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Draft Dreams

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Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor

When Nikola Vucevic announced at the Galen Center on March 25 that he would forgo his senior season and head for NBA pastures, there was an air of uncertainty hovering over the Serbian's decision.

Vucevic-Declares.jpgSome said he wasn't ready to make the leap to the professional ranks; others said his draft ceiling was no higher than a second round pick.  Yet, with exactly a week until the draft kicks off at Madison Square Garden, the seven-foot center has all but silenced the critics with his tireless work ethic and unique skill set.

"I have had a lot of time to work on my individual game and skills, and basically have tried to address every detail," Vucevic said about his pre-draft regimen. "I am a better shooter than I was, and overall just have more confidence than I did in college."

That confidence was put on display for all to see at the NBA's annual Rookie Combine held in Chicago last month. 

From his smooth shooting stroke to his seven-foot-four wingspan to the rare athleticism that defies his size, Vucevic's five-day performance quickly catapulted him up scouts' draft boards and into lottery contention.

"This was nothing new for me," said Vucevic on his play at the NBA Combine. "I knew that I was better than people were giving me credit for. And I have come out from day one and just been ready to workout and help myself in any way I can."

While Vucevic may have helped himself out in Chicago, USC's leading scorer (17.1 ppg), rebounder (10.3 rpg) and shot blocker (1.3 bpg) in 2011 still has plenty of work to do.

vucevic-3pt.jpg"I am still working on my NBA three-point shot (which has an arc that is three feet longer than the college game), defending smaller guys in front of me and getting more explosive and quicker at the basket."

Over the course of the last month, the 20-year-old has worked out for nine NBA teams that hold picks between 7th and 27th overall (Bobcats, Celtics, Kings, Knicks, Nets, Nuggets, Rockets, Sixers and Spurs). His whirlwind tour across the NBA landscape will conclude today in Portland when he meets with the Trail Blazers.

It hasn't been all work for the native of Bar, Montenegro, as he got a chance to meet his childhood idol, Michael Jordan, during his trip to Charlotte.

"I was just really happy, it's something I've wanted to do since I was little," said Vucevic on meeting His Airness. "We were just working out and doing some drills, and all of a sudden he walks in. I wasn't nervous actually. It made me want to go harder because I mean he is the best ever. If anything it served as motivation for all of us."

Whether Vucevic is chosen by Jordan's Bobcats isn't of much concern for the 2010 Pac-10 Most Improved Player. He has only one goal next week as he waits to hear his name called in New York City.

"I would just like to be in the first round," said Vucevic on his wish for draft night. "I just can't wait for the draft.  When I hear my name called it will just be the happiest moment of my life."

(Photos courtesy of LA Times and OC Register)

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