PHOENIX — A year ago when he arrived in Chicago for the NBA pre-draft combine, Ryan McDonough instantly felt like the most popular kid in school.
Only days earlier the Suns hired him as general manager, and not just any general manager, but a general manager who now needed to hire a head coach in addition to a staff and a scouting department.
“Especially in an environment like that, that in some ways turns into a job fair as well,” he said, looking back. “Any GM or president with a head coaching opening becomes the most popular guy, I think, in Chicago because everybody wants to talk to you and give you their resume or put in a word for either themselves or somebody they’re friendly with.
“That was a challenge.”
Last year, McDonough was in high demand.
The challenge this year, and perhaps for years to come, is actually seeing the top college and international talent in the league’s largest pre-draft showcase, which invites 60 players to the Windy City.
The top three prospects in the June 26 draft — Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins — are choosing not to participate this week.
Of course the odds of the Suns landing any of those three are not great. They have a 1.8 percent chance of landing a top-three pick at next Tuesday’s draft lottery.
“But at the same time,” McDonough said, “I like competitors, guys who show up and compete and work. I’ve been in the league 10 or 11 years now and seen enough guys make mistakes where they assume that they’re in a certain range because of the mock drafts or because they get information from a certain group of people, they assume they’re going in one range of the draft and then on draft night it changes.
“It’s always valuable to go and work and show teams what you can do so there’s no doubt. I think that’s what the best guys do.”
The combine begins Wednesday, and for five days McDonough and the Suns’ front office staff will evaluate the players’ skills, both on and off the court. Players will go through drills, physical measurements, medical examinations and interviews.
For McDonough, the interview process, in which the Suns are allowed to speak to as many as 18 different players for 30 minutes at a time, is as important — if not more so — than seeing how guys perform running, jumping and shooting.
“You can ask the player really anything you want,” he said. “I think it’s really good to get to know a player and his personality. We tailor our questions to ask the players some specific things about things that our background reports have turned up on them, good or bad.”
The combine provides teams their first interaction with players, especially the early entry candidates.
“There is value to the combine,” McDonough said. “I think, like everybody else, I wish it were more competitive. But at the same time, any time you can get a group of 50-to-60 potential NBA players in the same place at the same time there’s value in it.
“This year, I think, should be a lot more enjoyable. Our scouting staff is set. We’re happy with the job the guys have done. We’re extremely happy with the job Jeff (Hornacek) and his coaching staff have done. And we can just show up and talk about players and focus on the workouts and the interviews. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”