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NBA Draft viewed with eyes of faith

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Lee Humphrey is at a crossroads as Thursday’s NBA Draft looms. A multitude of paths are branching out in front of him, but none of them are clearly lit.

For spiritual clarity, the 23-year-old University of Florida shooting guard has drawn encouragement from an unlikely source: the Old Testament account of Israel’s dramatic departure from Egypt.

“I’m in Exodus,” said Humphrey, who is reading through the Bible chronologically in a year. “When the cloud moves, they get up and go. It’s been pretty neat that that’s what I’ve been reading with all that is going on, because soon I can be almost anywhere in the world. I’m praying and I have faith that God knows where I’m going to be.”

Humphrey, who started at shooting guard during Florida’s NCAA championship seasons the last two years, most likely will be left out of the draft. While many mock drafts are projecting the rest of Florida’s starting five -– Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, Al Horford and Joakim Noah -– to be selected in the first round, virtually no one thinks Humphrey will be picked at all. Not even Humphrey himself.

“Right now, from what I’ve heard, I’d be surprised if I got drafted,” he said.

It’s a harsh business. Just three months ago, Humphrey was on top of the college basketball world. He set multiple school and national records in helping Florida become the first school to win back-to-back titles since Duke in 1991-92. Humphrey tallied the all-time mark for three-pointers made in the NCAA tournament (47) and at Florida (288). He also holds Florida’s single-season record for three-pointers made (113 each of the last two years).

And he earned Final Four All-Tournament honors each of the last two years, hitting 18 treys and averaging 15.5 points in four games, culminating with stellar games in the two finals against UCLA in 2006 (15 points) and Ohio State in April (14 points).

Still, Humphrey, whom Florida coach Billy Donovan nicknamed “Opie” for his good-natured, squeaky-clean personality, has been doing everything he can to make his childhood dream come true. Starting June 12, the native of cozy Maryville, Tenn., has traveled all over the country to work out for six different NBA teams: Washington, Golden State, Denver, Phoenix, Portland and Cleveland.

All that travel might be a foreshadowing to Humphrey’s future. If he doesn’t get drafted, he can still sign with a team as a free agent and play in the NBA summer league, which plays games July 6-15 in Las Vegas, in the hopes of earning an invitation to training camp in October. Or, he can opt for the Euroleague, where his New York-based agent, Kenny Grant, has many contacts.

Europe wouldn’t entail the fame of the NBA, but it would afford Humphrey the chance to enjoy a newfound love: international travel. Two summers ago, he flew to China to play with Sports Reach, a Christian ministry that uses athletics as a witnessing tool. Last summer, he played with Sports Reach in Brazil.

“I’m pretty excited about the NBA, but I’m also excited about Europe if that’s where I go,” said Humphrey, who accepted Christ at age 13 during a youth retreat. “My trip to China was the first time out of the country. I like experiencing new cultures and seeing new places.”

One of the biggest concerns about Humphrey among NBA teams is his size. At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, he would certainly be one of the smaller guards in the league. But diminutive guards have excelled in the past (see: Steve Kerr, Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb). Could Humphrey be next in line?

“I don’t see why he couldn’t have a career in the pros or overseas if he chooses to do that,” said former Florida assistant coach Donnie Jones, who is now the head coach at Marshall. “He’s a terrific prospect.”

If not, Humphrey can always fall back on his degree in physiology and kinesiology, which he’s scheduled to complete in August. Medical school, coaching and physical training are all possible career paths with that degree, but Humphrey isn’t sold on any of them.

“Pretty much if I’m not playing, I might end up going back to school,” he said, noting a few post-graduate scholarships he has.

Regardless of his future, Humphrey is quite satisfied with what he has already accomplished.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more from a basketball standpoint,” Humphrey said. “I never dreamed that I’d win two national championships. And to be a big part of both teams, it has been a pretty amazing ride.”

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  • Joshua Cooley