SALT LAKE CITY — Over the years, just a handful of Utah high school products have been taken high in the NBA draft, most notably Emery High’s Shawn Bradley, who played a year at BYU before an LDS mission, and Skyline High’s Danny Vranes, who starred for the University of Utah for four years.
Bradley was selected with the No. 2 pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1993 right off his mission after just one season at BYU, while Vranes was chosen with the No. 5 pick by the Seattle Supersonics in 1981 after an all-American season at the U. Those are the only top-10 NBA picks among local prep products.
That won’t change this year, but there are a couple of players who grew up in Utah, who are being looked at closely by NBA teams after leaving college early. One may sneak into the first round and the other is hoping to be taken in the second.
Frank Jackson, who played for Lone Peak High before going to Duke for a year and Eric Mika, who also prepped at Lone Peak before an LDS mission and played two years at BYU, are hoping to hear their names called Thursday night when the NBA draft is held.
It’s the first time two local products have been on draft boards the same year unless you count 1981 when Vranes was taken with the No. 5 pick and Tom Chambers went No. 8 to the San Diego Clippers. Chambers attended Weber High as a sophomore before moving to Colorado for his last two years of high school.
Britton Johnsen was nearly drafted in 2003 after an outstanding career at the University of Utah and signed as a free agent with the Orlando Magic, where he played briefly. Johnsen works a side job as a commentator for Utah Jazz basketball and keeps up on local prep players. He believes Mika and Jackson have bright futures.
“They’re two of the most talented players ever to come out of the state and Frank might be the most talented player,” Johnsen said. “Both could play in the NBA. Mika has the size and work ethic, while Jackson just has overall talent.”
Johnsen isn’t sure Utah has necessarily become a hotbed for NBA talent, but calls this “one of the better eras” for local basketball talent right now.
Tim Davis, who coached Jackson in AAU ball for the Utah Prospects as well as several current college players, believes the trend is going up with several high school players in the state who have a chance to eventually make the NBA.
“I think there’s a talent influx in the state right now,” Davis said. “The NBA is so hard to make, but there are some young kids in the state who have a chance.”
Davis is especially high on Jackson, who he feels fits the mold of an NBA guard who can do everything from ball screens to shooting to getting teammates involved.
“I don’t worry about him making the NBA with his competitiveness, talent and toughness,” he said. Davis believes Jackson will be a mid- to late first-round pick and if he’s available at 24 for the Jazz it would be a “no-brainer.”
Over a dozen local high school players have been drafted by NBA teams over the years, but remember the draft used to go 10 or more rounds for many years and was seven rounds as recently as 1987 before settling on the current two-round format in 1989.
Among the other high school players who have been drafted in the top 60 (current number of players drafted in NBA’s two rounds) are Devin Durrant (Provo, BYU) 25th by Indiana in 1984; Fred Roberts (Bingham, BYU) 27th by Milwaukee in 1982; C.J. Wilcox (Pleasant Grove, Washington) 28th by the L.A. Clippers in 2014; Travis Knight (Alta, UConn) 29th by Chicago in 1996; Jeff Judkins (Highland, Utah) 30th by Boston in 1978; Jackson Vroman (Viewmont, Iowa State) No. 31 by Chicago in 2004; Travis Hansen (Mountain View, BYU) 37th by Atlanta in 2003; Josh Grant (East, Utah) 43rd by Denver in 1993; Dick Nemelka (West, BYU) 44th by St. Louis in 1966; and Justin Hamilton (Lone Peak, LSU) 45th by Philadelphia in 2012.
Other Utah high school athletes who have been drafted by NBA teams in the top 100 include Ken Gardner (Clearfield, Utah), No. 82 in 1971, Dean Hunger (Davis, Utah State), No. 84 in 1980, Brett Vroman (Provo, UCLA) No. 87 in 1978; Brett Applegate (Tooele, BYU) No. 88 in 1984; Doug Moon (Davis, Utah) No. 96 in 1964; Bob Lauriski (Logan, Utah State) No. 97 in 1973.
Another player with local ties who is expected to be drafted late in the first round or early in the second is Purdue All-American forward Caleb Swanigan. He lived in Utah for several years until he was in eighth grade when he moved back to Indiana.
“Caleb is not going to have a better year than he had last year,” said ESPN college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman. “He’s a fringe first-round pick. He’ll get guaranteed money. He’s going to go in the 30s at worst-case scenario in the draft.”
High School players from Utah selected in top 100 of NBA Draft since 1965
Shawn Bradley (Emery, BYU) No. 2 Philadelphia 1993
Danny Vranes (Skyline, Utah) No. 5 Seattle 1981
Devin Durrant (Provo, BYU) No. 25, Indiana, 1984
Fred Roberts (Bingham, BYU) No. 27, Milwaukee 1982
C.J. Wilcox (Pleasant Grove, Washington, No. 28, L.A. Clippers 2014
Travis Knight (Alta, UConn) No. 29 Chicago 1996
Jeff Judkins (Highland, Utah) No. 30 Boston 1978
Jackson Vroman (Viewmont, Iowa State) No. 31, Chicago 2004
Travis Hansen (Mountain View BYU) No. 37 Atlanta 2003
Josh Grant (East, Utah) Denver No. 43 1993
Dick Nemelka (West BYU) No. 44 by St. Louis 1966
Justin Hamilton (Lone Peak, Iowa State No. 45 by Philadelphia 2012
Ken Gardner (Clearfield, Utah), No. 82 Phoenix 1971,
Dean Hunger (Davis, Utah State), No. 84 Houston 1980,
Brett Vroman (Provo, UCLA), No. 87 Philadelphia 1978,
Brett Applegate (Tooele, BYU) No. 88, Portland 1984,
Doug Moon (Davis, Utah), No. 96, Baltimore 1964
Bob Lauriski (Logan, Utah State) No. 97 Golden State 1973