UK title hopes could depend on which Terrence Jones shows up

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A lot of Division I players have come out of Jefferson High School in north Portland, Oregon, but Terrence Jones has all the tools to be the best of them. Jones led the school to three consecutive State titles, was ranked amongst the nation’s top-10 prep prospects by both Scout and ESPN, and played in the 2010 McDonald’s All-American game.

In his first college game he had Kentucky fans salivating over his 25 point, 12 rebound performance. The former high school point guard (as a freshman) displayed a skill set uncommon in his players his size. He could score from anywhere. He could handle the ball. He could defend and rebound. He displayed surprising footwork for a player not used to the post, and could finish over either shoulder.

But as the season wore on, his game displayed some cracks.

He failed to consistently play strong, and instead opted to avoid contact. His deep jumper suddenly didn’t look like a very good option. And most importantly, he regularly lost both his focus and his emotional control. And as a player who openly shows how he’s feeling, everyone in the building noticed. It didn’t help when his own coach exploded on him during a January game.

Still, as a freshman, he led the Wildcats in rebounding and finished 2nd in scoring with 15.7 points per game.

After he withdrew from the 2011 NBA draft and elected to return to Kentucky, it was expected that his role would diminish. After all, Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were on board to shoulder portions of the load.

Everything started just fine. Kentucky raced to an 8-0 start with a few impressive wins. Jones was playing well. His teammates were jelling. And then came Indiana.

Jones only scored 4 points and had 6 turnovers in the Kentucky loss. And in the next game he was scoreless in 10 minutes before suffering a gruesome pinky injury. When he returned, he only averaged 7 points a game as Kentucky wrapped up their out of conference schedule. The Kentucky lineup was still fear inducing, but without Jones playing well they looked vulnerable.

But then, once again, things began to click.  He had 20 against South Carolina. 27 points and 9 boards against LSU. He had a double-double against Ole Miss, another against LSU, and a 3rd in their SEC final loss to Vanderbilt (when Darius Miller and Doron Lamb combined to go 3-16 from beyond the arc). He opened this tournament with a 22 point, 10 rebound performance, and seemed to be playing at a very high level.

But then he only had 8 points while fouling out against Iowa State. He had a decent 12 point game against Indiana and then 12 points, 9 boards and 6 assists against Baylor.

It’s probably unfair to monitor him on a game to game basis, but as a player he’s proven that he needs that level of scrutiny. He might be surrounded by first round draft picks, but four of them are freshmen. He’s only a sophomore, but on this team that makes him a veteran. And Kentucky could very well need that leadership to survive this weekend. He’s got the talent. He’s got the game. Now he just needs to play focused, under control, and ready to win the battle on the next possession.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.