LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — In a way, Hayden Dalton’s game is tailor made for the NBA.
“With me stretching the floor, shooting at the 3 or 4 position as well as being able to rebound and handle the ball and then be able to guard multiple different positions,” the former Wyoming Cowboy said, “my versatility is going toward what the NBA is (looking for).”
Those strengths were magnified by the Cowboys’ style of play the past two seasons under head coach Allen Edwards.
“The way we played was free and open, kind of positionless,” the 6-foot-8, 195-pound Dalton said. “That helped out a ton, just in terms of me being comfortable handling the ball as well as rebounding, pushing. We did a lot of switching, so guarding guards and just stuff like that. That helps out a ton, just having that experience of having no position.”
But Dalton’s path to a potential professional career was far from the usual one. The late bloomer received little recruiting attention out of Parker, Colorado, and attended Central Wyoming College in Riverton his freshman year. He transferred to the University of Wyoming, though he averaged less than four points per game his sophomore year. As a junior, however, his potential as an elite scorer and rebounder became evident. As a senior, he was a first-team all-Mountain West selection by league media.
Now, Dalton is chatting it up with Magic Johnson.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking when he’s walking in the gym,” said Dalton, who worked out for the Lakers, where Johnson is president of basketball operations. “But once you start playing, it’s fine. He was awesome, really nice to all of us after, had some good things to say. It was cool meeting him and getting to talk to him for a couple minutes. Great guy.”
Dalton has also worked out with the Sacramento Kings, and he participated at UCLA’s pro day, where NBA teams were in attendance.
“I feel pretty confident,” he told the Casper Star-Tribune. “I did well with the Lakers and the Kings. I could have shot it a little better at the UCLA pro day, but I feel like I’m playing well and just improving from workout to workout. Showing what I can do, along with shooting the ball as well as playing defense and being able to guard quicker guys and things like that.”
Dalton said the Kings are “pretty interested” and have shown more interest than the Lakers, telling his agent “they were impressed” and would stay in touch. He has upcoming workouts with the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets and hopes to lock down a few more.
“I mean, I’ll know more going into the (June 21) draft than I do right now,” said Dalton. “So, we’ll see. I don’t really have any expectations. Whatever happens, drafted or undrafted, I just want to take the best opportunity or the best fit for me and go into Summer League and show them what I can do. No expectations, just going to hopefully choose the right opportunity and land in the right spot.”
Dalton began his offseason with the Reese’s College All-Star Game, part of the National Association of Basketball Coaches Convention in San Antonio, where he put up four points on 2-of-8 shooting with six rebounds and a block.
“I didn’t play as well as I wanted to in that,” Dalton said. “It’s tough to play in an all-star game with guys you’ve never played with. You don’t know how that’s going to go. But I think it was a really good experience for me, because it got me in front of all those scouts for the first time. We had practices in front of them, and I think it kind of got me used to being in front of people and knowing people are there.”
Then, Dalton competed in the four-day Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, where he averaged 12.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists in three games.
“I played well there, and I think one of the biggest things that I showed there was that I can guard multiple different positions,” Dalton said. “I was really pleased with my overall defense and just how hard I played there. Because that’s also tough to play with new guys. You get thrown on a team, so I really tried to show that and focus on showing that I could guard my position.”
Dalton has been training in Malibu, California, with Clint Parks, a Wyoming graduate who has trained players like the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, the Bucks’ Tony Snell and San Diego State’s Jalen McDaniels.
“He’s been a huge help,” Dalton said of Parks, “his experience with other guys, guys in the NBA, and what it takes. I feel I’m getting better. I know I’m getting better, which is a great feeling.
“And it’s been awesome, too, because one of his guys is (Lakers rookie) Kyle Kuzma, so I’ve gotten to work out with him a couple times. It’s just a great experience being able to go up against somebody in a workout who’s in the NBA and get good advice from him, even after being (in the NBA) one year. Things like that are a tremendous help.”
Dalton has also kept in touch with fellow 2017-18 Wyoming senior forward Alan Herndon and senior-to-be Justin James, who debated leaving for the NBA this offseason.
“I’ve been texting back and forth, with both those guys, and I think they both had three or four, maybe five workouts,” Dalton said. “We’re just talking about them and asking them how they went and different stuff like that. I think it’s good that we’re all experiencing this process and giving it our best shot. It’s awesome to see all of us getting these opportunities.”
None of the Wyoming products received an invite to the NBA Combine. Dalton said that if he doesn’t have a spot in the NBA proper next season, he would prefer playing in the NBA G League, perhaps on a two-way contract, to playing overseas.
“I think right now, this is my best opportunity to make it to NBA,” Dalton said. “That’s what me and my agent and my parents have been talking about, … (that) we should definitely do that for the first year, because that’s the best way to get into the NBA. When you go overseas, it’s so much harder to get back to the NBA. That’s my ultimate goal.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com