By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Terrance Ferguson took his seat behind the high-top table, and it took mere moments to hear the confidence ooze out.
“I feel like a trendsetter, pretty much,” Ferguson said.
He had a point. Just days short of his 19th birthday, Ferguson held court at the NBA Draft Combine late Friday afternoon at Quest Multisport and in doing so began to unravel some of the intrigue behind his past year. It was late last June that Ferguson made the surprising announcement that he would forgo his opportunity to play at the University of Arizona and instead play professionally for the Adelaide 36ers in Australia for a season as he waited to meet the NBA’s age requirement to enter the draft.
In doing so, Ferguson is believed to be the first player whose path to the NBA diverted to Australia for a season after high school. A projected first-round pick, Ferguson chose to forgo college in large part because he wanted to provide for his mother and also because he wasn’t interested in school interfering with his basketball development.
“If you want to be a ballplayer and just focus on basketball, then school is definitely going to weigh you down most days,” he said. “Your focus won’t be there all the time.
“I knew I couldn’t sit inside a classroom all day long.”
Ferguson chose Australia because he knew he’d acclimate better without the language barrier he’d encounter in China, which was where his good friend and Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay played before being chosen seventh overall in 2015.
The year in the National Basketball League played out mostly as the 6-foot-7, 184-pound Ferguson hoped. With his mother moving there for support, he focused entirely on basketball, citing not just the growth of his game but learning the benefits of recovery, proper nutrition, how to comport himself as a professional and how to smart with his money.
As Ferguson matured, his confidence grew along the way too. In shedding light on his game, Ferguson on Friday offered a few classic lines.
“Definitely my ability to shoot,” he said of his strengths. “I can shoot from anywhere. And definitely my defense.”
And your weaknesses?
“My strength, that’s it,” he said. “And I’m working on it right now. It’s not a weakness.”
Asked by a reporter if he’s more likely to win a 3-point contest or a dunk contest, Ferguson responded both.
Another aspect of Ferguson’s experience in Australia could prove beneficial in his transition to the NBA. Unlike some projected to go in the first round, Ferguson was a role player this past season. He averaged 4.6 points in 15.1 minutes per game playing against “grown men” in a league he lauded for being much stiffer competition than he’d have faced in college in the United States.
The limited playing didn’t deter from the experience at all, Ferguson said.
“It wasn’t tough at all,” Ferguson said. “I accepted my role. I played role to the best of my abilities, which was go out there and play defense first, then the shots fall second.”
Ferguson projects as a 3-and-D wing, which fits a need the Bulls have. The Bulls, who hold the No. 16 overall pick, were one of the 13 teams that Ferguson interviewed with while in Chicago, with the 76ers Spurs, Hornets, Kings, Hawks, Blazers, Thunder being a few of the others. Like media members, the teams peppered Ferguson with questions about his time in Australia and whether it was worth it.
He’s certain it was, saying he had no regrets.
“Individually, I think I had a successful year,” Ferguson said. “I made it back, I’m here, so it was a pretty good year in my mind.”
Notes: The Bulls interviewed Texas power forward Jarrett Allen, who said the feedback he’s received projects him to go between No. 10 and No. 20 … Chicago also interviewed Xavier point guard Edmond Sumner, who’s a projected second-round pick. He’s currently rehabbing from a torn ACL and doesn’t expect to be a full go until November.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.