By Jesse Wolfersberger: Freedom Newspapers
CLOVIS — Hank Baskett III watched and waited for 14 hours over two days as 255 players were picked in the National Football League draft. His name was not one of them.
Although Baskett, a wide receiver from the University of New Mexico, did not get selected in pro football’s annual draft, he agreed to a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings moments after the draft went final.
“It’s a life-changer,” Baskett said. “I did not expect to be sitting here like this, as a free agent.”
Baskett, a 2001 graduate of Clovis High School, was projected by many experts to be taken in the third- to fifth-round range, about the 14th wide receiver to be selected.
After seven rounds and 32 receivers, Baskett was still teamless. He ended the draft as ESPN analyst Mel Kiper’s fourth best player still available. Kiper had Baskett ranked as the 130th best player overall.
“My agent said he talked to the teams and they don’t know what happened,” Baskett said.
His father, Hank Baskett Jr. said he thinks his son will be a player such as Priest Holmes, Kurt Warner, or Antonio Gates — players who went undrafted yet have seen success in the NFL.
“I think somebody missed out on a good player,” Baskett Jr. said. “Hank will keep the faith. Hank’s going to make it in the NFL. Am I disappointed? Yes. But I know what he can do.”
The elder Baskett said going undrafted will only be a speedbump in his son’s career.
“For Hank, adversity is his friend,” Baskett Jr. said. “It hasn’t been an easy ride for him. Plus, I’m gonna be here to tell him, ‘Suck it up.’
“People will say this is a setback — no. This is one of the biggest jumps in his life, by not getting selected. Now you know you’ve got to work. Are you willing to work?”
Baskett III had a choice between several teams to sign with as a free agent, and he chose the Vikings for several reasons.
First, they offered a contract that resembled a late-round pick, not a free agent, he said. Second, one of Baskett’s teammates at UNM, center Ryan Cook, was selected by Minnesota in the draft’s second round. Also, the Vikings did not draft any receivers in this year’s draft and are not especially strong at that position with their current roster.
“They said I have a very good chance to make the team,” Baskett said.
Although Baskett III did not become the first Clovis Wildcat to be drafted, if he makes the team he will be the first to play in the NFL.
“I want to thank Clovis, New Mexico and all of the surrounding areas,” Baskett Jr. said. “They have been a support system for my son all through his life.”
Judy Baskett, the receiver’s mother, had a long weekend. With every chime that signaled a team was picking, came hope that her son’s name would scroll across the screen — but every time it was the name of someone else’s baby boy.
“It has been very stressful,” Judy Baskett said. “I would never want to do this again. I’m very proud of my son, he’s held up well through all of this.”
Baskett III took the snub hard, especially at first.
During the fourth round, he watched the draft in his living room. Every receiver that was taken would cause his head to fall into his hands.
In the fifth round, Baskett III could not bare to watch. He paced the house, checking in every few minutes to see who else was being taken ahead of him.
In round six, Baskett III’s phone started to ring. They were calls from NFL teams interested in his services, but none wanted to draft him.
By the final round, Baskett III had accepted his fate. He returned to the living room and began cracking jokes to lighten the mood and take his mind off the day:
After a punter was taken — “I know I’m in trouble when I’m getting taken after a punter.”
During a commercial — “I just want to get drafted so I don’t have to see this commercial anymore.”
As far as his NFL future, at one point Baskett III put his hand on his mother’s leg and told her, “Well, I guess we’re going to have to do it the hard way.”