The weeklong NBA draft combine festivities in Chicago double as one of the most critical weeks of the offseason for men’s college basketball programs, whose rosters can’t be finalized until players make their decisions about staying in the draft or returning to school. Several high-profile college coaches made appearances in Chicago to check in on their star talent, and the scrimmages at both the G League Elite Camp and main combine helped players lock in their draft stock ahead of the June 1 draft withdrawal deadline.
Here are some notes (and quotes) on the top college-eligible prospects who were in Chicago last week.
Stay or Go
The NC State duo of Terquavion Smith and Dereon Seabron each helped themselves during combine scrimmages. Smith was the best player on the floor on Thursday before shutting things down Friday, showcasing his dynamic scoring ability and flashing some passing upside rarely shown off with the Wolfpack this past season. Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo believes Smith is in the first-round discussion right now, which likely isn’t great news for NC State’s chances of getting its star freshman back for a second season. Meanwhile, Seabron did little to dispel questions about his outside shooting ability but was one of the more productive players in the scrimmages on both days, stuffing the stat sheet and showing off his unique skill set in the process. If both head to the pros now, it could be an extremely rough year for Kevin Keatts and the Wolfpack.
Another duo to watch entering the week was Kansas teammates Jalen Wilson and Christian Braun. Wilson played well and was a clear stock-riser, earning the call-up from elite camp to the combine and playing well throughout the week. He lacks explosiveness vertically but knows how to play and shot the ball well from beyond the arc after struggling from deep this season at Kansas. Braun shot poorly in Thursday’s combine scrimmage but played an excellent floor game in Friday’s contest and announced Tuesday his plans to stay in the draft. Wilson has yet to finalize his plans for next season, and he’d likely be Kansas’s leading scorer should he return.
One of the larger draft decisions now looming from a college standpoint is that of Houston’s Marcus Sasser, who reemerged on NBA radars as a 2022 prospect with a standout performance at the G League Elite Camp and combine. Sasser was one of the best guards in college hoops before a foot injury shut him down in December, but his ability to create offense off the bounce makes him a draftable prospect this year. Sasser could improve his stock and get into the first-round conversation with a big ’22–23 season for the Cougars, who are a projected top-five team with him in tow.
David Roddy has his fans around the NBA after a standout junior season at Colorado State but had an uneven week in combine scrimmages. Roddy shot just 5-for-17 from the field and 0-for-6 from three in two games after shooting nearly 44% from deep last season. While we should be aware of small sample sizes, Roddy did little in the scrimmages to push him clearly into the first round. He’ll likely get drafted if he stays in, but would be a potential preseason All-American on a top-25 team should he return to CSU.
“It’s pretty clear-cut: If I go first round, you can’t really pass that up,” Roddy says. “Still 50/50 throughout. I’m just getting as much feedback as possible, and then I’ll make the decision when I need to make the decision.”
For Arkansas, the return of big man Jaylin Williams would be a huge boost to the Hogs’ hopes of being the nation’s top team in 2022–23. Williams didn’t stand out in his lone scrimmage appearance Thursday before sitting out Friday’s action, but the feeling remains that the Razorback center is leaning toward staying in the draft.
Gonzaga’s Drew Timme was productive in combine scrimmages and flashed improved outside shooting ability, making five threes in the two games after sinking just eight triples all season at Gonzaga. Still, his lack of foot speed to guard on the perimeter will be a problem for NBA teams, and clocking in at a combine-high 15.7% body fat will do little to dissuade questions about his physique in the pro game. That said, Timme becoming a knockdown shooter from deep would be scary for the rest of college basketball should he return to school. The other looming draft decision for Gonzaga is that of Julian Strawther, who didn’t participate in the scrimmages.
Michigan is still waiting on decisions from Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate. Houstan turned down his combine invitation, which has led many in both college and NBA circles to believe he’s turning pro. Diabate did attend the combine and played five-on-five both days, turning in a strong performance Friday (10 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) after struggling Thursday. Still, what makes Diabate most intriguing are his incredible physical tools, which popped off the page during testing. His decision feels more open than Houstan’s, though ultimately I’d be somewhat surprised if either returns to Ann Arbor.
Arizona’s Dalen Terry did not scrimmage, but his decision is one of the more impactful ones from a college standpoint with Arizona already set to lose Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko. “I owe it to myself to be here. If I can sneak in there and be a sleeper, be a first-rounder, that’s what I’ll do,” Terry says. “But if not, I’m going to go back to Tommy [Lloyd], we’re going to have a big smile and have a better year.”
Also not on the scrimmage list: Duke’s Trevor Keels. He’s perhaps the most likely first-round pick who isn’t a lock to stay in the draft, checking in at No. 30 on Woo’s latest mock. Keels’s measurements weren’t great, though he did look thinner than the weight he played at as a Blue Devils freshman. There’s something to be gained for him in coming back to school, particularly as one of the younger prospects in this year’s draft and coming from a school with a gaping hole at his position. But guaranteed money is rarely passed up these days, and Keels is well-positioned to get just that.
From the transfer portal:
Seven players at the G League Elite Camp and three more from the NBA draft combine also went into combine week with open college recruitments after putting their names in the transfer portal. Here’s the latest on where things stand for those players.
Kevin McCullar (Texas Tech) was at the G League Elite Camp and had entered that week considering Kansas, Gonzaga and pro options. Just two days after the Elite Camp concluded, McCullar announced his commitment to Kansas, but he has yet to withdraw from the draft process. An elite defender and glue guy, McCullar will provide length and versatility for the Jayhawks next season, assuming he does in fact play college hoops.
AJ Green (Northern Iowa) had a productive two days at the Elite Camp shooting the ball and has some fans in NBA circles thanks to his toughness and shot-making ability. He told Sports Illustrated the two programs from the portal he’s considering are Duke and Iowa State, and Green left for an official visit to Duke later that week. If Duke can’t get Keels back for a second year in Durham, the Blue Devils’ need for a player like Green becomes more pronounced.
Former Kentucky forward Keion Brooks Jr. said he was “all in” on the professional route during the Elite Camp, but Stadium’s Jeff Goodman has since reported Brooks will withdraw from the draft process and head back to school. He has a lengthy list of suitors across the college hoops landscape thanks to his productive career in Lexington.
From a professional standpoint, the biggest stock-riser of this group was Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Louisiana Tech). Lofton still doesn’t have the ideal body type for professional basketball, but he looked to be in the best shape of his career and looked confident shooting the ball from deep. He earned a call-up from the Elite Camp to the full combine and played well in the first scrimmage there before sitting out for Friday’s scrimmage. Few expected he’d stay in the draft heading into combine week, but Lofton announced Monday his plan to forgo his remaining eligibility and go all-in on the pro route.
Northwestern transfer Pete Nance came up short of a main combine invite after two solid performances at the Elite Camp. In two scrimmages, he flashed the versatility and skill level that would make him one of the best transfers to change hands this spring. Nance tells SI that he’s “100% focused on trying to get to the NBA” but did make clear he’s open to college options should his stock not be where he wants it come June 1.
Mouhamed Gueye’s best basketball is ahead of him, and the Washington State big man flashed his upside given his size, ability to run the floor and shooting touch in the scrimmages last week. All options are on the table, including a return to Pullman, a different college destination or staying in the draft.
Patrick Baldwin Jr. did put his name in the portal in the days leading up to the May 1 deadline, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes he’ll withdraw from the NBA draft process and head back to school. He’s projected to be picked in the top 20 in Woo’s latest mock.
On the other hand, former Baylor forward Matthew Mayer announced shortly after the combine that he plans to withdraw from the draft and transfer. A key cog on the 2021 national championship team with the ability to space the floor and defend, Mayer is being pursued by some of the highest-profile programs in the sport, including national runner-up North Carolina.
And finally, Josh Minott (Memphis) had an uneven two days of scrimmages but still possesses considerable long-term upside thanks to his athleticism and ability to run the floor. He’s very likely to get selected should he stay in the draft, even though he’d likely spend much of his rookie year in the G League. I’d be surprised to see him in college hoops next season.
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