Paul George has an unabashed confidence in himself as a basketball player.
I havent been exposed to this game as much as a lot of other players and I think Im already a great prospect with good potential, he says. Once I get that chance to really get that experience and learn about the game, I think my ceiling is pretty high.
Modest? Not exactly.
Accurate? With the way his stock is rising the past few weeks, few of the general managers in attendance would have a hard time arguing.
Having put himself on the map as a freshman a year ago with a thunderous dunk against Saint Marys that quickly became a YouTube sensation, George made the best of his opportunity to show pro teams the combination of athleticism and skill that made him a matchup nightmare in his days at Fresno State.
The only thing more electrifying than Georges on-court exploits has been his meteoric rise from unheralded high school recruit to potential lottery pick in less than two years.
Growing up in Palmdale, California, the future Second-Team All-WAC performer was fixated on taking his game to the asphalt, preferring to play street ball as opposed to the organized game. It wasnt until he enrolled at Pete Knight High School that George began to truly develop as a player, suiting up for the freshman team in his first season before starting for the varsity squad in his final three years.
It wasnt until he was discovered one day on an outdoor court by the Pump N Run AAU team that his game truly began to take off.
It was great exposure playing with Jrue Holiday
and Malcolm Lee
, George says. It let me learn a lot about basketball that gave me the confidence to keep going and keep going.
Alongside the future UCLA Bruins (Holiday was a lottery pick last year), George was exposed to the elite talent on the West Coast and for the first time saw that there was more to being a great player than having off the charts athleticism.
At that point I was just starting to learn what playing against real athletes was like, he says. It helped me understand how much work I needed to do. Im just a student of the game. I love to watch it and learn about it. I think thats really what has gotten me to where Im at now.
By his senior year at Pete Knight, George had started to put it all together, posting averages of 25 points and 12 rebounds, but with his late entry into the basketball pipeline, the majority of big programs around the country werent wise to the blossoming talent out west. Georgetown, Penn State, Pepperdine and San Diego State all actively recruited George, but after careful consideration he opted for the opportunity to be an impact player right away for the Bulldogs.
His goals quickly came to fruition as George exploded onto the scene in his first season at the college level, averaging more than 14 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game, and posting the third-best 3-point shooting percentage (44.7) in program history.
Few outside of the WAC or even Fresno State knew just how good the super freshman was, but the Bulldogs coaches were wise to the talent they had unearthed in the recruiting process.
I think they kind of understood that I was a diamond in the rough, George says. I knew whatever team I went to Id make the most out of it. I didnt want to go to a bigger school just for the simple fact that I wanted to be an impact guy immediately. I wanted to learn from mistakes by playing as a freshman. Thats why I went to Fresno. I think the coaches had an idea of what they were getting.
Now the question is: what will an NBA team be getting?
George opted for the pro game after a sophomore campaign that saw him increase his production but ended on a sour note with the Bulldogs missing the postseason after a 15-18 overall record and a fifth place finish in the WAC.
While the forward insists a better team showing would have only further augmented his decision to enter his name in this years draft pool, he says the choice was a difficult one either way, given the NCAAs new early entry deadline.
Its definitely tough on the underclassmen because it kind of takes away from being able to test the waters out, he says. In order for you to really give this your all, you have to set aside school for a little bit and in order for that you have to pursue the route with an agent and fully expand on basketball with training. So I think it pressures kids a little bit more than before.
George is one of the underclassmen who likely wont need to sweat over his decision. In recent weeks he has seen his name climb draft boards to the point that he now finds himself in the back end of the lottery, and should stay there as long as he continues to impress in workouts.
He has been hard at work improving the finer points of his game, specifically his ball handling and shooting off the dribble. As a super-athletic small forward in college, George says a large part of his intrigue as a prospect stems from the potential for him to transition to the off-guard spot down the road. Given his 6-9 frame, there certainly is the potential for the youngster to develop into a matchup problem, even at the pro level. And of course, teams love his still relatively raw game.
I think thats probably the most important part of my game, he says. Im only 19 and I have a lot of room to keep growing. I know with the people around me and with my work ethic Ill get to that next level. I wont stop until Im one of the elite players in the NBA.
That last part is yet to be seen, but theres little question that George has already risen to the top when it comes to generating a buzz in this draft class.