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NBA teams value Draft Combine interview sessions

Celtics representatives sat courtside at the NBA Scouting Combine in Chicago. From left: Walter McCarty, Dave Lewin, Mike Zarren, Brad Stevens, and Austin Ainge. Adam Himmelsbach/Globe Staff

CHICAGO — Some of the most important intelligence-gathering at the NBA Scouting Combine takes place at the Palmer House, a four-star hotel here just a few blocks from Lake Michigan.

Over the past three days, team executives have met in their assigned rooms and patiently waited for a knock at the door. Then a draft prospect would walk in and face questions and quizzes while trying to impress these potential suitors. After 30 minutes, they are on to the next room, where another team is waiting for this basketball version of speed dating.

Many teams view predraft interviews as a valuable and essential part of the process. Many also view them as a time to ask some unusual questions. Sometimes they are interesting, sometimes they are revealing, and sometimes they are just a bit strange.

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LSU forward Jarell Martin said the Atlanta Hawks told him that a baseball bat and a baseball cost $1.10, and that the bat costs $1 more than the ball, and then asked how much the ball costs. (The ball costs 5 cents, if you can’t figure it out as quickly as Martin did.)

Syracuse forward Chris McCullough said the Houston Rockets asked how many human beings he thought could fit in the hotel room he was sitting in, and Georgia State guard R.J. Hunter said the Dallas Mavericks asked him how many basketballs could fit in the room, so maybe the Rockets care more about people and the Mavericks care more about basketball? Or maybe no one really knows the point of this all?

“Utah asked me, ‘What does one-and-one mean to you?’ ” McCullough said. “I said two. That was the weirdest one I got. I honestly don’t know the point of some of the questions, but I was told there was no right or wrong answer.”

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One NBA executive said he’d heard secondhand about a team that asked a player what weighed more, 10 pounds of feathers or 10 pounds of bricks. The player did not understand the question, and the team explained it and moved on. Later, the team asked the player the same question but changed the figure to 6 pounds, and the player was stumped.

Moments like that one, surely, can be uncomfortable for everyone involved.

“Some of the interviews are laid-back and some are strictly business,” UNLV’s Rashad Vaughn said. “In some of them, they’re coming at you, drilling you.”

Many of the questions, the players said, were more basketball than brain-teaser. Vaughn said his meeting with the Minnesota Timberwolves included a rather intense film session. Kentucky forward Devin Booker said one team asked him to stand and physically show how he would get separation from an opponent, and that the Milwaukee Bucks asked him to draw up a play.

“It’s kind of nerve-racking with Jason Kidd there, one of the best to do it,” Booker said, “but it was a good experience.”

While many of the questions almost sounded like riddles, others were more crafted toward individuals.

Kentucky forward Trey Lyles said the Rockets asked him to describe the last thing he argued about with his father. Wildcats center Willie Cauley-Stein, one of the more eccentric players in college basketball, said he was asked why he once dyed his hair blond, and why he decided to get so many tattoos.

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“[Dying my hair blond] was cool for like 30 minutes, and then I had to live with it for the rest of my life,” Cauley-Stein said. “Like, ‘Why did you do that?’ Well, I mean, I don’t know. I was young and thought it looked cool.”

It can be difficult for players to prepare for these interviews, particularly because the questions are so wide-ranging and, well, odd. But many players tried cram sessions and got advice from their college coaches and agents. Kentucky, which could have seven players drafted, actually gave its players specialized training solely for this event.

But Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky, for one, said he required no extra instruction.

“My agent knows I’m a pretty smart guy and I can kind of make things up — not necessarily make things up, but have a conversation with people off the top of my head,” Kaminsky said. “It’s not like I was prepared for these interviews either. I just kind of showed up and started talking.”

Kaminsky and McCullough were among a small group of players who said they used the interview sessions as a time to ask teams questions, too. Kaminsky wondered what concerns the teams had about him, and asked how they might use him in their systems.

The Celtics generally avoid the SAT-style questions. They come prepared with detailed information about the players’ backgrounds and they prefer to keep the meetings comfortable and conversational.

“It’s a chance to get to know a guy personally,” Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren said. “You can learn some things about how they view the game, but for the most part, you’re just trying to see what the guy’s character is like.”

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And if the player knows how many pennies are in $1 million, perhaps that is just a nice bonus.


Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.