productive workouts and he's done well," said Matt Ramker, Speights' former AAU coach and current adviser. He's excited about the opportunity and ready for (tonight) to come."
A night he has envisioned for many years.
"This is what I've always wanted to do, play in the NBA," Speights said. "It was a hard decision (to leave UF), but I know it was the right decision."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.