NBA prospect Terrance Ferguson made a good impression in Australia, but not a strong one

The consensus from Australia's National Basketball League is that Terrance Ferguson is destined for NBA greatness.

But he needs to live in the weight room for a while first.

Ferguson, a 6-foot-7, 185-pound shooting guard, has taken the road less traveled to Thursday's NBA draft. A former Dallas prep school star and the 2016 Nike Hoop Summit MVP, Ferguson had committed to Alabama and then Arizona last year but opted for the relative mystery of the NBL -- and a paycheck -- instead of staying stateside and establishing himself as a collegiate star. (American players aren't eligible for the NBA until a year after high school.)

Just 18 years old when he arrived Down Under, Ferguson saw his maturity and resolve tested from the very first day of practice with the Adelaide 36ers.

His new teammates in Australia's top professional basketball league, while impressed with Ferguson's obvious talent and athleticism, had no intention of letting him think for even a nanosecond that he was in the country for a relaxing vacation.

Adelaide captain Mitch Creek said the 36ers knew they had something special from the get-go, but that Ferguson had to prove himself -- not just to opponents, but especially to his teammates, who didn't hesitate to get in the youngster's face.

In what was a deliberate "tough love" approach, Creek said they would argue often, with Ferguson angrily rising to the bait of being labeled as "kid" and "son," much to the team captain's satisfaction.

Creek says he simply wanted Ferguson to snap and to fight back, to show grit and to be best prepared for what would surely be coming in the NBA.

And while Creek said Ferguson didn't always appreciate the method, he is certain Ferguson, now 19, will be far better for the overall experience.

Ferguson's unique blend of height, speed and elite athleticism marked him down as a player to watch, even if he didn't get the minutes he perhaps expected in Australia.

Indeed, a season average of just 4.6 points in only 15 minutes per outing would suggest his antipodean sojourn was something far less than what draft pundits might have expected.

But Creek and Adelaide coach Joey Wright both maintain Ferguson never wavered in his efforts to get better.

Wright goes one step further, saying he never really expected Ferguson would have any sort of huge influence in the NBL.

"His season was exactly how we thought it would pan out," Wright said. "Just because you come here as a potential NBA player, that doesn't mean you're going to come here and have an impact."

As far as Wright can see, there will be multiple NBA All-Star berths in the coming years if Ferguson can improve his dribble penetration and the consistency of his outside shot.

Regardless of the numbers, there is a general agreement that for Ferguson to succeed in the NBA, where he is projected to be drafted near the middle of the first round, he needs to get stronger. Quickly.

Brisbane Bullets guard Adam Gibson liked what he saw in the limited minutes Ferguson was on the floor, but he said Ferguson's lighter frame is "definitely his biggest weakness."

"He's got some attributes a lot of kids don't have -- his height and athleticism are already well known," Gibson said. "His spot-up 3s, catch-and-shoot type stuff, the raw potential is huge.

"But he needs to put on some size to be able to compete at his position in the NBA. ... He was easier to move around and push off spots. Obviously, he's not going to be jacked up and super big, but if he can get stronger, he'll be super effective."

Gibson, who represented Australia at the 2012 Olympics, said Ferguson has all the tools to have a successful NBA career, describing him as a "greyhound up and down the floor."

While he agrees Ferguson needs to get stronger, he doesn't necessarily think Ferguson needs to get bigger, pointing to the likes of Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston as wing players who have succeeded in the NBA despite a wiry, lean physique.

Sydney Kings coach Andrew Gaze, who played briefly in the NBA for the Washington Bullets and the San Antonio Spurs, said strength would be the easiest thing for Ferguson to improve, citing a natural physical maturation process that would be combined with an elite NBA weight-training program.

Gaze also took particular note of Ferguson's range and ability to create shots but cautioned not to expect too much too soon from him.

"He's so young; he's got so much to learn," said Gaze, a seven-time MVP winner in the NBL. "It's going to take some time before he's an impact player in the NBA, but he seems like a highly coachable kid. He works hard and is very respectful of the game.

"He's got ability to create off the dribble, but the NBA is another level entirely -- that, and the decision-making at the end of the dribble. That just comes with experience."

Throughout his NBL campaign, Ferguson flashed occasional glimpses of his undeniable talents, garnering 10 points in his debut against the Illawarra Hawks and reaching a season-high 13 points twice.

But he had plenty of struggles, too, going scoreless seven times despite being in the starting lineup for 17 of Adelaide's 30 games.

And it only got worse in the playoffs, when Ferguson tallied just 12 minutes over the final two games of a shattering semifinal defeat to Illawarra.

Creek says those last games of the season showed Ferguson's maturity and growth more than any time during the season.

"It would've hurt him a lot come finals time, and he didn't play a lot," Creek said. "Being a high-end competitor, you just want to play. There's no secret to it. You'd rather play 40 minutes than four seconds.

"But I think he did a really good job of handling that. He was strong enough to deal with all that."

Wright, an American who was a second-round pick of the Phoenix Suns in 1991 but never played in an NBA game, says playing in Australia was the best thing Ferguson could have done to enhance his draft prospects.

"I was a draft prospect at 23 years old and had eight NBA scouts in the stands watching me, and I got a little nervous," Wright said. "But he maintained his personality and who he was. For an 18-year-old that was an extremely strong statement about his presence and his mental state."

Perhaps the final word belongs to Creek, who was emphatic about not just Ferguson's draft prospects but his long-term future in the NBA.

Creek pointed to the type of adversity Ferguson was forced to deal with: the unfamiliarity of a new country, the distance from family and friends, the pressure and expectations of fans, the disappointment of limited minutes and, when he did play, the unrelenting physical grind of playing against grown men in a tough, professional league.

"He came in, worked hard, matured and got better," Creek said. "If he trusts the process, believes in himself, is confident and stays true to himself as a good person, those are pretty simple things but are sometimes also the hardest things to do.

"I learned a lot of things from him as well. He's just got a really good chance to do something special."