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Chicago • Perched in the stands, glasses in one hand and phone in the other, is not the way Dave Rose usually watches Eric Mika play.
But while Rose was adjusting to being a spectator rather than a coach, everything else looked familiar for his star forward: Mika shouldering into the post. Mika fighting through contact to get to the line. Mika running down loose balls.
"He did what he does," the BYU coach said with a grin.
The question NBA teams are asking themselves about Mika, one of 67 prospects at the NBA draft combine this week, is if the 6-foot-10 forward's double-double ability can translate to the next level.
Mika, meanwhile, is asking himself how he can develop faster as a player in college or as a professional? Mika has until the end of the month to make up his mind.
"At the end of the day, this isn't a money thing or an appearance thing," he said. "What I want to do is to play in the NBA. To do that, I need to develop. So I gotta figure out where I can develop best and quickest so I can contribute to a team."
In his return from his two-year LDS Church mission, Mika dominated the West Coast Conference as a sophomore: He averaged 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, a quantum leap from his freshman season. While the blond big man has made waves in Utah for years since he was a part of Lone Peak High School's nationally ranked 2012-13 run as a senior, he caught the nation's attention when he scored 29 points to help lead BYU's win over then-undefeated Gonzaga, ranked No. 1 in the country.
Fellow combine attendee Nigel Williams-Goss, who played point guard for Gonzaga, said he saw many of the same qualities on Thursday as Mika scored 11 points (4-for-8 shooting) and grabbed 4 rebounds in his scrimmage.
"He's a great player," Williams-Goss said. "He's a warrior and a competitor. I think he showed his full package and his skillset by being able to step out, face up. And he's just a bruiser down low. He has a bright future."
It's only a matter of where that future lies.
When Mika first committed to BYU, Cougar fans' imaginations danced with the possibilities: Along with his Lone Peak teammates Nick Emery and T.J. Haws, BYU was able to seal three top-100 recruits from the same high school. Last season, the first with all three on the court together, didn't go as hoped as the Cougars were 22-12, missing the NCAA Tournament.
The vision of bringing BYU back to glory with his friends is a factor in his decision, Mika said. But he also has been supported by Emery and Haws.
"When I told them what I was planning on doing and kind of my intentions, they said, 'Hey, we wish the best for you, we want the best for you, and whatever that is, we'll be right here cheering you on,' " he said. "It's tough, but they know how it is and what I want to be doing with my life. They're gonna cheer me on."
There's also anxiety about his age: At 22, Mika is on the older side of the column among his fellow hopefuls. He has less mileage on the tires than others his age: Between a season he sat out in high school and his mission, he's only played three of the past six seasons.
Rose said it's a common worry for returned missionaries with pro ambition.
"I think that it's something that each returned missionary has to deal with, especially as the draft gets younger and younger," he said. "I think that the draft will help him get feedback about his age. Everybody else from the outside acts like it's not a positive thing when you're a 22-year-old sophomore."
The non-stop shuttling between games and drills has been an adjustment for Mika. After playing 5-on-5, he transitioned without a break into leaping, running and other measurements. He wished he had leapt higher, and while he shot well in drills, he thought he could've shot better in the game itself.
But if his NBA process is anything like his ambition, Mika remains confident that he'll get there eventually.
"I think that's something that I've hit upon in these interviews: I think there's a lot of upside to me and my game," he said. "I do what I do, and I do a lot of different things well. I have a lot of things I can improve. I think I can learn pretty quick."
Day 1 review
Three players with local ties played in 5-on-5 action on Thursday at the NBA draft combine:
Frank Jackson, G, Duke • 13 points, 6-for-12 shooting, 4 assists, 1 steal
Kyle Kuzma, F, Utah • 20 points, 8-for-10 shooting (4 for 5 behind the arc), 5 rebounds
Eric Mika, F, BYU • 11 points, 4-for-8 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks