A broken foot failed to derail C.J. McCollum’s trek to the lottery

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Through 12 games in the 2012-13 season, Lehigh senior guard C.J. McCollum had done nothing to dispel the notion that he was one of the nation’s best players. With averages of 23.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game to that point in the season, McCollum was leading the country in scoring and well on his way to earning All-America honors for the second consecutive season (AP Honorable Mention as a junior).

That all came to a halt in a January 5 game at VCU, with McCollum suffering a broken bone in his left foot. While there was some hope that the Canton, Ohio native could possibly return to the floor in March, as Patriot League play progressed it became apparent that McCollum would not be ready to rejoin his teammates on the floor.

“Once we started getting towards the end of the regular season when we were losing time of competitive basketball our focus shifted,” Lehigh head coach Dr. Brett Reed said in a phone interview with NBC Sports.

“When it became apparent that it would not be in his best interest to come back for the Patriot League tournament, then immediately we transitioned to the idea of ‘let’s utilize the additional time and allow him to be healthy for the wonderful things he has in store career-wise beyond Lehigh basketball.'”

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The recovery process isn’t solely about a player getting his body back to full strength. It’s also about taking full advantage of the newly-found time to evaluate his game from a different perspective. McCollum did this through the use of both “mental reps” and spending even more time evaluating himself on tape, and he learned some valuable lessons.

“I broke down a lot of film while I was injured. I always broke down a lot of film when I was playing, but now I had more free time to analyze things with my coaching staff and become a player-coach,” McCollum said in a phone interview with NBC Sports.

In addition to being able to break down defensive schemes and also work to perfect his shooting form, McCollum also made strides to be an even better leader than he was before the injury. McCollum credited Dr. Reed for his continued progression as a leader both on and off the court.

“Coach Reed’s so mature beyond his years in terms of knowing the game and really breaking down the important parts of not only being a successful basketball player, but being a good person off the court as well,” said McCollum.  “That’s what he’s really done with me, just making sure I’m doing the right things off the court and continuing to develop my leadership skills.”

The idea of McCollum playing the point may be something that concerns those unfamiliar with his game and what he was asked to do at Lehigh. But to attempt to place McCollum into a particular “box” would be a mistake, as he certainly needed to be a playmaker for the Mountain Hawks.

“He’s been very involved with our program as a creator, both for his own scoring opportunities and for others with the way we would utilize him in ‘pick and roll’ basketball,” noted Dr. Reed. “Often he was our leading rebounder, which allowed him to start our fast break as well. So he was in a number of those positions [which allowed him] to utilize those skill sets.”

How did McCollum reach the point of being able to take on such responsibilities from a skill standpoint?

Hard work first and foremost, and some credit should also be given to a coaching staff that has experienced professional basketball in both the NBA and overseas.

“That was huge,” said McCollum when asked how this impacted his development. “Coach [Ryan] Krueger is one of the guys who came from the NBA (former video coordinator for the Nets), and he’s able to break down film on another level; he’s kind of perfected it and just knows the ins and outs of ‘pick and roll’ basketball.

“And coach [Antoni] Wyche, he actually played overseas and was a four-year starter at Notre Dame. He’s gone through it, so I can touch base with him and pick his brain about what it’s like to become a professional and what it takes to get there.”

For some players, suffering an injury that ended their collegiate career would be enough to send their draft stock in the wrong direction. That hasn’t been the case for McCollum, and while some may point towards his showings in pre-draft workouts the fact of the matter is that this process has been ongoing for quite some time.

And when his name is called on June 27, the moment will be one that’s been four years in the making for both McCollum and Lehigh.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.