One reason why Kentucky has been hailed by many as the early favorite to win the national title next season was the decision of twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison to return to school for their sophomore seasons. While the 6-foot-6 guards endured their fair share of struggles throughout the season, their play during the month of March led some to believe that they would enter their names into the 2014 NBA Draft pool.
With that not being the case the Wildcats will return their starting backcourt from last season’s national runner-up team. Clearly they’re the players who will lead the way on the perimeter for John Calipari’s team, but the arrival of 5-foot-9 point guard Tyler Ulis won’t be overlooked either.
A McDonald’s All-American, Ulis has been praised for his ability as a distributor and that’s an attribute that could serve Kentucky well in 2014-15. In fact, an NBA scouting director spoke highly of Ulis according to Adam Himmelsbach of the Louisville Courier-Journal.
“When you see him, you’ll know,” the NBA scouting director said. “He has a different level of vision and creativity. He’s got all the tools you’re going to want for a point guard. That’s why he’s a McDonald’s All American and going to UK, even though he’s 5-9. You don’t get that unless you’re a really good player.
“I see him finishing the game when it matters,” he said. “I think it will become obvious that the team plays better basketball when he’s on the court. … He’s fun. He’ll be fun for Kentucky. The last two years they have not consistently had a guard that could get into the paint and create for his teammates, so this will be different.”
As a senior at Marian Catholic HS, Ulis averaged 23 points and nearly seven assists per game. Given the amount of talent he’ll be surrounded by at Kentucky there won’t be a pressing need to score that many points on a nightly basis, but the ability to distribute the basketball is where Ulis can make his greatest impact.
Last season the Wildcats ranked 11th in the SEC in assists per game (11.2) and 13th in assist percentage, as just 44.4% of their made baskets were assisted. Granted, given the individual skill sets of the players on last year’s team there was more room for Kentucky to do things individually. But it can be argued that having a high-level distributor will make things easier for all involved.
And if Ulis can be that player, Kentucky could very well improve upon an offense that was second in the SEC in efficiency despite the departures of Julius Randle and James Young.
Ulis and company will also have the opportunity to benefit to an “early start” of sorts, with Kentucky taking a summer trip to the Bahamas in mid-August. During that period the Wildcats will look to take the first steps towards the program’s ninth national title.
Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.
Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.
The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.
Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.
Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.
Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.
Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.
The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.
Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.
The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.
The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.
Wednesday, though, they got some good news.
McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.
Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.
The best-case scenario did not take place for Michigan this week.
The Wolverines waited for four weeks to hear back from their pair of mobile big men, and the news on Mo Wagner was positive. The 6-foot-10 junior from Germany announced on Wednesday that he will return to school after testing the NBA Draft waters.
The news was not as fortunate with D.J. Wilson, who announced less than ten hours before the deadline that he will be signing with an agent and turning pro. Wilson is projected as a late first round or early second round pick.
Without Wilson in the fold, Michigan lacks some front court depth, which will probably be enough to keep them out of the preseason top 25.
Losing Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins to the professional ranks probably torpedoed Gonzaga’s chance of making another run to the NCAA tournament national title game, but after Johnathan Williams III announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to school and withdrawing from the NBA Draft, Gonzaga does appear to be a favorite to win the WCC title again.
Williams is now Gonzaga’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, anchoring a front court that also loses Przemek Karnowski to graduation. He was expected to go undrafted.
With Williams back in the fold, the Zags should be right there with Saint Mary’s in the race for the WCC title. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Killian Tillie all return as well.
ESPN was the first to report the news.