For Mike Hall, the madness started as soon as he declared himself eligible for the June 28 NBA draft. Hall, having just completed his junior season at George Washington University, wasn't even his team's marquee player. But he wanted to see what the NBA thought of him.
Hall hasn't hired an agent and he finished the academic year in good standing, so he has the option of pulling his name out of the draft by June 21 and returning to Foggy Bottom for his senior season. But that didn't stop some of the people from Hall's old Chicago neighborhood from offering all kinds of advice.
"I can see why some of these guys get twisted and start thinking that they are ready for the NBA," said Hall, who averaged 10.6 points and eight rebounds last season. "As soon as my name crawled across the bottom of the screen on ESPN saying I was eligible for the draft, it seemed like everyone I ever knew back in Chicago started calling me telling me to hire an agent because I was ready."
But the odds are against Hall. Of the hundreds of players eligible for the NBA draft, only 30 will be taken in the first round. Those chosen in the first round receive guaranteed contracts and at least some degree of security. The others must hope to either land in the second round, where only half usually make an NBA roster, or play professionally in international leagues.
Hall has a realistic view of his chances, despite his supporters' comments. "The thing is, they only know me from being the best player in the neighborhood or whatever. But what they don't realize is that I'm trying to go up against grown men who are scrapping to feed their family. This is a serious business, so you have to be careful about what advice you listen to."
Hall and George Washington teammate Pops Mensah-Bonsu are two of 108 non-college seniors who have declared for the NBA draft. The list includes 61 college players, 12 high school seniors and 35 international players. It comprises some definite first-round picks such as Utah center Andrew Bogut, North Carolina forward Marvin Williams and Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul. It also contains borderline prospects such as Hall, Mensah-Bonsu, Georgetown forward Brandon Bowman -- none of whom have hired an agent -- and Maryland guard John Gilchrist, who has hired an agent and does not have the option of returning to College Park.
For most of the young players, the first step toward a professional career is earning an invitation to the NBA pre-draft camp in Chicago. This year's takes place June 7-10 at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute. At the camp, players are divided into six teams of 10 to 12 players, and those teams square off in a series of games that will be observed by coaches, scouts and general managers representing every NBA team. Players are also put through many of the same position drills NBA teams use when conducting their own pre-draft workouts.
Not being invited to the pre-draft camp is usually a good indication that a player won't get drafted. The last senior to be drafted after not being invited to Chicago was former Maryland guard Steve Blake, selected by the Wizards in the second round of the 2003 draft.
Gilchrist, Bowman and Mensah-Bonsu have been invited, while Hall was still hoping to receive an invitation late last week.
Most probable first-round picks skip the camp or just take the physical exam, putting the approximately 70 participants at this year's camp into three groups: players hoping to be selected in the second round; players who won't be drafted but are hoping to earn an invitation to a team's training camp; and players who will withdraw their names from the draft, return to college and try again next year.
NBA scouting director Marty Blake said the pre-draft camp field is determined after compiling an initial list of around 208 draft eligible players. That list is then pared down based on the recommendation of NBA scouts, coaches and general managers until a final group of players is identified. Final invitations will go out this week.
Marty Blake, who helped establish the Chicago pre-draft camp 21 years ago, said that as the evaluation of players has intensified over the years, the role of the pre-draft camp has changed.
"You just aren't going to see players get discovered anymore," Marty Blake said. "It's not like a guy is going to show up and suddenly wow everyone and become a first round pick. If a guy can play, they already know about him so those days are over. What the camp does is allow you to see good players versus good players. It gives teams just one more tool for evaluating players heading into the draft."
There have been examples of players helping themselves at recent pre-draft camps.
Last summer, Spurs rookie point guard Beno Udrih of Slovenia made a strong showing in Chicago followed by a few impressive workouts. He was selected with the 28th pick of the first round by San Antonio and has carved out a place for himself in the Spurs' rotation.
Hall has been playing regular pickup games at Chicago's Hoops the Gym, where Michael Jordan famously hosted private games as he prepared for his comeback with the Wizards. Playing with NBA players like Antoine Walker, Michael Finley, Quentin Richardson and Juwan Howard convinced Hall that he should at least put his name into this year's draft and hope for a pre-draft camp invitation.
"I think a lot of [underclassmen] look at it like: 'Why not?' " Hall said last week. "As long as you don't cut yourself off from coming back, it can't hurt. Basically, I'm looking at it like, this is something I want to do and I only have a two-year window to make it happen. So I'm going to do everything I can. Hopefully, I can go [to the pre-draft camp] and show some NBA people what kind of player I am. If nothing happens, I'll come back to GW and have a great senior season and try to make it happen next year."