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NBA Draft: Prospects willing to put aside college rivalries on path to pro career

CLEVELAND — On and off the hardwood court of a gym in Ohio it’s not uncommon to see Trey Lyles and Montrezl Harrell working out together, giving all the effort possible in each practice to show they have what it takes at the next level.

Both play similar positions; both are projected first-round picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, but the colleges they attended?

Those schools hate each other.

Lyles, a forward, was a key factor on Kentucky’s arsenal. The Wildcats finished two games shy of perfection. Harrell, also a forward, starred on a Louisville squad that spars against Kentucky regularly in a bitter Bluegrass in-state rivalry.

However, as Thursday’s draft nears, they train together, both represented by the well-known hoops agent Rich Paul at Klutch Sports Group, making sure each is eating, working out and even sleeping well — all the little things they need to perform at their best and, for them, hopefully improve their draft stock.

“We just go into the gym every day and look to compete and make each other better,” Harrell said. “We’re definitely doing all the things we need to do both off the court and on the court.”

For die-hard college basketball fans, it can be an odd sight to see, perhaps even more so in the state of Kentucky. But they aren’t the only college rivals willing to push aside any level of previous malice to get to the league, even if most are forced in pre-draft workouts with NBA teams.

During one Utah Jazz pre-draft workout June 3, former Arizona guard T.J. McConnell found himself on the same court as Arizona State’s Shaquille McKissic and Colorado’s Askia Booker, a pair of players he fought against plenty in his two years with the Wildcats. But on this day, all three are on the same level. They’re all looking to impress any member of a front office for a shot at an NBA roster. While it can be any man for himself in that case, it’s also a chance for each player assist one another at this chance of reaching their ultimate goal.

“It’s funny because we’re all joking around and stuff — you’d never think we would (be workout teammates) with the rivalries we had on the court,” McConnell said, following the workout. “But they’re all great guys. We all want to see each other do well.”

A few days later, former Pac-12 rivals Norman Powell and Chasson Randle were teammates on the same floor trying to impress the same front office staff. It wasn’t the first time either. They were also teammates during the NBA combine weeks before they worked out for the Utah Jazz.

Once rivals on opposing sides, now each has the same goal of making it in the NBA.

“We just talked about all the great battles we’ve had,” Powell says before breaking out a coy smile. “It’s fun being able to enjoy this process with people you know and compete against them.”

None of the resolved individual rivalries, however, seem to compare to the constant work Lyles and Harrell have accomplished over the past few months. Lyles says he’s seen Harrell’s offensive game grow and does as much as he can to encourage him to get better.

Harrell does the same for Lyles. Neither seems to care about the rivalry between the colleges they came from.

“That’s more of the rivalry you keep in school, but outside of it, it’s a whole different world,” Harrell said. “It’s a whole different ball game. It’s all about getting to the next level, and we’re both trying to become great players in the NBA. It doesn’t bother me. It’s more of the college thing, but we’re not in college anymore.”

While the two have set aside their differences, Lyles isn’t completely ready to throw out the heated in-state rivalry. He just knows that’s something he can put aside with each day preparing for the NBA.

“I think it’s still a rivalry there, but I think we understand that there’s something bigger at hand besides that,” he says. “It’s good for both of us.”