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How Underdog Darion Atkins Seized His Moment And Is Now the Talk of NBA Draft Circles

3 min read

by Waterboy Sam Meyerkopf

The Portsmouth Invitational (PIT) has been an NBA pre-draft event for decades. 64 of some of the best seniors in college hoops along with hordes of NBA and European scouts descend on the small Virginia city for one weekend every spring. The goal for a lot of these players is the same: make a good enough impression to be picked in June’s NBA Draft or at least do well enough to perk up the ears of International scouts looking to bring talent abroad.

For the past few years, it's been commonplace for higher-profile "name" players to rescind on invites to the PIT. Some players and agents want to give off a certain image of a player and don’t want to risk him playing badly. But some players, regardless of their stock, just want to play and prove themselves.

Darion Atkins mirrors the classic pro underdog story. He was the seventh replacement player picked to go to PIT. The last guy added to the rosters. After University of California’s David Kravish dropped out at the last minute, the local University of Virginia center was ready to go. And go he did.

Standing at 6’7” with a 7’2” wingspan, Atkins is not your typical big man prospect. While undersized centers are flourishing in Europe and many International leagues around the world, the NBA is still a size centric league. But here is what Atkins displayed to every scout in the gym after finishing first in scoring (20 per game), third in rebounding (10.3 per game), and tied for first in blocks (3.7 per game).  




Darion Atkins with the block

  • Quickness –6’7” is often seen as too small to play in the post as a pro but Atkins found a way to use a perceived weakness as a strength. He out-sprinted other big men on the fast break for easy scores, ran laps around them in the post, and was able to cover tons of ground defensively on the perimeter.
  • Basketball IQ –Coming from a really good basketball program at UVA, you could see Atkins sharp instincts shine through on the court. He was always in the right position to help defensively and constantly surveying his options offensively. Big men are usually just told to run and jump, but Atkins was the leader of his team on both sides of the ball.
  • Defensive Versatility –Maybe his best skill, at 6’7” Atkins can basically switch on to any player on the floor. Even though he was shorter than most players he was guarding, he led the tournament in blocks. In any pick and roll situation he can switch on to the guards and create havoc on the smaller player. For the NBA, his defense is what could get him a job. 
  • Hustle –In a pre-draft setting where a lot of the players have been scouted during the college season, one thing that really stands out is who is playing hard. Who runs the floor after a tough defensive possession or sets so many screens on offense he frees his teammate up for an open shot. With 64 different players vying to be noticed, whoever is working the hardest gets noticed.
  • Character –Not even sure if he was going to play that day, Atkins didn’t care. Even if he was the 71st player picked really, he went out and outplayed everybody. To go from being a replacement player to best player in the whole tournament stood out to everybody in the gym. And now Atkins will go from not making the initial PIT rosters, to probably getting an invite to Chicago for the NBA’s other pre-draft camp with the top 60 prospects in the draft.

The moral of the story for other players out there is:

  1. Always Be Ready
  2. Take Advantage of Every Opportunity

You never know when your number will be called or when the right people will be watching. Darion Atkinswent from averaging seven points and six rebounds his senior season and barely being on any NBA scout's radar to being in the hunt to be drafted in June’s NBA Draft. And he did it all just by being more ready to play than any other player over a four-day stretch in Portsmouth.



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