CHICAGO — With the NBA combine wrapped up and less than a week until the NCAA’s July 7 withdrawal deadline, a number of prominent college players are facing career decisions that will impact the broader landscape of the sport next season. On Tuesday, I highlighted a number of prospects who improved their draft stock from an NBA perspective. Now, we’ll dive into this from a college angle, looking at the situations of the top players who appear to still be on the fence as the NCAA’s deadline approaches.
Class year represents the player's most recently completed NCAA season.
Johnny Juzang, UCLA | Sophomore
Looking at the big men’s college hoops picture, Juzang’s decision is among the more consequential, with the Bruins set to bring back all the key pieces from last season’s Final Four run, in addition to adding projected lottery pick Peyton Watson. Juzang’s stellar showing in March earned him an invitation to the combine and an opportunity to play his way into the draft. He measured surprisingly well (6' 7" in shoes with a 6' 10 ½ " wingspan), but struggled to make an impact in five-on-five play. Juzang isn’t extremely explosive, and he relies heavily on making jumpers to be effective. A return to UCLA, where he’d be one of the leaders of a high-profile potential contender, could be a legitimate opportunity to improve his standing among NBA scouts for 2022. Ultimately, Juzang may not have moved the needle enough to fully ensure he gets drafted this year, making this a tricky call.
Jason Preston, Ohio | Junior
Preston was one of the top players in five-on-five competition at the combine and significantly raised his profile in NBA circles, now profiling as a likely top-40 selection if he stays in the draft. This is a consequential decision from a college basketball standpoint: If he stays at Ohio, the Bobcats will be one of the top mid-major teams in the country, and Preston should contend for national awards as one of the top guards anywhere. His ascent over the past few years has been remarkable. He’s built real momentum around the NBA, and the question is whether he wants to ride that into the draft and a likely guaranteed contract now, or whether it makes more sense to put up big numbers, win in college for another year and try to further improve his stock. Preston has won a lot of people over this week, making this one of the more intriguing decisions still to come.
Joshua Primo, Alabama | Freshman
Jaden Shackelford, Alabama | Sophomore
Primo was one of the big winners of the combine, performing well in drills and five-on-five and successfully showcasing a more well-rounded game than was readily apparent in a supporting role at Alabama. He’s the youngest draft-eligible prospect, and was primarily a spot-up shooter for the Crimson Tide, but it’s clear now that he has a lot more to offer in the way of ball skills and decision-making potential. NBA teams have been intrigued by Primo dating back to the 2019 Basketball Without Borders Camp, and he’s trending toward the first round of the draft right now. As a business decision, it would make sense for him to capitalize on his rising stock and develop in the pros next year.
Alabama should be in decent shape even if Primo leaves, with freshman JD Davison and Texas Tech transfer Nimari Burnett set to join Jahvon Quinerly in a loaded backcourt. It seems like Shackelford should join them, as he did not receive an invitation to the G League Elite Camp, signaling minimal interest from NBA teams. The Crimson Tide are loaded regardless, and should again be among the favorites in the SEC.
Max Abmas, Oral Roberts | Sophomore
From a college standpoint, Abmas is one of the higher-profile names on the fence, after leading the NCAA in scoring, taking Oral Roberts on a memorable Sweet 16 run and carrying that momentum into the predraft process. At this point, it would behoove Abmas to return to college and try to add elements to his game in that setting. He struggled in combine five-on-five and measured as the smallest player at the event. It’s unlikely he’ll get drafted at this point, but Abmas clearly has some talent and will need to make developmental adjustments to better hold up against pro competition. His strengths just don’t translate that well at this level yet, as he struggled to get his jumper off and needs to become a better playmaker for others. If he returns to Oral Roberts, he’ll again be the focal point of their offense, and his scoring ability should give it a chance to be a tournament team again.
E.J. Liddell, Ohio State | Sophomore
Ohio State is shaping up as one of the best teams in the Big Ten and was hoping to have both Liddell and Duane Washington back next year. At the moment, the sense I get is that the Buckeyes expect Liddell to return, while Washington announced Tuesday he's staying in the draft. Both players took part in the G League Elite Camp, and Liddell may have had a bit more interest from teams entering the week, but it was Washington who successfully built momentum in NBA circles with his play. He now seems likely to end up on a two-way contract and could potentially sneak into the back end of the draft.
Getting Liddell back would still be a big help for the Buckeyes after he emerged as their best player last season, and he should again be one of the more productive forwards in the Big Ten. He continues to develop an effective inside-out game and presents matchup problems at the college level, where he can pull slower bigs out to the perimeter or take them off the dribble. From a defensive standpoint, Ohio State would be smart to let him guard forwards rather than stick him on centers. Losing Washington is a significant blow for the Buckeyes on offense and will likely require them to replace him with a transfer in the backcourt.
Terrence Shannon Jr., Texas Tech | Sophomore
There’s been some chatter around the combine that Shannon is considering returning to school, and that he could potentially end up transferring if he takes that route. The situation seems like a toss-up at the moment: Shannon has his fans around the NBA, but he opted not to participate in five-on-five at the combine, and didn’t build significant momentum in terms of his draft range. He’s been projected in and out of the first round this season, and right now the second round feels more likely. If Shannon wants to be a first-round pick, returning to school might be the way to make that happen, but he’s certainly draftable and should have an NBA roster spot next season if he stays in. This is one of the trickier situations to peg, but if he goes back to school, he should be one of the better players in college hoops.
Marcus Bagley, Arizona State | Freshman
Bagley is in the transfer portal and thought to be looking for first-round assurances to stay in the draft. It doesn’t look like he’ll get any, as he didn’t gain any traction at the combine and opted out of playing five-on-five, which limited any opportunity to really increase his stock. His early-season NBA momentum has stagnated, and right now he’s a second-rounder at best. Bagley is a talented scorer, but may be better off putting it all together in college next season and making another run at the draft with a stronger résumé. He played just 12 games at Arizona State and shot just 38.7% from the field, and was a player teams needed to see more of here in Chicago, making the decision to sit out of combine games a bit baffling. Bagley can change the narrative with a better sophomore year, but it doesn’t seem like he’ll be back at Arizona State, regardless.
Ochai Agbaji, Kansas | Junior
Jalen Wilson, Kansas | Freshman
Neither of Kansas’s prospects left a lasting impression on scouts in Chicago, with Wilson playing at the G League Elite Camp and Agbaji in the combine itself. There’s a good case to be made that both should return, with Agbaji having a chance at the second round and Wilson unlikely to be drafted. Agbaji has a great frame but has struggled a bit with consistency and hasn’t fully refined himself into a reliable role-playing wing yet. Wilson flashed some versatility here that he hasn’t always shown at Kansas, but he’s not the most athletic player and needs to become a more reliable shooter to add value in an NBA context. Both players would be wise to consider staying in college, and Kansas will certainly be better off with them back.
Isaiah Mobley, USC | Sophomore
Mobley played well at the combine, showcasing some of his ball skills and playing with energy on both five-on-five days, and while he’s still unlikely to be drafted, he at least made a better case for himself to turn pro. If he stays in college, he’s a potential All Pac-12 player on the Trojans, who could really use him up front. If he turns pro, he’s likely looking at a two-way contract at best. Mobley has yet to perform up to his potential at the college level, averaging just 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds last season, but there’s certainly enough ability here for him to put it together in a big way for a USC team that would need to feature him more offensively to succeed. He can start his professional clock now if he wants to, but it will take a strong showing in the G League before he gets a real shot in the NBA.
Julian Champagnie, St. John’s | Sophomore
Champagnie’s decision is thought to be a toss-up, as he didn’t leave a strong impression in Chicago and has the option to rejoin what could be an improved St. John’s team alongside standout sophomore guard Posh Alexander. NBA scouts were intrigued by Champagnie’s shooting ability in college, and he came off a strong sophomore season, but he wasn’t overly effective in any other capacity at the combine and isn’t a particularly physical or creative forward. Champagnie certainly has a chance to be drafted in the future and can hitch his wagon to his shooting as a skill, but right now, it could make more sense to return to college and develop there as a featured offensive player.
Aaron Wiggins, Maryland | Junior
Wiggins played well at the G League Elite Camp and earned an invitation to the combine from there, building a bit of buzz for himself as a player who could sneak into the second round. He subsequently fell back to earth a bit against better competition in combine five-on-five. Wiggins has ultimately helped himself, and should have a shot at earning a two-way contract, but he hasn’t quite shaken his reputation as an inconsistent performer over three years at Maryland. He’s shown legitimate flashes of trending in the right direction, so this is a question of whether he’s better off developing in college or in the G League. Maryland returns a decent roster and could really use him back—particularly if Wiggins can deliver on his flashes and elevate his game in a real way. He could be an All–Big Ten player if he returns.
Hunter Dickinson, Michigan | Freshman
It seemed like Dickinson’s foray into the draft was more exploratory than anything else, as his game is ill-suited for the modern NBA and he’ll need to work himself into the best possible shape to have a chance at sticking. The Wolverines may be the Big Ten favorites on paper, and it makes sense for him to return as their interior anchor. Dickinson may have a stellar college career ahead, but he’s a bit of a dated player archetype by NBA standards and didn’t make a huge impact at G League Elite Camp. It won’t stop him from being plenty effective for Michigan next season, assuming he returns.
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