The NBA says that 181 college underclassmen entered this year’s draft. Of those players, 102 withdrew their names by the NCAA’s May 30 deadline. That included PJ Washington, who decided to return to Kentucky.
So that left 79 underclassmen joining college seniors and 12 international players among those in the pool of prospects eligible to be drafted.
With Thursday’s NBA Draft consisting of only 60 picks, you don’t have to be Pythagoras to figure out that some players will not be picked. Disappointment will be part of the hoopla (pun intended), and second-guessers will be busy.
Which leads us to former UK players Wenyen Gabriel, Jarred Vanderbilt and maybe Hamidou Diallo. Each decided to stay in the draft despite the widely-held view that the guaranteed contracts that go with first-round selections are not in the offing.
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When asked recently about Gabriel and Vanderbilt staying in the draft, UK Coach John Calipari spoke of how he wants all his players to make informed decisions and then be prepared to accept the consequences.
“At the end of the day, they know the pitfalls,” Calipari said. “They know the opportunity. ... This process is geared for them to make decisions, and in the end live with it. You have to live with the decision you’ve made and you were given every opportunity to thoroughly explore it. ... I think they’ll both do well. But it’s not going to be an easy road for any of them. It’s hard.”
NBA consultant Ryan Blake pointed out that players can get information from multiple sources. One such source is the college coach, although Calipari minimized his input. “Jarred called me once or twice,” he said. “And I was able to talk to him. Wenyen hit me once.”
Players typically have “advisers” guiding them through the process, Blake said. Then there’s the NBA’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee, which since 1997 is made up of front office personnel who give players a range of where to expect to be drafted.
But Bobby Marks, a former assistant general manager of the Nets and now ESPN’s NBA Front Office Insider, pointed out a problem. Draft decisions are fluid, not set in stone.
“What teams tell you in April is probably a lot different from where they are right now with certain players,” Marks said last week. He used UK’s leading scorer last season, Kevin Knox, to make the point. Knox was in the 15-to-20 range of the first round in April, Marks said, and now could be projected anywhere from eight to 15.
In contrast to Gabriel and Vanderbilt, Jontay Porter decided to withdraw from the draft and return to Missouri despite a productive freshman season (9.9 points per game, 6.8 rebounds, 36.4-percent accuracy on three-point shots).
“A very intelligent young man,” Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He processes everything. He evaluates. ... I applaud him for taking time to make the decision based on what’s best for him.”
Even if, say, Gabriel and Vanderbilt are not drafted, their decisions to stay in the draft could also be applauded ... eventually. Both Blake and Marks said that more than ever the NBA’s developmental G League is a viable option for players.
“Getting drafted in the first round is not the ultimate goal anymore,” Marks said. If viewed as having long-term potential, a player like Gabriel could go undrafted and then sign a so-called two-way contract, Marks said. In this scenario, Gabriel could get a $75,000 base salary, and if he maxed out on the allowable 45-day time on an NBA roster, that would mean $300,000 or more, Marks said. And it could be a springboard to an NBA career.
As for Vanderbilt, injuries limited his freshman season to 14 games. Marks labeled him a project.
“If he did go back to school, he’d probably be a first-round pick next year,” Marks said before adding, “but that’s a big ‘if.’ That ability to stay healthy.”
Whatever happens Thursday, Blake suggested that it would be wise to be cautious about second-guessing any player’s decision to forfeit his remaining college eligibility. He likened the NBA Draft to a tantalizing dessert that some players cannot resist. Ultimately, maybe after a stint in the G League or playing overseas, a player can have his dessert.
“Sometimes you go when the cake is ready,” Blake said. “But you may not get to eat it. ‘I have my fork.’ But you may have to eat some vegetables first.”
Noting the draft
A few notes heading into Thursday’s NBA Draft:
▪ Since John Calipari became coach in 2009-10, Kentucky has had 31 players drafted. Of those, 24 were first-round picks, 17 were lottery picks and 21 were freshmen taken in the first round.
▪ Michael Porter Jr. can become the first player from Missouri selected among the top-10 picks since Keyon Dooling was drafted 10th by the Orlando Magic in 2000. The last player from Missouri to go in the first round was DeMarre Carroll, who was the 27th pick in 2009.
▪ Collin Sexton can become the first Alabama player selected in the first round since Gerald Wallace in 2001. Alabama has not had a player selected in the top 10 since Antonio McDyess went second in 1995.
▪ Of the 60 players who were drafted last year, 33 spent time in the NBA G League during the 2017-18 season. That included 13 first-round selections. The range on draft picks who played in the G League went from the No. 6 pick (Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic) to the 59th pick (Jaron Blossomgame, San Antonio Spurs).
Service for C.M.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer and NCAA Senior Vice President for Basketball Dan Gavitt were among the many who attended Thursday’s funeral for C.M. Newton.
Others who traveled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the service included UK Coach John Calipari, Deputy Director of Athletics DeWayne Peevy, Associate A.D. for Basketball Operations Chris Woolard and Lexington businessman Jim Host.
Players from Newton’s coaching days at Transylvania, Alabama and Vanderbilt also attended the service.
Newton, who played for Kentucky and later became the school’s director of athletics, died on June 4 at age 88.
Alabama will name a scholarship in honor of the late C.M. Newton, the school announced Monday.
The C.M. Newton Memorial Scholarship will go to one of the 13 men’s basketball players on scholarship. Newton coached the Crimson Tide teams from 1968 to 1980.
“We wanted to find another way to have Coach Newton’s legacy live on at The University of Alabama,” Director of Athletics (and former UK staffer) Greg Byrne said in a news release. “After consulting with the Newton family, we decided that endowing a scholarship to benefit a men’s basketball student-athlete in his honor would be a fitting tribute to a man who has meant so much to this program and our university. Coach Newton’s impact is something that will never be forgotten. And this scholarship is just another way for us to recognize his contributions.”
Alabama Coach Avery Johnson welcomed the memorial scholarship as “a terrific way to honor a person who meant so much to so many,” he said in the news release. “Coach Newton opened doors for people who may not have otherwise had an opportunity. And this endowment will ensure that his legacy will continue to carry on in the way he lived his life.”
Donations to the C.M. Newton Memorial Scholarship can be made online at Rolltide.com, Alabama's athletics website.
Donations can also be made by calling 205-348-9727 or by check made out to Crimson Tide Foundation, noting the C.M. Newton Memorial Scholarship, and sent to Box 870343, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487.
Team USA tryouts
Former UK player Aaron Harrison is among 14 players selected to participate in a training camp designed to form a 12-man USA team that will play in the FIBA World Cup qualifying games this summer.
The camp will be June 20-26 in Houston. The USA team will play Mexico on June 28 in Mexico City and Cuba on July 1 in Havana.
Harrison most recently played for the Sacramento Kings' G League team, which has since been relocated from Reno, Nev., to Stockton, Calif.
Other familiar names participating in the camp are former Texas A&M player Alex Caruso (South Bay Lakers) and ex-Duke player Amile Jefferson (Iowa Wolves).
Former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy will be the USA coach.
Belated happy birthday
To LaVon Williams. He turned 60 on June 10.
To Gimel Martinez. He turned 47 on Thursday. ... To Tim Stephens. He turned 60 on Saturday. ... To Immanuel Quickley. He turns 19 on Sunday (today). ... To Joe Crawford. He turns 32 on Sunday (today). ... To former NBA coach Del Harris. He turns 81 on Monday.