Dontaye Draper, Cedevita Zagreb

Mar 25, 2011 by Frankie Sachs, Print
Dontaye Draper, Cedevita Zagreb
Dontaye Draper - Cedevita (photo no one that had seen him play could deny his incredible skillset, Dontaye Draper has flown under the radar for several seasons. He made headlines in college, won awards in his rookie professional season in Australia, spent summers working out with childhood friend and Olympic gold medalist from Team USA Carmelo Anthony and bounced around Europe for two years with several clubs before getting a chance to run a team this season with Eurocup newcomer Cedevita Zagreb. And since head coach Aleksandar Petrovic handed the keys to Draper, neither has looked back. Draper has marched his team through the Eurocup as a blur, racking up impressive numbers for himself and his teammates while picking up victories at every turn to reach the Eurocup Quarterfinals. This season has been more than just an opportunity to get settled in Zagreb; despite impressing coaches and managers across Europe, Draper chose to already re-sign with Cedevita for the 2011-12 season and now has his sights firmly set on taking his game and his team to the next level. Calling this season the “wildest, craziest season I’ve been a part of,” Draper said he now “wants to know everything about European basketball” and is determined to lead Cedevita forward and to play with this team in the Euroleague next season.

Dontaye Draper was born and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, where he met and became a close childhood friend of another blooming basketball star, Carmelo Anthony. Unlike “Melo,” Draper was not among the area’s best players. He was a standout player for Wallbrook High School, but did not draw a lot of attention when the time came to choose a college. After narrowing his options to three schools, Draper decided to attend the College of Charlestown, where in his words, “I got better every year.” He became a starter by his junior season and enjoyed a breakout year in which everyone needed to take notice. In 28 games for the Cougars in that 2005-06 season, Draper averaged a team-high 18.5 points per game and was named a First Team All-Southern Conference selection.

As Draper geared up for his senior season, Charlestown hired Bobby Cremins as its new coach, a move that put Draper in unfamiliar territory having worked with the same coach for his first three years there. But he soon learned that Cremins had been a college coach to a host of great point guards including Mark Price, Kenny Anderson, Travis Best and Stephon Marbury and upon first meeting Cremins, Draper was told that he was going to be the coach’s next point guard project. “Playing for coach Cremins was a great experience. I had been a scoring guard, but coach taught how to play less selfish. At the beginning of the season, I didn’t play so well. Coach sat down with me to watch film. He said I reminded him of Marbury’s tunnel vision and I needed to play with more Kenny Anderson style. I saw what he was talking about as we watched the tapes. I learned how to dictate a game, how to set the tempo. I would get the feel of the game in the first five minutes and then knew what to do.” As a result, Draper traded scoring for better overall production, raising his rebounding, assists and three-point shooting numbers while lowering his turnovers.

After college it was time for Draper to begin pursuing a professional career. He had offers to play in Slovenia and Turkey, but his agents advised Draper to wait, hoping to get offers for more money. Then he heard from the Sydney Kings of the Australian League. “My agent said it was not the market we wanted, but I got a good deal and was happy.” Despite travelling to the other side of the world, Draper’s first pro games were actually against European teams. “My first game was against CSKA Moscow in China,” Draper said. “People were telling me that it was an important game and I played good.” Draper was referring to the CBA-Euroleague Challenge in Kunshan, China. He scored 19 in a losing cause against CSKA before helping the Kings beat Benetton Treviso in their second game.

Dontaye Draper - CedevitaDraper’s lone season in Australia was a successful one. He was named the league’s Best Sixth Man after helping Sydney reach the Australian League finals. More importantly, he credits Kings coach Brian Goorjian with helping improve his game another notch. “I was happy to be playing basketball and I learned a lot,” Draper said of his time in Sydney. “Coach Goorjian taught me to slow the game down and be patient. Until then I had been playing at one speed.”

When summer arrived, it was time to look for a new team. “I signed to play for a team in Turkey, but the day after, the coach called and said there was no money and it wasn’t going to work out.” While waiting, Draper went to Miami, Florida, to work out with another Baltimore friend, Jack McClinton, against whom he played this season in the Eurocup when McClinton was with Hapoel Giboa/Galil of Israel. While in Miami, Draper also worked out with Miami’s NBA franchise before getting an offer to play for Napoli in the Italian League. Draper joined the team for preseason training in September, trained with Napoli and even took part in preseason games. “One day one of the managers came in, told us that there was no money. That the team was kicked out of the league.” So before the season even began, Draper was looking for a third team.

Draper made the most of the situation and hooked up with French club Hyeres-Toulon. He played a handful of French League games and shined in the FIBA EuroChallenge, but wasn’t happy there, among other reasons, because he “didn’t get along with the coach.” However his talent shined through and by December he was on the move to Belgium after BC Oostende bought out his contract. “I was happy to be at a good club where they take good care of you and had good Nike gear,” Draper said of his time with Oostende.

In the summer of 2009, Draper again worked out with Anthony and his personal trainer, Idan Ravin, workouts that sometimes also included other famous players like Chris Paul. He played in the preseason with the Denver Nuggets, which marked the first time that Anthony and Draper had ever played an official game together despite a 15-year friendship between them two hoops stars. When the time came to choose a team for the 2009-10 season, Draper accepted an offer with Italian League second division side Prima Veroli. His time at Veroli was successful as they won the second division cup and finished as the regular season and playoff runners-up.

Looking ahead to this season, Draper hoped to finally find a situation where he could sign early with a strong team and properly prepare for the season. Cedevita granted that wish. Though he “knew nothing at all” about Cedevita, he checked around and learned that its management was “a serious group that wants to be the best in Croatia and Europe. I heard only good things.” If Draper wasn’t excited enough by his new situation, head coach Petrovic added to it in their first meeting. “Half of me playing well is the coach. When we met, he told me ‘I’ve seen you, I believe in you and I built this team around you.’ Coaches are one of the main reasons you can be successful.”

The start of the Eurocup season was less than brilliant with a loss at home to his friend McClinton and Gilboa/Galil. “We started out slow. I didn’t know what to expect,” Draper said of his first Eurocup season. But once he got his feet wet, there was no stopping Draper nor Cedevita. The team won four of its next five to advance to the Eurocup Last 16 phase with Draper among the league leaders in performance index rating, scoring, assists and steals. The team has undergone some changes during the season as a result of injuries, but Draper remained a constant force and developed into the team leader. “My job is to make them happy,” he said of his role as point guard. Draper explained that when Bracey Wright was thrown into the fire as a midseason signing, he told his new scoring guard: “You’ll have the freedom to play here. Just play defense and play your game.” With Draper’s support, Wright became one of the Last 16’s best scorers.

Dontaye Draper in his pro debut with the Sydney KingsAside from the support Draper feels within the team, one of the secrets to his superb season has been how comfortable he is in Zagreb. “I love Zagreb,” he boldly announced. “It’s a big city, the people speak English, I’ve got everything I need… The movies are in English, there’s great food, the night life is okay.” All those are among the reasons that Draper recently signed a new deal to remain with Cedevita through the 2011-12 season. Although he was certain to get tempting offers in the summer after such a strong campaign this year, Draper is clear that his goal is twofold. “My main goal is to make it to the Euroleague. I’m all about winning. Everyone wants to play for a big team, but if I can make it to the Euroleague with Cedevita, I’m with that.”

Since his goal is to take Europe’s top competition by storm as soon as next season, Draper has been doing his homework. “This is the first year that I am really paying attention to the Euroleague. I want to know everything about European basketball. I want to learn more to add to my game.” He already has a favorite player to watch and learn from in Olympiacos Piraeus point guard Theo Papaloukas. “It’s crazy what he sees when he has the ball. It’s not just his passing, it’s the second pass that creates so many baskets.”

Looking ahead, Draper knows that in the short-term, the best way to win a ticket to the Euroleague for Cedevita is by winning the Eurocup and that is one of his chief goals along with winning the Croatian League. In fact, Draper could be as close as three more Eurocup wins to a historic crown and a Euroleague berth. For now he already has lined up a few more things to work on to take his game to a higher level. One is leadership. “I need to be more vocal.” Another is “finishing at the rim. I get to the basket and I need to finish my shots better.” After seeing a little-known point guard arrive on the scene this year and quickly transform himself into one of the best and most exciting players to watch in the Eurocup, it would truly be something special to see if Draper does indeed add more aspects to his game. What’s certain is that Dontaye Draper won’t be flying under the radar anymore.