- Some programs unexpectedly lost key players to the NBA before the league's early entry deadline last month, while others watched stars elect to return for another season in college.
Yes, yes, yes, we know: Many of the 137 college underclassmen who declared for the NBA Draft will withdraw and return to school by May 24, because they didn’t sign with an agent. Which makes sorting out the effect of defections a little premature at this stage.
Still, some guys are gone and aren’t coming back. Some decided not to go at all. And in many cases, even players just testing the waters puts programs’ 2017-18 seasons in the balance. So here’s a look at some winners and losers from the early entry deadline:
People around the Spartans wondered if Miles Bridges was wired a little differently—if, perhaps, he improbably liked school and liked his teammates enough to eschew a likely landing spot in the lottery for a sophomore season in East Lansing and a charge at a national title. Those people were right. Bridges didn’t even bother to test the NBA waters. It was the single biggest win of the early entry deadline and it put Tom Izzo in the hunt for a championship.
Nothing was keeping Lauri Markkanen around, not when the NBA values 7-footers with range and mobility. Losing Kobi Simmons does rob the program of an up-and-coming backcourt star, but the guaranteed return of Allonzo Trier and his 17.2 points per game—the 6’5” guard isn’t even testing the waters—is a victory that offsets the losses. The Wildcats will wait to see if 6’5” wing Rawle Alkins stays in the draft, but even if he does, there are reinforcements on the way. And Trier gives Sean Miller a proven star to build around anyway. Chance Comanche is also going through the evaluation process. The 6’11” forward might not be a linchpin as a junior, but he’d certainly add experienced depth if he returned.
Injuries limited Grayson Allen at the start of the 2016-17 season, and by the time the junior guard rounded into anything close to his peak form, Luke Kennard had become the Blue Devils’ go-to scorer. Allen’s ensuing behavioral hiccups didn’t help him smooth out an uneven season. But he’s coming back for his senior year and if he successfully hits the reset button, Duke has an All-America veteran to build around. Frank Jackson is testing the waters after his freshman season, and a departure there would be an unexpected sting. But having Allen in the fold—assuming he’s healthy and focused—helps offset the losses of Kennard and forward Jayson Tatum, both of whom declared for the draft and signed with agents.
No one is fretting over Justin Jackson’s departure. The 6’8” forward was always a goner after an ascendant junior season ending in a national title. The about-face from point guard Joel Berry II—he entered the draft pool only to pull his name back a day later—is a mammoth turn for the Tar Heels. If swingman Theo Pinson and 6’10” big man Tony Bradley follow Berry back to Chapel Hill by May 24, the team could be equipped for another deep postseason run. Pinson should. Bradley may be a wild card, as he isn’t a sure bet to be selected in the first round and might be inclined to improve his stock with a bigger role as a sophomore—or maybe he’ll count on the NBA loving athletic big men to develop. That might bring the Tar Heels closer to break-even status here.
The Aggies benefited greatly from no one going anywhere, not even into the test-the-waters realm. Having Tyler Davis (14.1 points, 7.0 rebounds) and Robert Williams (11.9 points, 8.2 rebounds) back for certain means the program’s top four scorers return for 2017-18. With Kentucky undergoing an atypically large rebuild this off-season, Billy Kennedy might have a roster primed to challenge for an SEC championship.
Bennie Boatwright is going to be a problem for people next year. He’s 6’10” and 230 pounds and averaged a team-best 15.1 points while shooting 36.4% from three-point range as a sophomore. Now he’ll be back with the Trojans for his junior year, after exiting the test-the-waters pool shortly after the deadline passed. Boatwright’s presence slots the Trojans as Pac-12 contenders, as he was the biggest domino to fall for Andy Enfield, who already had Chimezie Metu and Elijah Stewart withdraw from draft consideration. That means USC has its top four scorers back, while former Duke point guard Derryck Thornton is eligible after sitting out a season as a transfer. A league title and a deep postseason run are not out of the question.
At no point should anyone exhibit even an infinitesimal amount of surprise when a Wildcats freshman enters the draft. We grant you this. But John Calipari is (as usual) losing a lot, while also (not as usual) potentially losing more for the 2017-18 season. The exodus of Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo and Isaiah Briscoe leaves Kentucky with the standard year-to-year rebuild. Fine. The departure of Isaac Humphries does rob the team of a developing big man, though the 7-footer’s impact was mercurial. O.K. The real issue is the possible loss of Hamidou Diallo, who didn’t even play a game in Lexington before testing the draft waters. He’d be the star next winter on a roster in need of one, but he has to be around to be built around.
The Ducks will lose the three key components from their Final Four run—guard Tyler Dorsey, forward Dillon Brooks and forward Jordan Bell—and it’s conceivable that none of them will be first-round picks. We realize that’s not necessarily a bar every player cares to clear, but a roster was gutted for a future that is far from a sure thing.
Zach Collins likely will be a millionaire by the summer, so the program’s first-ever one-and-done player probably isn’t feeling too bad about missing out on the chance to be one of the nation’s premier players and an All-America this winter. But we, the college basketball lovers, can feel that all we want. It’s entirely understandable why the 7-footer left but a bummer that he did. The more stinging blow for Gonzaga was Nigel Williams-Goss signing with an agent after his declaration. The people of Spokane didn’t even get to hold out hope the star guard might return. Johnathan Williams and his 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game probably will return—his statement about entering the draft emphasized that he was planning to see where he stands in the NBA’s eyes—but that won’t offset the departures of the other two stars.
Too early to call here, probably, but what are the odds that both Deng Adel and Donovan Mitchell return to school after going through the evaluation process? The Cardinals already lost 6’9” forward Jaylen Johnson after a junior season in which he averaged 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Maybe Johnson wouldn't have gotten appreciably better in one more season of college ball, but he would’ve been a key element on a title favorite. And when you surmise that there’s a high probability of losing either Mitchell or Adel, you have to guess that the program’s chances to chase a championship are about to take a significant, though not fatal, blow.
This has virtually nothing to do with Lonzo Ball, who was a preordained one-and-done phenomenon for years. It’s difficult to view that as a “loss” when it was the deal from the jump. Losing T.J. Leaf is another matter. While a potential slot as a first-rounder justifies the move, it wasn’t a guarantee that he would emerge as a one-and-doner at the outset of the season. A bigger sting is Ike Anigbogu heading to the pros. The 6’10” center is incredibly young—he won’t even turn 19 until October—and he could have developed into a force in Westwood. Instead he’ll develop in the pros. And while Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday are testing the waters, the prospect of losing one or both is nerve-wracking. A highly ranked incoming recruiting class might be able to salve some of these issues, but they’re issues nonetheless.
The Gators are teetering on break-even status, but outright losing Devin Robinson—he of the 11.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game—to the pro ranks is unhelpful. The 6’8” forward might not have changed evaluators’ minds enough as a senior to warrant another year in Gainesville, so he declared for the draft and signed with an agent, and that’s fine. But it doesn’t help Mike White. And if John Egbunu doesn’t withdraw, the Gators have KeVaughn Allen and a lot of questions for next winter, as opposed to a roster primed to contend in the SEC.