Bill Self fired off a text message to Cliff Alexander late Thursday night, after the NBA Draft had ended, after the former Kansas forward waited for more than five hours to hear his name on national television.
The wait had lasted deep into the night. Two hours, then three. One round, then into the second half of another. By the time 11 p.m. rolled around, NBA teams had drafted the following players: Arturas Gudaitis, Marcus Eriksson, Satnam Singh Bhamara and Cady Lalanne.
But no Cliff Alexander. Alexander, a former top-five recruit in the high school class of 2014 went undrafted.
Self, keeping tabs on the draft from his home, crafted a message on his phone and hit send.
“Hey, I know this is tough,” Self told Alexander, relaying the contents of the message to reporters later Thursday night. “But it’s not the worst thing that happened.”
Self’s message, he said, was direct. If Alexander wasn’t going to get drafted in the top half of the second round, it was better for him to go undrafted, to have the freedom to sign with any team.
“That’s hard for anybody to understand from an ego standpoint,” Self said. “But he gets to pick the 30 teams to go to now, as opposed to being locked in on one team. You get drafted 55, you’re locked in on that one team. And that one team cuts you late, you could potentially be out of work totally.”
This, of course, was the positive view of what was otherwise a disastrous draft night for Alexander, who left Kansas after a freshman season that one could also describe as volatile. Alexander dealt with injuries, inconsistent play and minutes, and eventually an NCAA investigation that ended his season. The investigation centered on impermissible benefits received by Alexander’s mother, Latillia, from a third party.
Alexander didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament, and Self believed he missed an opportunity to elevate his stock on a national stage.
“Our team wasn’t as whole and as good without him,” Self said. “But certainly, you just look back. With Perry (Ellis) being hurt, we could have played through him more. It could have been a good situation for him.”
Alexander was projected to go No. 28 overall to the Boston Celtics, according to DraftExpress.com. ESPN Draft analyst Chad Ford ranked Alexander as the 40th best player in the draft. Late on Thursday, Alexander tweeted the following on his Twitter account.
“Started from the bottom before #motivation”, Alexander wrote.
Self, meanwhile, pushed back against the idea that Alexander was hurt by comments he made about Kansas during the pre-draft process. In multiple interviews, Alexander referred to getting dealt “a bad deck of cards” while at Kansas. In the moments after the draft on Thursday, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas wondered aloud on air if the comments may have scared off NBA teams.
“He did get dealt a bad hand,” Self said. “That’s exactly what I told Cliff all along. Cliff always said what I told him: He got dealt a bad hand with the NCAA. He got dealt a bad hand.
“That’s what I told him, when it all went down with the NCAA, I said, ‘Cliff, you haven’t done anything wrong, you’ve been dealt a bad hand. You just got to hang in there and deal with whatever.’”
In Self’s view, Alexander was not being negative toward Kansas.
“That wasn’t a negative toward Kansas at all, to say he got dealt a bad hand,” Self said. “I asked him about it, and he said, “Coach, that’s what you told me.’ And I said, ‘That’s exactly right, bud. That’s exactly what I told you.’”
When asked if he ever imagined that Alexander would one day go undrafted, Self said “probably not, but you’re dealing strictly on the negative.”
No, Self said, he didn’t expect this. But there was much that happened during the year, much that put Alexander in this position.
“Here’s the thing,” Self said. “I hate to say this. He’s got a (NBA) combine. He’s got an opportunity to go work out for everybody. He got all these things going on. I didn’t anticipate this. But based on what I’ve been told from NBA teams, during the workouts, he competed hard, he tried real hard, all these things. I bet you right now he is the most sought-after guy.”