University of Memphis assistant coach Larry Brown is a school alumni, Hall of Fame trainer who enjoys high motor inside centers. A few years ago, Memphis’ 6-foot-11 freshman center Jalen Duren would have been in the top three in the NBA draft, even though he’s only 18.
But in this new era, in which centers are expected to shoot 3-pointers, Duren is seen as just a mid-to-late lottery pick – one who could be there at No. 11 when the Knicks come to bat on June 23. .
Duren is one of 11 prospects so far invited to the Barclays Center ‘green room’ for the draft.
“He’s got a great body, a good athlete, and he’s more talented than you think,” an NBA college scout said. “He’s about a year away, but he can come back and bounce back now.”
The Knicks have their share of defensive centers in Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims. But Robinson could leak as a free agent, Noel is still an injury problem and Sims was so lightly considered he went 58th in the draft.
Brown praised his player, suggesting Duren could be another Bam Abedayo, the Miami All-Star, only bigger.
Brown revealed he spoke to Knicks general manager Scott Perry a few weeks ago about Duren and second-round contender Josh Minott, the Memphis small forward who will be considered by the Knicks at 42. The Knicks worked on Minott on Monday.
Duren is the shining gem due to his particular upside – although he is perhaps seen as too big a project for coach Tom Thibodeau to give his approval.
“A lot of people compare him to Bam,” Brown told The Post from his home in East Hampton. “I spent time with Cal [Kentucky coach John Calipari] when Bam was there. Bam doesn’t fire 3s either. Jalen is 3 inches taller than Bam.
“Jalen is like when I was a head coach when he had a center and a power forward in the NBA. I always teased him: I wanted him to be like [rugged former Pistons center] Ben Wallace, because he can race with anyone. He can really run. And can move his feet defensively.
Brown is annoyed by the trend of firing centers who aren’t top outside shooters like Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, who will be a top-three pick. Brown thinks Duren does so many other things. He won’t be 19 until November after upgrading his senior year of high school to join Penny Hardaway’s Tigers.
“He can pass too,” Brown said. “A lot of kids don’t see people who are open. He has an idea. If you are open, he can find you. He is a voluntary smuggler. His shot is not broken. The people question his 3-point shot. The child is 6-11, 250 pounds and athletic. I don’t know how many 3s you need.”
Portland worked on Duren earlier this week. The Blazers are looking to come back from No. 7, perhaps with Duren in mind.
“Jalen probably moves his feet better than any big kid I’ve been around,” added Brown, the Knicks coach in the 2005-06 season. “With so many changes in the NBA, he’s really capable of doing that. If he’s not playing, he’s cheering for the team, he’s not sulking.”
The Knicks’ top priority, Brown realizes, is a point guard.
“You can’t get enough,” he said, adding, “I don’t know what the Knicks think, but I always thought: take the best player. If there are two who are equal and you have a need, you take the need. There are a lot of good interesting players. Hopefully someone will be there at 11, like the Knicks.”
The Knicks’ lottery picks are in an intense spotlight to produce as rookies. Brown insists on patience with the defense-oriented Duren — who averaged 12 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.
“If someone takes him as a starter on a playoff team, I don’t think that’s entirely fair,” Brown said. ” He is 18 years old. If you envision a child growing up and really being a factor, this is the one you need to consider. Any 18- or 19-year-old they’re going to get might not help the team right away, but he’ll definitely have a shot at having one hell of a career.
“He wants to be coached. It’s important, especially with Thibs. He will coach him and demand things, and he will respond to that.
Perry also grilled Brown about Minott, the 6-9 winger who averaged just 6.2 points. Despite his shooting issues on the jump, the 20-year-old is considered one of those positionless defenders who are all the rage.
“If you draft him, he’ll be like a lottery pick two years from now,” Brown said. “He is young, long, athletic fast. It just needs to grow and improve. He grew 2 inches when I was there. He’s that high-twitch athlete. So many NBA people called me about him. In a few years, you might have a diamond.”