Senior center Kentrell Gransberry had 23 points and nine rebounds Wednesday in USF's home game against Syracuse, a showing most impressive because it took place in a rare Bulls conference victory.
His performance was well-timed, too, as nine NBA scouts and general managers were among those in attendance.
This afternoon, as the Bulls take on No.17 Connecticut, there again will be nine NBA representatives, including five from teams who weren't watching Wednesday. In a span of four days, 14 NBA teams will have a better look at Gransberry, who has established himself as one of the premier rebounders in college basketball.
"He has very good hands and a knack for rebounding," said Dave Twardzik, who oversees the Orlando Magic's college scouting as assistant general manager. "He's not a tremendous leaper, but there's a skill to knowing when to go up and being able to come down with the ball, and Gransberry has that."
Gransberry, leading the Bulls in both points (16.8) and rebounds (10.8) per game, has shown enough to be invited to the key NBA events, the workouts and predraft camps where prospects can improve their draft position. A game like today's gives Gransberry a chance not only to help USF to a huge upset, but also to prove himself against Connecticut's 7-foot-3, 263-pound Hasheem Thabeet.
"What Kentrell has going for him is he's a great rebounder with great size," USF coach Stan Heath said. "I really think he's going to get a lot of attention, especially in our league, because they want to see how he battles against other guys who are potential NBA guys.
"When you put up the numbers he puts up, it's an attention grabber, and when he does it against the guys he's doing it against, it's impressive."
Gransberry already has earned praise from Big East coaches, who have constructed various defenses designed to limit his impact in games. After Wednesday's game, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called him "a very good low-post player," and other coaches with NBA experience have said he can play there.
"Gransberry is as tough of a basketball player as we'll face," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "He knows how to post up and understands the post-up game. He's got a great future ahead of him at the next level because of it."
His size - he's listed at 6 feet 9, 270 pounds - makes him a physical college player, but he lacks the height typically associated with an NBA center. Twardzik and other scouts said the league is changing, however, putting less focus on unwritten height requirements once associated with positions.
"He's not what you'd call a prototypical NBA center, but our league is getting smaller," Twardzik said. "Size isn't much of an issue, as much as having certain skills."
The NBA draft is much harder to project than its NFL equivalent, because basketball pools its rookies from such a wider source of talent. Draft rules require a player be only one year removed from high school, so underclassmen complicate draft choices, as does the wealth of talented players available from Europe and, more recently, Asia.
Twardzik said Gransberry's rebounding skills remind him of former NBA standout Paul Silas, who consistently got boards against players who were better jumpers.
Gransberry said his focus is on this season and this team, and that he'll start thinking about the NBA after his college career is over.
"You don't want to get caught up in that," said Gransberry, who is in position to average a double double for the second season in a row. "If you just focus on playing well and trying to win, everything else will take care of itself."
USF vs.No.17 Connecticut
When/where: Noon today; Sun Dome, Tampa
TV/radio: Ch. 28; 1250-AM.
Today: USF vs. No. 17 Connecticut
When/where: Noon, Sun Dome, Tampa
TV/radio: Ch. 28, 1250-AM
Records: USF 11-14, 2-10 Big East; UConn 19-5, 8-3
Notable: USF fans are encouraged to wear green as part of a "Silence the Huskies" promotion. ... The Bulls are coming off their first win in six weeks, upsetting Syracuse in the Sun Dome on Wednesday. ... The Huskies are led by 6-foot-2 point guard A.J. Price, who averages a team-best 15 points and a league-high 6.1 assists. ... Connecticut is the league's No. 2 team in rebounding margin, with 6-7 Jeff Adrien getting 9.3 boards a game and scoring in double figures. ... The Huskies have 54 more blocks than any other Big East team, averaging more than eight a game. However, they also hit fewer 3-pointers than any conference team. ... USF got a combined 52 points Wednesday from guard Dominique Jones (29) and center Kentrell Gransberry (23), and guard Jesus Verdejo came through with 19, his most in a Big East game this season. ...Connecticut has won all five previous meetings, including a 19-point victory last season.
Greg Auman, Times staff writer