College basketball’s most influential remaining NBA draft decisions
Now that R.J. Hampton has officially decided that he will not be attending college next season, here are the 16 most influential decisions left to be made.
1. WILL THEY STAY OR WILL THEY ... TRANSFER?
The biggest name on this list is Kerry Blackshear Jr. The 6-foot-10, 250 pound Blackshear averaged 14.9 points, 7.5 boards and 2.4 assists for a Virginia Tech team that played at one of the slowest paces in college basketball last season. He’s a bully in the paint, he has the ability to step out on the perimeter and beat players off the dribble and he was a 33 percent three-point shooter this past season. He has not yet committed anywhere, but he has declared for the NBA draft. If he opts to return to school, he’ll likely end up being a preseason All-American, wherever he ends up.
The other interesting name here is Rayjon Tucker. He’s a grad transfer from Arkansas-Little Rock that has already committed to Memphis, but he is also a legitimate NBA prospect given his size (6-foot-5), ridiculous athleticism and ability to shoot (41% from three) and score (20.3 ppg). He is incredibly important to Memphis because, as much talent as Penny Hardaway has amassed, he does not have any experience on his roster to speak of. Tucker won’t be the best prospect on that Memphis team, but even with James Wiseman in the fold, there’s an argument to be made that he could end up being the team’s best player next season.
There are also a few other grad transfers that need to be monitored. For starters, former USC point guard Derryck Thornton Jr. -- who was, at one time, a five-star prospect and a Duke player -- is visiting Gonzaga this week and could fill the hole they have at the lead guard spot, while UNLV big man Shakur Juiston will be an impact player wherever he ends up.
2. DEVON DOTSON and QUENTIN GRIMES, Kansas
With the news that Hampton will not be enrolling at Kansas, Bill Self’s season may not hinge on whether or not he gets last year’s two five-star freshmen back. Neither seem likely to be first round picks this year, and without the competition for lead guard minutes that Hampton would have provided, Dotson seems the more likely of the two to return. Grimes never found his footing with the Jayhawks last season, and there has been some speculation that if he withdraws from the draft he could also end up transferring out of the program.
3. ANTHONY COWAN JR., Maryland
The Terps have a chance to be a preseason top ten team next season. Their sophomore class is absolutely loaded, and the return of Jalen Smith will give them one of the most talented big men in the Big Ten. But Cowan is the straw that stirs their drink, and if he keeps his name in the draft, Mark Turgeon will have a roster full of talent that is missing their leader and star point guard.
4. MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall
The Pirates return essentially everyone from a team that made the NCAA tournament last season, and they have a chance to compete with Villanova and Xavier for a Big East title next season if they get Powell -- who averaged 23.1 points and is one of the most explosive scorers in the country -- back.
5. JORDAN NWORA and STEVE ENOCH, Louisville
Nwora is a bigger deal here than Enoch. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team, and perhaps top five. He plays a very important role in Chris Mack’s offense.
6. E.J. MONTGOMERY and NICK RICHARDS, Kentucky
John Calipari not only brought in Bucknell grad transfer Nate Sestina to help shore up his frontcourt, but most believe that Kentucky is the leader to land Blackshear if he does opt to return to college. That should tell you how comfortable he feels about his frontcourt, and if he loses Montgomery and/or Richards -- neither or whom are expected to be a first or even an early second round pick -- then the Wildcats will be looking at having a small and thin front line.
7. JARED HARPER, Auburn
Auburn already has lost Chuma Okeke, who will be keeping his name in the NBA draft, and there seems to be a very real chance that they lose Harper as well. He was impressive at the G League Elite Camp and earned himself an invite to the NBA combine. Like Cowan, he is the head of the snake for the Tigers, and would arguably be the best point guard in the SEC if he opted to return to school.
8. MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia
Diakite is not going to be a name that pops for a lot of people, but he is such an important piece for Virginia next season. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.
9. KALEB WESSON, Ohio State
The Buckeyes look like they are going to end up being a top 20 team next season, but that is assuming that Wesson makes the decision to return to Columbus. He’s the anchor that Chris Holtmann would run his offense around, and the 6-foot-9, 270 pound sophomore has a chance to be a first-team All-Big Ten player next year.
10. JORDAN BONE, Tennessee
Bone will be one of the best point guards in college basketball if he opts to return to school, and with Grant Williams following Admiral Schofield out the door, the Vols need all the experience that they can get. That said, with Lamonte Turner in the fold, there is some backcourt experience for Rick Barnes to rely on if Bone opts to make the jump.
11. KILLIAN TILLIE, Gonzaga
The Zags desperately need Tillie back. Not only have they lost Josh Perkins to graduation, but Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Zach Norvell Jr. are all keeping their names in the draft. If Tillie returns, he will be a focal point offensively and likely the best player on a Gonzaga team that should start the season in the top 15.
12. PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon
The Ducks are going to take a major hit with Kenny Wooten and Louis King staying in the draft. It could end up being full-on rebuilding mode in Eugene if Payton Pritchard follows them out the door.
13. NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State
The Aggies are likely going to be one of the best teams in the country outside of the top seven leagues whether or not the 6-foot-11 Queta returns for his sophomore season, but if they want to build on last year’s Mountain West title and tournament trip, it will certainly help getting their defensive anchor back.
14. NIC CLAXTON, Georgia
Claxton is quietly one of the more talented players in the SEC, and if he opts to return for his sophomore season, he’ll join top five recruit Anthony Edwards in giving Tom Crean one of the better 1-2 punches in the SEC.
15. REGGIE PERRY, Mississippi State
Perry was a five-star freshman this past season that showed flashes of being really, really promising. If he returns to Starkville, he’ll he an anchor for Ben Howland and give the Bulldogs a real shot at remaining a top 25 team.
16. AMIR COFFEY, Minnesota
The Golden Gophers lose Jordan Murphy, but with a talented freshman class returning and Marcus Carr getting eligible, Minnesota has a chance to sneak up on some people next season if Coffey -- a 6-foot-6 wing that was forced to play plenty of minutes at the point as a junior -- comes back.