Hassan Whiteside looks just exactly like a professional basketball player. He is tall and lanky, with smooth, sinewy muscles and impossibly long arms. His elastic strides cover huge swaths of the court; when he leaps, his hands stretch high above the rim; this dude will block your shot. But if his body and movements suggest a familiar, highly developed athletic manhood, his round, boyish face, thick Carolina accent and tentative speech give him away as the near-teenager that he is.
At Sunday morning’s workout for the Timberwolves in Minneapolis, Whiteside looked every bit the slightly lost, not quite confident kid (I love the fact that he just wants teams to know “that I’m a nice guy”). In fact, although he was easily the most highly touted player in the five-man group, Whiteside was overshadowed by the massive Texan Dexter Pittman. Pittman has a soft voice and a charming, agreeable demeanor. When asked about the trait he would most like to impress upon potential coaches and GM’s he offered, “my hungriness,” which sounds really, really hungry. On the grueling whirlwind of cross-country workouts–Miami on Saturday, Minneapolis on Sunday, Oklahoma City on Monday–he quipped that he was on “a nationwide tour like Michael Jackson”. And, oddly, he seemed genuinely excited to play for the Wolves, citing his relationship with the Babcock family, the surprising beauty of the city, plus, and probably most importantly, an affinity for the team’s logo which he approvingly described as “a beast.”
On the court, though, that soft voice turned into a bellow as he battered and bruised his fellow pro hopefuls. Like Whiteside, Pittman didn’t seem particularly comfortable more than ten feet from the basket, but when he got any closer than that he had a pretty easy time bullying his way to the rim, smiling and yelling all the way.
There’s a limit to a person can learn at one of these workouts. As David Kahn explained, you can learn something about a player’s conditioning and “willingness to compete”, about their ability to interact with coaches and perform in certain NBA-specific situations (such as defending the pick-and-roll). You can learn that Pittman has lost nearly 100 pounds in the last three years. And that he has alarmingly large, supple hands, and can one-handedly pick a basketball off the floor and ladle it into the hoop like it was an apple. But these aren’t truly game situations; as a predictive tool for how someone will fare in an 82-game NBA season is notoriously unreliable.
And you don’t learn a whole lot about the fatigue and loneliness that must inevitably set in while these guys cross the country. They are already becoming practiced at the pro athlete’s brash lingua franca, a kind of rote optimism that denies vulnerability and intentionally forgets the past. Pittman’s charm and bravado, for instance, gave no indication that his brother was murdered just over a month ago. And so, as far as insight into the strange, itinerant life of an aspiring draftee, his slightly cryptic, but obliquely revealing one-liners will have to do. How does he handle the fatigue? “It’s just a mental thing,” Pittman replied. Totally.