There’s an old adage that says “Nobody knows players like players.’’
If that is indeed the case, one player towers over the rest of his peers in this year’s NBA draft class: Jabari Parker.
At last week’s pre-draft camp in Chicago, I posed the following question to 31 draft-eligible players: If you were a general manager and had the No. 1 pick in the June 26 draft, whom would you select?
The players were granted anonymity and the only stipulations placed on their response was that they couldn’t vote for themselves and that they couldn’t vote for one of their teammates from college.
In a draft, where NBA officials and so-called basketball experts adamantly insist there are four or even five legitimate No. 1 candidates, Parker blew away the field.
Parker, a 6-foot-8 forward who is coming off a sensational freshman season at Duke where he averaged 19.1 points and 8.7 rebounds, received 16½ votes (one player insisted on splitting vote).
That was nearly three times the number of votes for the runner-up, center Joel Embiid of Kansas, who received 5.5 votes. And it was four times the number of votes for the third-place finisher, small forward Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, who garnered four.
Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh and North Carolina State small forward T.J. Warren each received one vote. So did Arizona forward Aaron Gordon and Arizona guard Nick Johnson, who just happen to be best of friends and admirers of each other’s game.
One of Parker’s biggest fans is Semaj Christon, a point guard from Xavier. Christon, who is projected as an early second-round pick, cast his vote for Parker and said he not only feels Parker is already the best player in this draft class but still has plenty of upside.
“He’s got all the pieces to his game,’’ Christon said. “I feel he’ll only get better, too.’’
Warren, who played against Parker in college and is regarded as a mid-first rounder, added: “I like watching great players and he (Parker) is a great player. I’m a big fan of his game.’’
Added Virginia shooting guard Joe Harris, a projected late-first to early-second round pick: “I think he’s the best player available in the draft. He’s really, really skilled. He’s got big-time moves; he moves really well for his size. And he’s really athletic.
“He’s got the intangibles you’re looking for, too. He’s a good guy; he doesn’t seem to have an ego. He’s someone like a Tim Duncan, someone you can build a team around.’’
RISING COACHING STAR: If I was a GM and looking for a new coach, I’d take a long, hard look at hiring Tony Bennett.
The University of Virginia coach is articulate, an Xs and Os whiz, personable, classy and a winner. In case you didn’t notice, Bennett guided Virginia to the ACC regular season and tournament championships this season — and that’s in the same league as perennial powers Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse.
If I had any reservations about Bennett, who turns 45 on June 1, they were instantly dashed after having a conversation with Joe Harris at the draft camp.
Harris, who grew up in tiny Chelen, Wash. (population 3,890), said he moved across country simply because of Bennett. He’s glad he did.
“He’s had a huge influence on my career,’’ Harris said of Bennett, who played at UW-Green Bay and then in the NBA with Charlotte from 1992-1995. “He’s as close to a father figure as you can get; I can go to him for whatever I need. He’s a high-character individual.
“He does things the right way, he coaches the right way, he lives his life the right way. He’s just a good, genuine person, someone you can definitely look up to.
“I was lucky and fortunate to play for coach Bennett.’’
Among the teams checking out Harris are the Bucks, Clippers, Pacers, Pistons and Wizards.
KEEP AN EYE ON THESE GUYS: Two of my draft sleepers: Marquette forward Jamil Wilson and Davidson forward De’Mon Brooks.
Wilson is a tremendous athlete whom his former coach Buzz Williams said was more talented than former Golden Eagles stars Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder, now with the Bulls and Mavs, respectively.
Marquette had all sorts of backcourt issues this season and the 6-7 Wilson was often forced to play out of position, even playing the point at times.
Brooks was a two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year and had the highest PER (player efficiency rating) of any college small forward this season.
Brooks’ PER was 31.62, which put him ahead of runner-up Jabari Parker, whose PER was 29.04, and KJ Daniels, who had the third-best PER among small forwards at 26.73.
BONUS SHOTS: While most NBA officials are expecting new Bucks co-owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens to clean house, especially after the Bucks’ nightmarish season in which they won a franchise-low 15 games. But that might not be the case. Lasry and Edens — who is now the second-most famous member of his family behind his daughter Mallory — wined and dined both Bucks general manager John Hammond and Bucks head coach Larry Drew Monday night in New York. … The Bucks, who have the second overall pick and three second-round choices, are expected to bring in draft prospects for workouts Monday. … I keep hearing Derek Fisher’s name over and over again for the vacant L.A. Lakers coaching position. … Duke’s Rodney Hood has piqued the interest of several teams, including the Lakers (No. 7 pick) and Hornets (No. 9). … The 76ers (10), Nuggets (11) and T-Wolves (13) all interviewed Aaron Gordon at the pre-draft camp. … Orlando, which has the fourth pick, has a keen interest in Randle, who said he’s flattered to be compared to Memphis’ Zach Randolph: “It’s an honor. Zach is a great, great player. To be compared to someone like that Zach with so much skill and who has had a great career in the NBA is definitely an honor.’’