Johni Broome talks NBA Draft or a possible return to Auburn

Johni Broome talks NBA Draft or a possible return to Auburn

Johni Broome was a star player for Morehead State before transferring to Auburn. He’s now eyeing the 2023 NBA Draft.

Morehead State Athletics

A knock on his hotel room door earlier this week in Chicago has kept the NBA dream alive for Johni Broome.

The 6-foot-10 forward who went from an overlooked basketball recruit out of high school to an instant star in the state of Kentucky to one of the best players in the Southeastern Conference is in the midst of a new challenge: playing his way into the 2023 NBA Draft.

So far, he’s done all he can to prove he belongs in the conversation.

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Broome started the week as an invitee to the G League Elite Camp, where he competed alongside dozens of other long-shot draft hopefuls — including Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves — in an attempt to impress NBA scouts. The immediate prize for those at the G League camp was a last-minute invitation to the NBA combine, which was holding a handful of openings for players that made an impression on league decision-makers.

After the initial camp was finished, the players were told that — if they were selected for the combine — they would get a knock on their hotel room door with the good news.

“It was a lot of hard competition, everybody competing, busting their butts. I feel like I played pretty good there,” Broome told the Herald-Leader. “… I was kind of waiting on the knock. It felt great to get the knock, to get invited to the NBA Combine — that’s everybody’s childhood dream. And that just puts me one step closer and lets me showcase my skills in front of the NBA GMs and staff.”

Only eight players earned the invitation.

Broome’s solid play in the G League camp carried over into the first game action of the combine, where he recorded 20 points and a game-high 11 rebounds while given more than 23 minutes (also tops for the contest) of playing time. Broome also blocked a couple of shots, dished out three assists and committed zero turnovers in his team’s 122-95 victory.

It was the latest step on Broome’s improbable journey toward a professional basketball career.

A lightly regarded prospect out of Tampa, Fla., he ended up at Morehead State — a school Broome had never even heard of until the Eagles started recruiting him — and immediately blossomed into a star. He earned Ohio Valley Conference freshman of the year honors in his first season, also leading the Eagles to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade and landing the OVC Tournament MVP award in the process.

In season two, he was named the league’s defensive player of the year, averaging 16.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game — just missing out on a second NCAA Tournament berth.

And then came a tough decision. To better position himself for a possible NBA career, Broome thought it best to transfer up to a higher level. He sat down with Morehead State head coach Preston Spradlin after his sophomore season, and both parties agreed that it would be best for Broome’s long-term goals to move on.

Last summer, he committed to Auburn.

“When I was at Morehead State, they were saying, ‘Can I do it on a bigger level?’ So I transferred to the SEC — and I feel like that’s one of the better conferences in college basketball,” Broome said. “So I just went there and kind of showed them — playing against guys every night who are at this combine. Just playing against better players.”

Morehead State to the NBA?

Broome told the Herald-Leader this week that it was difficult — but necessary — to move on from Morehead State and that Spradlin and the program’s assistant coaches have remained in contact to offer continued encouragement as he chases his pro basketball dreams.

Under different circumstances, Broome might have ended up at Kentucky, which showed serious interest in his recruitment last spring as the Cats waited to see what Oscar Tshiebwe would do following his national player of the year season.

Obviously, Tshiebwe stayed, filling the spot Broome would have taken.

“I was just kind of waiting on Oscar’s decision,” he acknowledged. “And once he came back, I decided to go somewhere else.”

It worked out fine for Broome, who led Auburn in scoring and rebounding, finishing third in the SEC in blocked shots and earning all-conference honors from the league’s coaches.

A year ago, it was Spradlin and Morehead State that were sorry to see Broome go.

Now, Tigers Coach Bruce Pearl hopes he won’t find himself with the same feelings.

“We’re rooting for Johni on one hand,” Pearl said earlier this week, noting that he’d been following Broome’s progress at the NBA camps. “On the other hand, we’d obviously love to have him back, because he could be one of the best players in college basketball next season.”

Broome said he’s already met with about a dozen NBA teams and hopes to have more meetings and workouts in the near future, with the May 31 deadline to stay in the draft or return to school looming.

He said the feedback so far has been positive, and teams want to see more of his outside shooting ability and agility in space, as well as continued improvement with the ball in his hands.

He’s paying special attention to his development as a three-point shooter.

“Shooting gets you on the court,” he said. “It gets you paid at the next level.”

Broome attempted just five threes in his two years at Morehead State, missing all of them. He was 3-for-16 from deep in his first few months at Auburn, but then made six of his 15 three-point attempts over the final four weeks of the season. Showcasing an ability to make those shots has been big for his draft prospects, he said.

Still, his name is absent from the various NBA mock drafts that have been updated this week, though there will be more opportunities between now and May 31 to make a positive impression on scouts.

The final decision over whether he stays in the draft or returns to school — perhaps to terrorize the SEC competition next season — will be a fairly straightforward one. At some point in these next couple of weeks, he needs to hear from an NBA team that is serious about drafting him.

“If a team wants me and wants to draft me, then I’ll stay in the process. But anything else, I’ll probably just go back to school,” he said. “I’ve gotten great feedback since I’ve been here. So just kind of taking what they’ve given me and just continue to work, continue to perfect my craft. And hopefully be back next year, if I don’t make it this year.”

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