The bond between Rick Byrd and Casey Alexander crosses rivalry lines

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There may not be a rivalry in all of college basketball more unique than the Battle of the Boulevard, which pits Belmont against Lipscomb, two schools that are located all of 2.7 miles apart on Belmont Boulevard in Nashville, TN.

It dates back to 1953, and over the course of the last 60 years, the two programs have squared off more than 130 times despite the fact that there was a seven-year hiatus in the late-’90s and early-’00s. But to get an idea of just what this rivalry means to Bruin and Bison fans, all you need to know is the story of their matchup on Feb. 17th, 1990.

At the time, Lipscomb was a powerhouse in the NAIA, winning national titles and helping Don Meyer collect 665 of his 923 career wins. In 1989, they were 38-1 heading into the league tournament when an upstart Belmont program, coached by Rick Byrd, upset the Bisons and kept them out of the NAIA national tournament. The following season, with both programs sitting in the top five of the NAIA rankings with a combined record of 27-1, Belmont was asked to move their home game to Memorial Gym on Vanderbilt’s campus because of the demand for tickets.

15,399 fans packed inside Memorial Gym. More than 16,000 tickets were sold. The fire marshall shut the doors, banning ticket holders from entering.

All for a regular season NAIA game.

That attendance number is still a record.

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Casey Alexander was at that game at Memorial Gym. He was a senior in high school, and one of his teammates was already committed to Belmont. They had a game that night, but hopped in a car immediately after the buzzer sounds — still in their uniforms — and caught the final seven minutes of the 124-107 Lipscomb win.

Alexander would eventually commit to Belmont as well. He played for four years, lettering in each season, before becoming a member of Byrd’s staff upon graduation. He became the associate head coach in 2002 and had completed a full two decades as a member of the Belmont program before taking over as head coach at Stetson prior to the 2011-2012 season.

He’s a member of the Belmont Hall of Fame, and even played a pivotal role in what ended up being the most important move as a basketball program.

“Casey played a large role in our move from the NAIA to Division I,” Byrd said by phone on Sunday afternoon, “I’ve said it often that he pulled me and pushed me into that era. We had a good thing, and I was pretty happy coaching from October to March and getting to play golf in the summer. You can’t do that as easily in Division I.”

Outside of Byrd, there is no one that is more Belmont more than Alexander.

So you can imagine the reaction on Sunday when Alexander was officially named the new head coach at Lipscomb.

“I can’t tell you how good it feels to be home at Lipscomb,” Alexander said. “That’s the way that I feel and the way that I’m approaching this mission.”

“He contacted me very early on about the job and said he was interested,” Philip Hutcheson, Lipscomb’s athletic director and a former all-american for the Bisons, said with a laugh. “I kind of thought to myself, ‘Well, I don’t know’ as I was thinking about his resume a little bit. I thought this’ll be interesting.”

Steve Wojciechowski played for four seasons at Duke, winning ACC titles and earning accolades like Honorable Mention All-America and National Defensive Player of the Year, before joining the Duke staff two years after graduating. Since then, he’s become the associate head coach, been on staff for two runs to the national title and emerged as a contender to replace Mike Krzyzewski if and when he finally decides to retire.

Now imagine if Wojo was named Roy Williams’ replacement as head coach at North Carolina.

For the folks around Belmont and Lipscomb, that’s the kind of surprise that this hire has elicited.

“[They] were very similar players,” Byrd said. “Casey was an NAIA player, he couldn’t have done at Duke what Wojciechowski did, but their roles as leaders and tough little guards were very, very similar.”

“I’m sure Casey was pretty easy to dislike from the Lipscomb point of view.”

What would college-aged Casey have said had you told him he’d be coaching Lipscomb in 2013?

“I think he would have been as much in shock as most people were when they heard he’s going to be now. It’s just unusual,” Byrd said with a laugh.

And that’s what makes this rivalry so unique. Lipscomb may have hesitated in hiring Alexander — their coaching search went on for 40 days — but they ended up bringing in a guy that was probably the best fit for their program.

It’s inarguable that the Bruins have overshadowed the Bisons in recent years. They’ve been to six NCAA tournaments in the past eight seasons. They won the Atlantic Sun regular season title in five of their last seven years in the league (finishing second the other two) before getting an invitation to the stronger Ohio Valley Conference prior to last season. The Bruins won the OVC last year as well.

Lipscomb? Well, they made the 2006 NIT and lost in the first round.

No one knows the ins-and-outs of Belmont’s blueprint for success like Alexander. In a city where sports are secondary to music and food, college basketball isn’t the most important sport, and there are already two nationally relevant college hoops teams, a mid-major program like Lipscomb needs to think outside the box when making a hire.

That’s precisely what they did.

If you can’t beat ’em and you can’t join ’em, you might as well try to replicate ’em. And in all actuality, the similarity between the two programs is one of the things that attracted Alexander to the job.

“The truth is all that I liked about Belmont is the reason that I wanted to be at Lipscomb,” Alexander said. “They’re very similar. I think we can do the same things. I think I can be myself, I can coach the way that I want and I can coach the kind of people that I want. There aren’t that many places that are like that. It’s a pretty unique environment and it’s the one that I wanted to be in.”

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When Alexander stepped to the podium at his introductory press conference, the first people he recognized and thanked were his family. His wife, his kids, his parents, his in-laws. Everyone. And after thanking his new bosses and recognizing those that gave him this opportunity, Alexander proceeded to thank the man that set him on this career path.

“Outside of those that share [my DNA], there’s not one person anywhere that’s made me more the man I am today than Rick Byrd,” Alexander said, while choking up. Byrd crossed enemy lines to attend and support his former player and assistant coach. There are few coaches in the country that are as universally respected as Byrd is, and one of the reasons for that is his unconditional support for former members of the program. It doesn’t matter why someone wants to leave or where they want to go, Byrd is going to help them follow through.

Even if it means watching one of his protégés take over his program’s biggest rival.

“When I first started talking to him about this job,” Alexander said, “you can imagine it was probably like a lot of you, a lot of raised eyebrows and so forth. But it took one conversation, literally, for him to forget where it was and who it was. Because all he cares about is what’s best for the people that he has worked with.”

The way Alexander tells it, playing Belmont as the coach at Lipscomb will be easier for him than playing Belmont during his first season at Stetson. It was the first basketball season since he was in high school that he wasn’t a member of the Bruins in one form or another, and he had literally recruited every player on the Bruin team.

It’s a tough sell, however; Alexander’s very first game on the Lipscomb sideline will come against Belmont.

For Byrd, having Alexander on the opposite bench will actually make the rivalry more tolerable.

“People that know me know that I haven’t really enjoyed the rivalry,” Byrd said. “It’s hard to enjoy it because it means so much to people on our side and their side.”

“But I really think with Casey there it’s almost going to be easier for me. I like to compete and coach against guys that I think have the kind of class that Casey has. Those are the people I respect. I don’t like to lose to anybody, but I’d much rather lose to folks that I think are going about it in a proper way.”

Byrd can be confident that Alexander will be one of those people.

That’s what he spent 20 years teaching Alexander to do.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Report: Oregon’s Bigby-Williams played last season while under investigation for alleged sexual assault

AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Chris Pietsch
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An Oregon junior played all of the 2017-18 season while under investigation for alleged sexual assault, according to a report from The Daily Emerald.

Kavell Bigby-Williams was accused of sexually assaulting a female in mid-September and has been under investigation since Sept. 19, according to the report. The report states that Oregon coach Dana Altman “athletic director Rob Mullens, and other athletic department staffers were aware UOPD requested Bigby-Williams’ contact information, but nobody asked why UOPD wanted to speak to him or the nature of the case,” citing an athletic department spokesperson.

Bigby-Williams announced via social media Tuesday that he would transfer to LSU.

The news of the investigation is particularly noteworthy because Altman and Oregon came under intense scrutiny in 2014 when it became known that three players – Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Brandon Austin – played in the NCAA tournament while under investigation for sexual assault. Charges against the three were ultimately dismissed.

NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster revisited the incident this past March in a column while the Ducks made their first Final Four in over 70 years, pronouncing that Altman should have lost his job over it.

The 6-foot-11, 230-pound Bigby-Williams played in all but two of Oregon’s games last season, including each of their NCAA tournament games, averaging 3 points and 2.8 rebounds in 9.8 minutes per game.

“I don’t believe Rick Pitino knew,” Boeheim says of Louisville scandal

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There’s not a lot of certainty in this world, but one of the closest things to it is college basketball coaches publicly coming to the defense of their embroiled colleagues. On Wednesday, it was Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim coming to the defense of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, whose program may be forced to vacate 108 wins and a national title due to its escort scandal.

Pitino’s refrain – one the NCAA has explicitly barred as an excuse – is that he knew nothing of the illicit activities that have gotten the Cardinals in trouble. Boeheim believes him.

“Obviously, when somebody does something like that there is going to be repercussions,” Boeheim told 104.5 FM in Albany, “and I don’t believe Rick Pitino knew about it but it still happened .. I didn’t know about somebody putting quotations in a paper at Syracuse but it happened.

“So, you know we’re going to take the hits for it. We took our hits, you know Louisville is taking their hits. I don’t like it, and there’s not much you can do about it.”

Of course, whether or not Pitino knew about it doesn’t really matter from the NCAA’s perspective. Plausible deniability is not a defense.

Pitino, who plans to appeal the decision, was suspended for the first five games of the ACC season this year. It’s Louisville’s potentially vacated title, though, that would seem to be the biggest punishment, one Boeheim, who got with with NCAA penalties in 2014, disagrees with.

“You know nobody knew they were gonna be made ineligible,” he said, “and then they’re made ineligible what? 10 years later? Or  how many years later has it been, probably not 10 but 7. Then, you know, you take away games and I think that’s difficult. I think you have to punish schools but when you start taking games away I think it’s something I don’t have the solution for but I don’t like that particular part of the punishment.”

2017 NBA Draft Preview: Which potential lottery picks will be busts?

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Over the course of the last three weeks, we’ve been churning out NBA Draft Prospect Profiles of the best players in this loaded draft for the fellas at Pro Basketball Talk.

You can find them here:

You can also find the latest NBC Sports Mock Draft here.

Today, we’ll be going through some of the projected lottery picks to determine who from that group will be a bust in the NBA.

RELATED: Lottery Busts | First Round Values | Draft Sleepers

Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: To me, Jonathan Isaac may actually be the most interesting prospect in this draft simply because no one really knows quite what to expect from him.

What I mean is that every other player projected to go in the top ten is more or less a known quantity at this point. The projected top five picks all have all-star potential, either at the point (Fultz, Ball, Fox) or as a big wing with small-ball four potential (Jackson Tatum). Malik Monk is an undersized two with explosive scoring ability. Dennis Smith Jr.’s talent is outweighed only by the red flags that come along with him. Lauri Markkanen is a seven-footer that shoots it like Klay Thompson. Zach Collins, Donovan Mitchell, Luke Kennard. We basically know what their role is going to be at the next level.

What will Isaac be?

Well, that depends on who you ask.

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Let’s start with Isaac’s potential. He stands 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and the skills to play on the perimeter. He shot 34.8 percent from three, and his 78 percent free throw shooting makes it conceivable that is his floor as a shooter in the long-term, while blocking more than two shots per 40 minutes. There isn’t a pair of skills more valuable in the NBA these days than the ability to protect the rim and stretch the floor. That’s what makes Golden State’s lineup that features Kevin Durant and Draymond Green so difficult to deal with. Throw in Isaac’s ability to move his feet and play as a switchable, multi-positional defender, and what you have is a player with a floor that’s higher than your typical 6-foot-11, 205 pound project. What’s the worst case scenario, that he’s Andre Roberson but a couple of inches taller with the ability to make a three?

So why is he headlining this bust list?

Because of where he’s being projected in the draft.

It seems pretty clear at this point who the top five picks in this year’s draft are going to be — Fultz, Ball, Tatum, Jackson and Fox. Isaac appears to be a lock to go somewhere in the top ten with quite a few people projecting him to wind up as the No. 6 pick. NBA teams aren’t exactly expecting the No. 6 pick to turn into a franchise player, but anything less than a future starter with a shot to make a couple of all-star teams would be a disappointment with that pick, particularly in a year where the draft is as good as it is in 2017.

In theory, that’s what Isaac is, right? High floor with an incredibly high ceiling if it all comes together? I’m just not convinced there’s all that much of a chance that it “all comes together” for him. Perhaps the biggest concern with Isaac when it comes to his longterm development is whether or not he realizes just how good he has the potential to be. Part of the reason he wound up at Florida State is that he didn’t want to be in the spotlight that comes with playing at a school like Kentucky or Kansas. Part of the reason he played second-fiddle offensively to the likes of Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes is that he didn’t realize he could take over games at the college level.

You don’t have to do much projecting or guessing to see Isaac playing a role and doing it effectively in the NBA, but it would be disappointing if, with the sixth pick in this draft, Orlando ended up drafting a 6-foot-11 3-and-D forward that blocks shots, makes threes and plays on the perimeter on both ends of the floor that only turned into a role player.

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State: If the NBA were to draft strictly based on talent, I think that Dennis Smith Jr. would have a chance to be a top three pick in this year’s draft. He’s that good. He may be the best athlete in this draft in the back court despite battling through a torn ACL he suffered two summers ago. He can operate in pick-and-rolls. He has three-point range. He has NBA point guard size. He has the total package.

But he also played on an N.C. State team that had absolutely no business being as bad as they were last year. The Wolfpack went 15-17 overall and just 4-14 in the ACC despite having a roster that was talented enough to get them to the Sweet 16. (Yeah, I said it. And I meant it.) They were disappointing enough that head coach Mark Gottfried got fired with two weeks left in the regular season, something that just does not happen in college basketball. After N.C. State lost by 30 points to a mediocre Wake Forest team, a Wake Forest player told the media that, “We knew if we got up early on them, they was going to quit.”

Does that sound like the kind of player that you want to be the face of your franchise at the point?

Point guards are supposed to be leaders, an extension of the coach on the floor, or so goes the cliché. That becomes even more true at the college level, particularly when you’re dealing with a point guard that is so much more talented than the players around him.

Smith is good enough to put up 32 points and six assists in Cameron Indoor Stadium in a win over Duke, one of the best individual performances we saw all season long, but that still wasn’t enough to make the Wolfpack anything close to relevant at any point during the season.

Smith is going to be a lottery pick, meaning he is going to be drafted by a franchise that is going to be bad and relying on him to make them good again. That franchise might be the Knicks or the Kings. They’re going to be asking him to do what N.C. State asked him to do, and we all saw how that worked out.

What makes you believe it’s going to be different when he’s cashing those NBA paychecks?

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Malik Monk, Kentucky: The concerns about Malik Monk are really quite simple: There is a reason that 6-foot-3, 180 pound shooting guards aren’t all that common in the NBA. Regardless of what he’s able to do as a shooter or just how athletic he is, the simple fact of the matter is that Monk is too small for his ideal position at the next level.

But you wouldn’t know that based on where some believe he is going to end up being picked or the hype that he had throughout his freshman season with the Wildcats. Monk is too good of a scorer not to find a way to carve out a role in the league, whether it’s as J.R. Smith as a floor-spacer, an instant-offense player off the bench a la Lou Williams or a small scoring guard on a team with a point forward like Kyrie Irving. His ability to shoot is elite, and in a league that prioritizes shooting the way the NBA prioritizes shooting, that has value.

That that value can only be capitalized on if Monk winds up in a situation that allows him to play the way he needs to play.

Justin Patton, Creighton: There are some things about Justin Patton that I really like. He’s a good athlete, he runs the floor hard, he finds himself in a good spot to catch lobs, he knows how to work as the roll-man in ball-screen actions, he’s shown off some potential as a stretch-five with flashes of perimeter skill.

What concerns me about Patton is how much his effectiveness fell off once Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton’s point guard that was having an all-american season, went down with a torn ACL. When Patton was not on the floor with an elite playmaker, he struggled to impact the game. He averaged just 9.6 boards per 40 minutes — not a good number for a 7-footer in the Big East — and while he blocked a few shots, he was often late on rotations, if he recognized them at all. I think he lacks some toughness and physicality, and he certainly needs to improve his awareness, attention to detail defensively and some of those pesky fundamentals.

Put another way, Patton’s total package includes some intriguing skills, but I’m not sure those skills fit the role he’ll need to play to last at the next level.

Jarrett Allen, Texas: Allen may have the best physical tools in this year’s draft. He’s 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, hands that look like baseball mits and enough athleticism to do things like this:

There’s no reason that he can’t find a way to be Tristan Thompson … unless he just doesn’t love playing basketball. That is a concern that NBA decision-makers have regarding Allen, which is part of the reason that a player with all of the attributes that I listed earlier may end up getting picked in the late teens or early 20s.

2017 NBA Draft Preview: Who are the sleepers that could go undrafted?

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Over the course of the last three weeks, we’ve been churning out NBA Draft Prospect Profiles of the best players in this loaded draft for the fellas at Pro Basketball Talk.

You can find them here:

You can also find the latest NBC Sports Mock Draft here.

RELATED: Lottery Busts | First Round Values | Draft Sleepers

Today, we’ll be going through some of the draft’s sleepers, players that will be picked in the second round or go undrafted that should be able to carve out an NBA career.

Cameron Oliver, Nevada: Who is the next Draymond Green?

That’s what every NBA team is looking for, right? He’s the glue that holds Golden State’s small-ball assault on the league together. A 6-foot-6 forward that is as versatile offensively as he is on the defensive end of the floor. A play maker that can hit threes. A switchable defender that can protect the rim. A junkyard dog that is as tough and competitive as anyone in professional sports.

Let’s get this out of the way: There isn’t another Draymond Green coming. The combination of skills, physical tools and mentality that he has is as unique and as special as those possessed by the likes of Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook.

But that won’t stop teams from trying to find a guy that can fit that mold, and there may not be a better fit this year than Cameron Oliver. His physical tools are elite — he’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, a 40″ vertical and a chiseled, 240-pound frame. He’s also one of those guys that can protect the rim on one end of the floor while spacing the court on the other end; he blocked 2.6 shots per game while shooting 38 percent from three on just under five threes per game. On paper, that’s great.

So why is he looking at potentially being a late-second round pick?

For starters, his motor is not all that great. He had a habit of coasting through games in the Mountain West, and the fact that he still managed to average 16 points and 8.7 boards should give you an idea of his talent. He’s also a guy with some question marks about his basketball IQ. People haven’t forgotten another Mountain West product — former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett — that quickly.

The difference here is opportunity cost. There’s virtually no risk in snagging Oliver with a late-second round pick, and the upside is impressive.

Deonte Burton, Iowa State: Like Oliver, Burton is another multi-positional talent and freak athlete that has question marks about things that don’t involve basketball.

Let’s start with the good: Burton was, more or less, Iowa State’s Draymond Green. Playing on a team that barely had a big man to speak of, the 6-foot-5 Burton spent much of his senior season playing the five. He wasn’t bad, either, as he has a 7-foot wingspan at 6-foot-5, he’s a strong (albeit probably overweight) 265 pounds and he can protect the rim, blocking nearly two shots per 40 minutes. He runs hot and cold, but he’s a career 41 percent three-point shooter that put together some absolutely mesmerizing offensive performances this season.

There’s more: Burton was strong enough to hold his own against Caleb Swanigan in the post against Purdue in the NCAA tournament and is quick and athletic enough to switch out onto guards in pick-and-rolls … when he’s engaged. He’s a capable passer as well, and the fact that he’s left-handed certainly doesn’t hurt.

Now to the bad: Burton is not always engaged. His effort defensively and on the glass runs hot and cold, just like his jump shot. Remaining in shape has been a constant issue — he showed up to Portsmouth at 266 pounds! — and saying there are concerns about his unprofessional approach is probably the most diplomatic way to phrase it.

The issue isn’t Burton’s talent or his fit in the modern NBA. The issue is Burton himself. The potential is certainly there.

Deonte Burton (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Davon Reed, Miami: Reed is a 6-foot-6 wing with a 7-foot wingspan that shot nearly 40 percent from three as a senior — and 37 percent for his college career — while making the ACC all-defensive team. If that doesn’t scream 3-and-D potential, I don’t know what does. There is some concern about his ability to make contested jumpers and what he will be able to do off the dribble offensively — he has quick feet but he lacks explosiveness and burst — but his frame suggests he’ll be able to handle the physicality of the next level.

Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell capped a terrific senior season with a sensational NCAA tournament run. There’s not doubting what he can be as a defender at the next level given his size (6-foot-5, 215 pounds), his length (6-foot-10 wingspan) and who he played for (Frank Martin). Thornwell also showed off the ability to make threes consistently as well as pass the ball. He’s similar to Villanova’s Josh Hart, and while he has a bit more promise as a defender he does not project as well offensively.

Frank Mason III, Kansas; Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga; and Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: All three of these guys are cut from the same cloth: Smart, veteran and talented point guards that spent four years in college while putting together All-American seasons. Mason was the 2017 National Player of the Year. Williams-Goss was a First-Team All-American and led Gonzaga to the national title game. Morris spent three years in the conversation for All-American teams while posting inhuman assist-to-turnover ratios.

Like T.J. McConnell and Fred VanVleet before them, these three are good enough to carve out a role as a backup point guard on someone’s roster.

Frank Mason III vs. Monte Morris (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt: Rim protection and floor-spacing. The most valuable combination of skills in the modern NBA. Luke Kornet shot 32.1 percent from three as a senior — that number was over 40 percent as a sophomore — and blocked 2.0 shots per game as a senior — a number that was down from 3.0 as a junior. That’s what will get NBA teams interested in him. The downside? He’s a slow-footed 7-footer that isn’t all that tough, that doesn’t rebound all that well and that is not all that explosive at the rim. There’s a reason he may go undrafted.

Jake Wiley, Eastern Washington: Wiley is an interesting prospect simply because his back story is so fascinating. He was a no-name recruit that played a year at Montana before quitting basketball, trying track and football, transferring to an NAIA program and, eventually, winding up dominating the Big Sky for Eastern Washington. He’s a physical specimen that blocks shots, rebounds, competes and can defend multiple positions, but he’s not a floor-spacer and is just 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds having never played above the mid-major level. Kenneth Faried made it work. Can Wiley do the same?

Rodney Pryor, Georgetown: Pryor is built in the mold of a 3-and-D wing. He’s 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan and he shot 41.2 percent from three as a senior at Georgetown. He also turns 25 years old in October, meaning that he probably already is what he is going to be as a player. Is that good enough to play in the NBA? I have little doubt that Pryor will get a shot somewhere along the line to prove that it is.

V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame: Beachem is another guy whose NBA potential centers on his ability to be a 3-and-D role player. Standing 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan and some hops in space, Beachem shot just under 40 percent from three during his Notre Dame career. That said, he’s not known as a great defender, he needs to add some strength to his 200 pound frame to handle the rigors of the NBA and a relatively disappointing senior season has soured some scouts on him. But the tools, they are there.

2017 NBA Draft Preview: Who are the value picks in the late first, early second round?

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Over the course of the last three weeks, we’ve been churning out NBA Draft Prospect Profiles of the best players in this loaded draft for the fellas at Pro Basketball Talk.

You can find them here:

You can also find the latest NBC Sports Mock Draft here.

RELATED: Lottery Busts | First Round Values | Draft Sleepers

Today, we’ll be going through some of the players projected to be picked late in the first round or early in the second round that could end up being a steal.

Harry Giles III, Duke: Everyone knows the story of Harry Giles by now. He was widely considered to be the best prospect in the loaded Class of 2016 throughout much of his high school career, but a trio of knee surgeries left him playing as a shell of himself during his one season at Duke. Now, instead of being a top pick in this draft he’s going to be a roll of the dice towards the end of the first round.

Giles is a gamble. There’s no doubt about that.

But I think that it’s worth whatever risk there is for a team with a mid-to-late first round pick.

Giles never found his groove this past season. No one would tell you otherwise. He wouldn’t tell you otherwise. There are, however, two things that need to be understood when talking about Giles:

(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
  1. He never really had a chance to get into shape. His second torn ACL was suffered during the first game of his senior season in high school, back in November of 2015. By the time that he was finally ready to return to the floor following surgery to repair that injury, he underwent a arthroscopic procedure in his other knee, one that kept him off the court until the middle of December. By the time that he finally returned to action, he had been forced to sit out for 14 months only to immediately be thrust into the fold with less than two weeks to get into shape for a run through the ACC? That’s a big ask, and it was clear for much of the year that Giles didn’t have the legs or the wind that he needed to truly compete at that level.
  2. At this point in his career, Giles has never really had an opportunity to develop his basketball skill. He tore the ACL, the MCL and the meniscus in his left knee in the summer after his freshman season, and lost that summer and his entire sophomore year. By the time he returned to the floor the following summer, he was trying to get into shape for a run through that live period and to get into shape for his junior season. The summer after his junior year, Giles was utterly dominant. He looked every bit the part of a future franchise player, and then his knees gave out on him again. In other words, Giles still showed some flashes of having the physical tools that made him so promising, but he has spent so much time focusing on rehabbing and getting into shape during offseasons that he’s yet to have the chance to learn how to be a basketball player.

Giles is far from a lock, and at the end of the day, a team’s doctors are going to be the ones that decide whether or not he is worth the pick; can his knees hold up over the course of an 82 game season?

At some point, that potential reward is going to outweigh the risk of Giles already being broken. Maybe he already is Greg Oden, and he’ll probably never end up being Chris Webber or Amare Stoudamire like we thought. But if you can get a rich man’s Leon Powe or a poor man’s Tristan Thompson in the 20s, isn’t it worth it? If you’re paying a dollar for a lottery ticket, do you want to play Powerball or but a scratch-off?

D.J. Wilson, Michigan: I’ve long been on the D.J. Wilson bandwagon, and the rest of the basketball world has caught up. From a tools perspective, Wilson is everything that NBA teams are looking for these days. He’s a 6-foot-11 forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that made 37 percent of his threes and blocked 1.5 shots per night. Rim protection and floor-spacing. That’s what everyone wants in a player.

But what makes Wilson an intriguing prospect for me is that he’s more than just a spot-up shooter. He has a really nice base of perimeter skills. He has some impressive footwork and is a more dextrous, fluid athlete than you may realize. He’s also something of a blank canvas. He grew three inches late in his high school career, he spent much of his high school and college career battling injuries and he only just cracked the Michigan rotation as a redshirt sophomore. Put another way, he’s greener than a typical 21-year old prospect would be. There’s still room to grow.

And he needs to do some growing. He’s still pretty soft when he’s asked to battle inside — he averaged fewer rebounds than both Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball — and blocking a couple shots in the Big Ten is far different than blocking shots in the NBA. No prospect is perfect at the end of the first round, but Wilson is precisely the kind of project that can be built into something valuable.

Semi Ojeleye (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Semi Ojeleye, SMU: Ojeleye is as close to a finished product as you’ll find in this draft. After spending a year-and-a-half riding the bench for Duke, he transferred to SMU where he erupted to average 18.2 points while shooting 42 percent from three on more than five attempts per game. He did all of this while playing the four for the Mustangs. Should I mention that he’s 6-foot-7 and 241 pounds of solid muscle with a 40.5″ vertical and the kind of burst that let him finish near the top of the participants in this year’s NBA combine in lane agility and the 3/4 court sprint?

Ojeleye has all the tools to be a mismatch four in the NBA, the kind of player that can slide over and play the three when needed while filling in as a small-ball five when needed. If he was more productive defensively — he has low steal, block and rebounding numbers — or had a monstrous wingspan to make up for his relative lack of height, we’d be talking about him as a lottery pick. He’s my favorite late-first round pick in this draft.

Josh Hart, Villanova: On paper, Josh Hart looks like precisely the guy to follow in Malcolm Brogdon’s footsteps next season: four-year college star turned second round steal. On the one hand, it makes sense. They’re roughly the same size, they put up roughly the same numbers, they played for one of the sport’s best coaches who would grace the cover of NCAA GQ. On the other hand, the comparison makes no sense. Brogdon thrived in the NBA because he’s essentially a point guard that played out of position in college. Hart, on the other hand, entered Villanova as something of an undersized four that has turned himself into an NBA-caliber perimeter player.

The two situations are very different. But Hart is an experienced, versatile wing that can make threes, has developed his ability in the pick-and-roll and will play his tail off defensively. There’s a spot for him in the league, just don’t bet on him winning Rookie of the Year.

Derrick White (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Derrick White, Colorado: Derrick White’s story is incredible. If it was the plot of a movie it would be slightly more believable than Space Jam. As a high school senior, White is a sub-6-foot point guard that was gifted an offer to play for a Division II program in Colorado because the coach that was recruiting him to an NAIA school — the only coach recruiting him — got a bigger job. Fast forward five years and White has since grown to 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and a 36.5″ vertical that can play, and defend, either guard spot.

This isn’t just some feel good story, either. White averaged 18.3 points and 4.3 assists while shooting 40 percent from three as the star of a Colorado team that finished in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12. He’s legit, and he is probably going to be a first round pick on Thursday night.

Jordan Bell, Oregon: If, back in October, you would have told me that the first Oregon player to get drafted in 2017 would be Jordan Bell, Dana Altman’s undersized, 6-foot-7 center, I would have laughed at you. But after his performance this season — which included a run to the Final Four where he looked like the second-coming of Ben Wallace — Bell has turned himself into a guy that could sneak into the back end of the first round. He’s short but he is a mesmerizing athlete his a 7-foot wingspan that protects the rim and will be a nightmare switching pick-and-rolls.

Kyle Kuzma (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Kyle Kuzma, Utah: Kuzma has been rocketing up NBA Draft boards in recent weeks, as he has all the skills that NBA teams look for out of a power forward in the modern NBA. He is nearly 6-foot-10 with a wingspan above 7-feet. He’s a plus-athlete that has proven to be an above-average passer for the four-spot. He played four years for Larry Krystkowiak, who has proven to be capable of identifying and developing talent that requires his guys to defend. The key for Kuzma’s longterm potential, however, is going to be becoming a knock-down three-point shooter. He shot just 32.1 percent from three as a redshirt junior, and that was his best season shooting the ball.

Sterling Brown, SMU: Brown is 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan that, at 225 pounds, is quick enough to defend on the perimeter and tough enough to guard bigger players in the paint all while shooting 45 percent from three. The younger brother of former first round pick Shannon Brown, Sterling has all the attributes that you look for in a 3-and-D guy.