In so many ways, Brandon Paul isn't like the other employees at the I Hotel.
In so many ways, Brandon Paul isn't like the other employees at the I Hotel.
During Paul's lunch hour at Houlihan's, the restaurant attached to the hotel across the street from the Assembly Hall, property owner Peter Fox drops by the former Illini's table.
"Hey, Brandon, how's it going? Good to see you," Fox says while shaking Paul's hand on his way out.
A couple a few tables away sneaks looks in Paul's direction and points him out in between bites of salad.
"It's pretty neat and humbling to see the impact we've had on people here," Paul said.
Paul's co-workers aren't signing autographs for customers and posing for photos with them. But that's part of the daily routine for Paul, whose spring internship at the hotel is all that stands in the way of receiving his diploma in recreation sport and tourism from Illinois next month.
"It's entertaining. He's been very professional through everything," said Dwight Eddleman, the I Hotel's assistant front-desk manager. "It's easy to get distracted, but he's been focused when people come up to him."
When it comes to the job, though, Paul is just like his co-workers. He reports every day at 7 a.m. for his eight-hour shift wearing a charcoal suit, crisp white dress shirt and a uniform multi-colored striped tie.
"No special treatment," I Hotel general manager Sam Santhanam said. "He even has to take his earrings out. Everyone has to look the same."
Oh, and he wears a nametag: "BRANDON PAUL, Guest Services Agent."
Yep, Brandon Paul — a four-year starter for the Illinois basketball team who is eighth on the program's all-time scoring list with 1,654 points — has to wear a nametag.
"Everybody jokes about it, but it's all fun," Paul said. "I'm pretty lucky; I've got a good situation here. I couldn't ask for a better group of people to work with."
Aside from working an occasional basketball camp as a counselor, this job is the first Paul has held. As his time at the I Hotel and on the UI campus winds down, Paul already has taken steps in preparing himself for his next job, which he hopes is in the NBA.
Paul spent last week on airplanes, jetting across the country meeting with prospective agents. He settled on Washington, D.C.-based agent Jim Tanner, whose clients include Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and Jeremy Lin.
Paul got involved in that process shortly after Illinois' season came to an end with a gut-wrenching loss to Miami in the NCAA tournament's round of 32. Unbeknownst to him, the process started months ago.
Agents began contacting Cliff and Lynda Paul about retaining their son as a client early during Illinois' season. At the request of Illinois coach John Groce, the Pauls kept their son out of the loop.
"My husband and I, our job was to vet the agents and agencies and select the top three, and we eliminated certain characters we didn't want him involved with," Lynda Paul said. "Some tried to contact Brandon directly, and they were eliminated immediately."
Paul was stunned to learn how much work his parents had done in weeding out agents.
"It was amazing to me," he said.
The decision came down to Tanner and New York-based Excel Sports Management, the same company that represents former Illinois stars Deron Williams and Meyers Leonard.
"It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life to date," said Paul, who turns 22 on April 30. "It was easy for me when I was younger to pick what school I was going to. It was easy to pick my major. This wasn't easy."
Lynda Paul said she and her husband were contacted by just about all the top agencies in regards to retaining Brandon as a client.
"We were really pleased and surprised at the interest in him," she said.
Most mock drafts have Paul slated to be selected anywhere from the bottom third of the first round to the end of the second round of the June 27 draft. Based on those projections, the Pauls settled on Tanner, whom they felt could best sell Brandon to NBA franchises.
"We just felt like Jim Tanner had a better grasp of Brandon's situation. He's not likely to be a lottery pick, though we're not necessarily giving up on that idea. But we have to keep things real," Lynda Paul said. "We just thought Jim had a better grasp of what we needed for Brandon because he's not a lottery pick. We thought we needed a little bit more firepower to be sold to the right general manager."
Paul's life is changing. Not only does he have an agent but a publicist, too.
"I'm still just trying to figure all this out right now," he said. "I didn't even know people needed to go through my publicist now to talk to me."
Next he has to hire a personal trainer.
"Until I figure everything out, I'm going to just keep going through my routine," he said. "I could be anywhere two days from now. You just have to be ready for what's next."
That routine is waking up at 6 a.m. in the apartment he shares on campus with older brother Cliff Jr. and working from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the hotel. From there, Paul heads to the Ubben Basketball Complex for a weightroom workout with Illinois strength and conditioning coach Mike Basgier and an on-court workout with Illinois assistant coach Jamall Walker. After a break, he goes back to the gym at night to practice jumpers.
"We've been working on expanding his range because that three-point line in the NBA is obviously farther back," Walker said. "We work (on) his footwork a lot because that's going to allow him to create space to get open. With Brandon, you just have to be honest with him and tell him what you see. He respects that."
Illinois' commencement is May 11-12. But Paul has yet to order a cap and gown and isn't sure he'll participate in the festivities.
"It would mean a lot to me if I was able to walk at graduation because my brother will be graduating, too, but I just don't know where I'll be or what's going to be going on at the time, so I'm not sure I'll be able to do that," Paul said.
Like many other UI seniors, Paul is preparing for job interviews. His are a little bit different.
When Paul was a blossoming star at Warren High in north suburban Gurnee, his mom would put him through mock interview sessions to prepare her son for his future answering questions in a public setting.
Too often Lynda Paul would see an athlete giving an interview on camera who couldn't articulate his thoughts or would just flat-out say something stupid.
"I said, 'Oh, no, that's not going to be my son,' " Lynda said.
So she would pretend to be a reporter and ask the future Illinois Mr. Basketball winner questions so he would be conditioned to present himself in a positive light.
"That's one of the reasons he was attractive to so many agents," Lynda said.
Paul's intelligence — he's a three-time academic All-Big Ten selection — and dynamic personality are expected to be major pluses for him during interviews with NBA executives.
"It plays a huge role. You can have the best talent in the world, but if you don't get along with people right away and you don't appeal to them right away, teams aren't going to bother. I think that's an area where I can succeed," Paul said.
NBA Draft Insider editor-in-chief Kris Habbas has seen examples of players whose stock has plummeted in recent years because of poor interviews with front-office personnel.
Georgia's Travis Leslie told NBA general managers two years ago he was the next Dwyane Wade and he didn't have any areas in his game that needed improvement. His arrogance and poor showing in the interviews dropped him from a potential lottery pick to the 47th overall pick. Leslie has played 10 career NBA games, spending most of his time in the NBA Development League.
"Interviews can absolutely make or break you," Habbas said.
As attractive as Paul might be from a personality standpoint, he's going to have to fight the stigma of being a four-year college player. In the day of one-and-dones, college veterans are seen in an unfavorable light.
In last year's draft, North Carolina's Tyler Zeller was the first player who had exhausted his college eligibility to be selected. He went 17th, one of only four seniors picked in the first round.
"The stigma with four-year guys is you have so much tape and you can pick them apart and pound on their flaws," Habbas said. "Once you start looking at the back third of the first round, that's when you see guys going."
Paul understands the concerns about four-year players. Like all other aspects of this new process, he's approaching it with a glass-half-full mentality.
"I feel like younger guys are more appealing to NBA teams. But at the same time, a four-year starter gives them a lot of experience," Paul said. "Guys that know how to play the game, are passionate about the game, know how to take care of their bodies. That can be appealing as well."
Habbas' mock draft at NBA Draft Insider is one of the few projecting Paul as a first-round pick. He's got Paul going 30th overall.
"At the shooting guard position, you want to have NBA translatable skills. When you watch Brandon Paul play, he's got more NBA moves, shot-making abilities and athleticism than every shooting guard in the entire class," Habbas said. "He's not the best shooting guard in the class, but he's got the best NBA translatable skills, especially on the offensive end."
Others haven't been so high on Paul. ESPN.com's Chad Ford had Paul rated 93rd in his latest Top 100 that includes underclassmen who might return to school instead of opting to enter the draft.
"We're back to scratching our heads and wondering if he's ever going to be good enough to succeed in the NBA," Ford said in his analysis of Paul.
There's a possibility Paul could go undrafted and have to begin his professional career overseas.
"Yes, it's a possibility, anything's possible," Lynda Paul said. "But we haven't talked about any of that to this point."
Paul is hoping for an invite to the NBA combine May 15-19 in Chicago. That's where he might be able to erase doubts some have about him and improve his stock.
"The shooting guards from 5 to 15 is pretty fluid. You've got Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Georgia), Allen Crabbe (California), Reggie Bullock (North Carolina), a lot of these guys with similar ceilings. Brandon Paul can go out there and in the workouts he's going to be tremendous because he's an elite-level athlete; he's physically built very well right now," Habbas said. "If he goes out there and measures at 6-31 / 4, maybe his stock drops a little bit. If he maintains that 6-33 / 4 or anything over 6-4, he's going to have that size, and when he gets into those workouts going one-on-one against those guys, he's going to be a guy that moves up the board."
That's a ways off, however. Until then, Paul is going to attack his current job with the same enthusiasm he's shown in his pro basketball pursuit.
"I enjoy coming to work every day. I'm glad I did this," Paul said. "I got to learn the business side of things and how everything works. I've always enjoyed hotels, so I was excited when the opportunity presented itself."
He won't be able to skip town without signing a few more autographs — this time for his peers and supervisors.
"I was a fan before he started working here, so I'll get an autograph and a picture or something when he leaves to have some memories," said Eddleman, Paul's manager at the I Hotel. "When I'm watching NBA games next year, it'll be cool to say I worked with that guy."
Important dates for Brandon Paul as he prepares for an NBA career:
Brandon Paul’s 22nd birthday — Four players drafted in last year’s first round were 22 or older
NBA combine — 60 players are invited to Chicago for workouts and measurements
NBA draft — 14 players are expected to be invited to attend the event at Madison Square Garden
Summer league play starts — Teams of rookies and young bench players are guaranteed five games
NBA season begins — The full slate of 82 regular season games will be released in late July