The biggest "stay or go" NBA Draft decisions - and what they mean for college hoops next year
While it's off the radars of most people, it is actually a legitimately busy week in the NBA Draft world. Which means that in turn, it's also a busy week in college basketball circles.
That's because, following the lottery last night, the NBA Draft Combine begins today - and will serve as an important 72-hour window for both the future of the NBA and college hoops. While the true stars of this draft (Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith) likely won't likely do much more than interview this week in Chicago, just about everyone else is here to improve their draft stock.
Because of it, it's also a very important week for college basketball. Have a good week here, and many players that are still on the fence about returning to college, will have the boost they need to stay in the draft. However, bad performances here have convinced other players to return to school for another year, like Johnny Juzang and Hunter Dickinson a year ago.
So while NBA fans watch for who's next, college fans will be tuned in too, to try and get a better idea of who could possibly return to college hoops next season.
Here are the biggest stay and go decisions that remain - and what I project to happen.
Shaedon Sharpe, G, Kentucky
For those who don't know Sharpe's background it's fascinating, as he was the No. 1 ranked high school player in the class of 2022, who elected to reclassify and enroll this season at Kentucky. After never playing a minute for Kentucky, he was deemed eligible for the draft, and - as a projected Top 10 pick - he will almost certainly never play a minute for Kentucky.
Still, by technicality, Sharpe hasn't ruled out a return to Kentucky, and if that somehow happened, it would immediately vault the Wildcats into the short conversation as a Top 3 team in 2022-2023. Sharpe would enter next season as the potential No. 1 pick in 2023, and team with the reigning National Player of the Year in Oscar Tshiebwe for the most formidable, inside-outside game in the country.
But while there was some brief buzz that Sharpe really just might return (I had heard that the family wasn't sold he was ready for the pros) it just doesn't seem all that realistic. Barring something shocking, Kentucky's biggest recruiting win in a few years, will never end up playing a second for the Wildcats.
Prediction: Stays in the NBA Draft
Dalen Terry, G, Arizona
Because most people don't watch Pac-12 basketball, they will look at Terry's stats this season - eight points, five rebounds, three assists per game - and automatically default to the idea that he'll return.
But there's a reason the phrase, "lies, damn lies and statistics" exists.
The bottom-line is that Terry played well above those stats especially late in the season when point guard Kerr Kriisa went out with injury, including 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the Pac-12 title game against UCLA, and was one of the few players who didn't look overwhelmed by Houston in the Sweet 16 scoring 17 points.
More importantly, Terry has NBA size at 6'7, measurables and athleticism, and he is the exact kind of player who could thrive in a setting just like this.
I'm not totally sure Terry tested the waters intending on staying in (he went through spring workouts with teammates in Tucson), but think he'll have a tough decision to make by the end of the week.
On the other hand, if knows he's not ready, there is a good recent example at Arizona of what coming back and dominating college hoops can do for your profile. Just look at his former teammate Ben Mathurin.
This tweet definitely caught the attention of Arizona fans on Tuesday night, but I'm sure if it means all that much.
I'm going to guess that he goes, only because I expect him to have a good week in Chicago. But this one truly feels up in the air.
Prediction: Stays in the NBA Draft
Drew Timme, F, Gonzaga; Julian Strawther, F, Gonzaga
While all the focus from Gonzaga's perspective is on multiple-time All-American Drew Timme's decision (he averaged 18 points and seven rebounds this year), it's worth noting that his teammate, Julian Strawther, might be the better long-term NBA prospect.
Strawther is a big guard who averaged just under 12 points per game this year and shot just under 37 percent from three. Yet he was marred by inconsistency, playing maybe his best game of the year against Duke (20 points), while also having plenty of forgettable performances as well. That included just three points in an opening round NCAA Tournament win against Georgia State.
Still, at the end of the day, it just doesn't seem like either guy is much of a threat to go pro.
In Timme's case, his game is much more suited to be a college star, as an undersized five, who isn't particularly athletic - and should he stay in the draft, he might not get selected at all. Add in the fact that he's got big-time NIL money coming in as both a spokesman for Dollar Shave Club (how perfect) and a local casino and there is probably more money for him to be made as a college basketball player than a pro next year.
Strawther too seems to be testing more for feedback than with the intent to stay in, and going into the week, it'd be somewhat shocking to see him decide to actually stay in the draft.
Things can change, and if they do, it lowers Gonzaga's ceiling significantly (especially if Timme decides to stay in). But for right now, it feels like the intent is for both to return to Spokane.
Prediction: Both Timme and Strawther return to college
Jaylin Williams, F, Arkansas
Williams went from key role player on an Elite Eight team in 2021, to the heart and soul of another Hogs team that went to a second straight Elite Eight this March. He averaged right around a double-double per game, and was a menace on the defensive end of the court, where his ability to draw charges won over the hearts of Hogs fans, all while infuriating 13 other SEC fan-bases.
What some failed to realize though was that in the process, he turned into a legitimate NBA Draft prospect as well.
Williams will never be the face of a franchise, but his size, athleticism, quickness and smarts make him a player who could play in the league for a long time. Every NBA team is looking for selfless big guys who hustle, play hard and don't need plays run for them to be aggressive on the offensive end.
Add in that Arkansas added four big men in the portal this off-season, and that the Hogs are at their 13 scholarship limit, and it doesn't feel like Williams will be returning to Fayetteville this fall.
His potential loss doesn't impact how I feel about the Hogs as a potential title contender - but a return would only strengthen their case as the preseason No. 1 team.
Prediction: Stays in the NBA Draft
Marcus Sasser, G, Houston
This one got interesting over the previous few days.
A 6'1 guard, Sasser was a star of Houston's Final Four run two years ago, who spent most of this season out with an injury. His entry into the NBA Draft process seemed to simply be about going through the process to get feedback for the future, and his expected return to Houston was a big reason why many have the Cougars as a preseason Top 5 team in 2022-2023.
But then a funny thing happened: Sasser showed up to Monday's G-League Elite camp (an event designed more for fringe NBA Draft prospects) and balled out. He had 23 points in a scrimmage and was deemed one of the most impressive players there.
So now the question becomes what's next for Sasser.
On the one hand, he could return to Houston, where he would be the face and star of another potential Final Four team. While NIL details are always murky, he already has some details in place, and my hunch is, would be taken care of accordingly.
On the other, he'll be 22-years-old at the start of next season and is coming off a foot injury that cost him a big chunk of this year. It might be risky for him to return. Should he elect to go pro, the Cougars would again be good (they just went to an Elite Eight without him) but would probably lack the go-to player needed to win it all.
Truthfully, this is one where we should get a clearer picture by the end of the week. Sasser appears to be taking the process seriously, and if he really is moving up draft boards, I'd expect him to go.
The question is - just how big of a move has he made? Until then, I'll stick with him returning to school.
Prediction: Returns to school
Jalen Wilson F, Kansas; Christian Braun, G, Kansas
Another player who helped himself immensely at Monday's G-League Elite camp was Wilson, a key cog on Kansas' national title winning team. He is one of two Jayhawks testing the waters, along with guard Christian Braun.
What's ironic about what happened Monday is that Braun has long been considered the better prospect, as an athletic 6'6 guard who averaged 14.5 points on 39 percent three-point shooting. Considering that many have him projected as a late first round pick, it has long been assumed that he will stay in the draft. Wilson was more of a throwaway "just getting feedback" guy, but now that dynamic has changed.
The question now is, what's next?
With both back, Kansas is again in the Top 10 to start the season, and maybe Top 5 depending on what happens in the portal (they recently picked up a crystal ball for former Texas Tech guard Kevin McCullar). With both gone, the Jayhawks would be thin and young, and need to be super aggressive in the portal. Beyond that, there are also looming NCAA sanctions, which could knock them out of the 2022 postseason (although I'll believe that when I see it).
Still, I'm going to go a little off the grid here and project that they both actually... return. Braun is again a fringe first round pick, but he was also very much a complimentary player this past season. I think he can be sold on the success of Ocahi Agbagi this season, who turned into an All-American and saw his draft stock improve in the process. Wilson is still nowhere near a first round pick, and with NIL money flowing, I've got to imagine he returns as well.
I could be totally wrong. And if I am, it totally changes the outlook of the reigning champs. But for now, I'll say they both come back
Prediction: Both Braun and Wilson return to college
Trayce Jackson-Davis, F, Indiana
As the old saying goes: Find you someone who loves you, like Trayce Jackson-Davis loves Indiana!
The former Indiana High School Player of the Year didn't even test the waters following a solid freshman year, then briefly considered leaving following last season, before returning to play for Mike Woodson. Now, after a season in which he averaged 18 points and eight rebounds, he is testing the waters, although it seems unlikely that he leaves.
Look, I could go on and on here, but Jackson-Davis is a 6'9 forward who mostly plays within 10-feet of the basket (he attempted just three, three-pointers this season). And as the star of a huge college basketball brand, seems set to make a killing on NIL. He also seems to genuinely love college and playing for Mike Woodson.
When you add in the fact that his draft stock is tenuous at best, I full expect him to return to school.
And if he does, Indiana - yes, Indiana - might be the favorites in the Big Ten.
Prediction: Returns to school
Caleb Houstan, F, Michigan; Moussa Diabate, F/C, Michigan
The only team that could likely surpass Indiana as the Big Ten favorite at this point if Trayce Jackson-Davis returns? Well, that'd be Michigan - depending on what happens with their NBA Draft "stay or go" decisions.
The Wolverines did get good news with the return of All-American Hunter Dickinson, who averaged 19 and nine last season - but now await two players who recently completed their freshman seasons in Caleb Houstan and Moussa Diabate.
Houston was the better of the two players, as a projected one-and-done player, who struggled early, but finished the season averaging 10 points per game on 36 percent three-point shooting. And in an interesting twist, the 6'7 forward was one of only two players invited to the combine this week who declined to play, which has fueled speculation that he has a guarantee from some team coming into the week.
Diabate is a different deal all together, as a 6'11 forward, who had a relatively quiet season, but also has NBA size, length and shot blocking ability. While he's far from a first round lock (I'm not even sure he's a lock to be picked at all), he will have to weigh another factor that few on this list do: A path to playing time, as he and Dickinson are largely complimentary players in Ann Arbor.
Still, my guess is that Diabate does elect to come back to school for at least one more season. I'm not nearly as sold on Houstan.
Prediction: Houstan stays in the draft; Diabate returns to school
Trevor Keels, G, Duke
Keels is of course a player who burst onto the scene with a 22-point performance for the Blue Devils in the season opener last year against Kentucky, only to basically flat line from there. He finished the year averaging 11 points per game, but also shot just 31 percent from three and really did little to make his teammates better.
Now, he has a tough decision to make.
Nothing from his freshman year really indicated that he is ready to be a pro, but with another No. 1 recruiting class headed to Durham, it's not as though there is a clear path to be the "guy" or even a starter, like there are at some places. Yeah, Keels will get his minutes and shots, but he will also have to do it in a crowded backcourt with returnee Jeremy Roach and freshman Dariq Whitehead.
From a Duke perspective, this is good news, as Keels feels like a cherry on top of next year's sundae, more than a necessity. But it also leaves the kid in a tough situation.
Prediction: Stays in the draft
Patrick Baldwin, F, Milwaukee; Matthew Mayer, F, Baylor
It seems odd to pair these two together to end this article, but I went ahead and did it for one simple reason: Both are big, stretch fours, who largely do the same thing. Baldwin has a little bit more upside, and Mayer is a little bit more proven, especially behind the three-point arc.
Still, that doesn't explain why I put them together.: The reason I put these two together is for this - North Carolina returns four starters from last year's NCAA Tourney runner up. The one spot they're missing though is at the stretch four, and it appears as though the fan-base (and probably internally, the coaching staff too) has targeted these two as the guys they want.
To be clear, there's no retroactive tampering. Both entered the portal before the May 1 deadline, although each seems intent on staying in the draft. My guess is that Baldwin - as a younger, former five-star recruit - is more likely to do so, as a guy who could probably still hear his name called even after a forgettable season.
Mayer is much more in the air, but if he returns to school, will be the apple of many team's eyes - most notably the Tar Heels.
Prediction: Baldwin stays in the draft; Mayer returns to college
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