NBA DRAFT

Huerter takes his shot

Shen grad expected to be first-round pick tonight

BY MICHAEL KELLY Gazette Sportswriter
 
 HALFMOON — Kevin Huerter cannot defend himself from every attack.
 
 He knows that part of the deal he is making as he prepares to become a millionaire NBA player is to allow criticism to go without a rebuttal, even if it is unfounded.
 
 But . . .
 
 Man, did one mock draft draw his ire last weekend.
 
 “I wasn’t happy with the report, but it’s not going to be the last time it happens,” Huerter said Wednesday, a night before he is expected to become a first-round selection in this year’s NBA draft (7 p.m., ESPN). “I’ll pick and choose my battles, but that was a battle I was ready to fight.”
 
 That battle had nothing to do with where the mock draft projected Huerter, a 2016 Shenendehowa High School graduate who spent the last two seasons playing for the University of Maryland.
 
 Instead, the report attacked his character, one Huerter has carefully built for 19-plus years without incident.
 
 The unsourced report from hoopshype.com asserted Huerter “wasn't the most popular teammate at Maryland” and “the hope will be that he matures being around pros that take him under his wing.”
 
 Past teammates and former coaches swiftly came to Huerter’s defense on social media, but his own response carried a lot of weight. Huerter’s early-Sunday morning tweet — “I hold my tongue for a lot...but bad teammate?” it read in part — received nearly 400 retweets and was liked more than 2,300 times by Wednesday evening.
 
 “I thought it was a personal attack that I didn’t think was needed, especially this close to the draft,” Huerter said of why he chose to weigh in on the matter. “Someone who doesn’t know me, making a personal claim, is something I wasn’t happy about.”
 
 Huerter said he understands he won’t be able going forward to respond to rumors and falsehoods regarding him. The NBA engenders more of both — especially online and via social media posts — than perhaps any other major professional sports league in the United States, and dealing with that is part of life as an NBA player.
 
 It is a league whose draft is covered frantically and ferociously, with daily mock drafts and swirling rumors.
 
 It is a league whose free agency period is often more anticipated than its actual season.
 
 And it is a league that dominates the social media landscape with its fun characters.
 
 Huerter said he is ready to navigate that landscape, which he will fully become a part of when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announces his name during the draft. In the weeks leading up to this year’s draft, Huerter said he has mostly shied away from reading reports and rumors about where he could be headed, but felt like he had to respond to the report suggesting he wasn’t a stellar teammate when he heard about it.
 
 “If someone’s attacking your game, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion,” Huerter said. “I think when it starts though, attacking me personally . . . that’s where kind of a line is crossed.”
 
 Huerter was invited to the NBA draft at Barclays Center, but opted instead to watch the event from the Capital Region with family and friends. The 6-foot-7 wing player’s selection seems possible as early as No. 12 to the Los Angeles Clippers, while it seems likely he won’t last unpicked beyond the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25.
 
 “Anxious, for sure. Just ready to wrap up this process and figure out where I’m going. Figure out what city I’m going to go. Feels like it’s been a long two months,” Huerter said. “It’s something I’m happy I’m only going through once, for sure.”
 
 The stretch run leading to draft day for Huerter was complicated a couple weeks ago when he had surgery on his right hand to correct an injury sustained to his pinkie finger during his college season. That injury will keep him from playing in summer league for whichever team selects him, but Huerter will be fully recovered well before NBA training camps open
 
 Huerter said the timing of his surgery wasn’t ideal, but it’s not expected to affect his draft status. He will have to play some catch-up once he is healed, and knows how challenging a task that is going to be against the best players in the world.
 
 “But,” Huerter said, “there’s never been a court I’ve stepped on growing up that I haven’t felt I belonged on.”
 
Reach Michael Kelly at mkelly@dailygazette.net or @ByMichaelKelly on
 
Twitter.
KATHERINE FREY/WASHINGTON POST
 
Shenendehowa grad Kevin Huerter left Maryland after two seasons, and is widely expected to be a first-round pick in tonight’s NBA draft.