Marquese Chriss is in a hurry.
That’s how it is these days for the former Washington Huskies freshman, now one of the most coveted prospects in this year’s NBA draft.
On Tuesday, during a car ride between a lengthy list of appearances ahead of Thursday’s draft in New York — he was headed to an appointment at Foot Locker at the time — Chriss took a few minutes to reflect on the past few months, and on the growing possibility that he might be the highest-drafted player during coach Lorenzo Romar’s 14 seasons as UW’s head coach.
“I didn’t really have any expectations,” Chriss said during a phone interview. “I knew it was going to be a lot of work. It’s been fun. Time flew. I think I did a lot better than expected in some stuff and some areas of the workouts and interviews and things like that. I think I did well for myself.”
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The same is true of former teammate Dejounte Murray, the Seattle native and former Rainier Beach High School star who, like Chriss, played one season at UW before deciding to enter this year’s draft.
Both project as first-round picks, though there is a consensus that Chriss is the more sought-after prospect. Several mock drafts — including those from ESPN, NBA.com, DraftExpress.com and SBNation — predict Chriss, a 6-foot-10, 233-pound forward, will be picked No. 4 overall by the Phoenix Suns. Others believe he might go No. 5 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, or perhaps No. 7 to the Denver Nuggets. There has been some talk, too, that the Boston Celtics might be interested at No. 3, though the most likely destination does appear to be Phoenix.
Brandon Roy, who was drafted No. 6 overall in 2006, is UW’s highest-drafted player under Romar. Only two others — Terrence Ross (No. 8 in 2012) and Spencer Hawes (No. 10 in 2007) — have been picked in the top 10 under Romar, and only five players total from UW have ever been drafted in the top 10. Bob Houbregs, the No. 3 overall pick in the 1953 draft, is the highest-drafted player in UW history.
“I enjoy it,” Chriss said of speculation that he might go in the top five. “But at the same time, you still have to earn it. I think everything’s going to happen for a reason and if it happens, it happens”
In his only season at UW, Chriss, a native of Rancho Cordova, California, posted decent per-game averages of 13.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 24.9 minutes. He filled highlight reels with alley-oop jams and smooth baseline jumpers. But his flaws were also apparent: Chriss committed 4.1 fouls per game and racked up 15 disqualifications. He lacked polish as a defensive rebounder, and often found himself out of position defensively.
His athleticism, though, along with ahead-of-schedule offensive skills for a player his age, are simply too enticing for teams picking in the lottery to ignore.
ESPN’s Chad Ford writes that Chriss is “one of the most explosive and quickest athletes you’ll ever find at his size. He has the ability to shoot the 3, protect the rim and even handle the ball a bit.”
Acknowledging Chriss’ boom-or-bust talent, ESPN projects that he has a 31 percent chance of going down as a draft bust … and a 21 percent chance of being an NBA All-Star in his first five seasons.
His rise is not unlike his transition from his senior year at Pleasant Grove High School to his freshman year at Washington: he was considered a four-star recruit and had a few other scholarship offers when he committed to UW, but the Huskies were thrilled to secure his pledge so early because they felt he would have been pursued by every school in the country if he’d played out his recruitment. His potential was that great.
Once he arrived at UW, coaches quietly wondered during early workouts whether they’d be able to keep him for more than one season. Those worries, obviously, were justified, and NBA evaluators seem similarly seduced by what Chriss might become.
Murray, who was named to the Pac-12’s all-freshmen team after averaging 16.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists, could also end up in the top 10. A 6-foot-5 guard with long, skinny arms and a knack for getting to the rim, Murray is projected by ESPN to go No. 10 to the Milwaukee Bucks, though other projections have him going in the early 20s.
Both players — the two are also close friends — were invited to sit in the so-called “green room” during the draft, which will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Both were fitted for suits earlier this week.
The spoils of the pre-draft process for a lottery pick are many. Chriss, just a few days removed from signing an endorsement deal with Nike — “I’m just really grateful and relieved that I was able to sign with Nike so early,” he said — spent Tuesday taking in a New York Yankees game. He sat down for an interview with TNT’s Kenny Smith, in addition to a handful of other stops.
The most comical freebie — and, if you know Chriss, the most fitting — came earlier. In April, he posted to his Twitter page a photo of a custom pair of Crocs. The infamous footwear — Chriss, who turns 19 in July, has long been a loyal wearer — were marked with a logo made from his initials.
“I still wear them every day,” he said.
He has found at least one constant, then, in a life that has changed considerably in the last year, and will change again forever on Thursday night.
2016 NBA Draft
4 p.m. Thursday in Brooklyn, New York
Inside: Complete draft order, top players. 8B