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2014 NBA Draft Preview: Eight Underrated NBA Draft Prospects

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The NBA Draft is on June 26th, meaning that there are less than two weeks until the next crop of potential NBA all-stars find out where they will be headed to begin their professional basketball careers. Over the course of the next few days, we will be using the expertise that we’ve gained from watching far too much college basketball to give you our insights on some of these prospects.

Today, we give you the most underrated prospects:

RELATED: Overrated Prospects | 2014 NBA Draft Preview

1. Aaron Gordon, Arizona

  • Projections: Draft Express (No. 10), Chad Ford (No. 6)
  • Scott Phillips: “Known for defending multiple positions and being a win-at-all-costs player with a developing skill-set, Gordon is young for his class and only turns 19 in mid-September and has his best basketball ahead of him.
  • Raphielle Johnson: “The former Arizona forward has his struggles shooting the ball, but he can help a franchise with his size, freakish athleticism and ability to defend multiple positions. While his offensive game needs work, he’s still an asset in the open floor.”
  • Rob Dauster: “I disagree. He can’t shoot, he’s limited offensively, he doesn’t really have a position at the next level, and he’s projected between 6th and 10th in a loaded draft. I love Aaron Gordon. I don’t think he’s underrated.”

2. Noah Vonleh, Indiana

  • Projections: DX (5th), CF (4th)
  • RD: “Vonleh has the size, length and strength to play in the paint at the next level while having the range to step out and hit threes. I’m not sure he should be picked over any of the Big Three, but if the Magic get ‘stuck’ with Vonleh at No. 4, they’re going to be very, very happy.”
  • SP: “Vonleh’s measurable numbers were outstanding at the Combine and the forward is skilled enough to be a stretch four in the NBA while also being big enough to contribute near the basket. Scary to think he only turns 19 in late August.”

3. K.J. McDaniels, Clemson

  • Projections: DX (26th), CF (23rd)
  • Terrence Payne: “The ACC Defensive Player of the Year has a great frame (6’11”wingspan) and athleticism. He’ll be able to defend several different positions on the perimeter.”
  • RJ: “His athleticism allows him to defend multiple positions, and he improved offensively during his time at Clemson. Not really a fan of player comparisons, but I wonder if there’s some Kawhi Leonard-like potential here.”

4. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State

  • Projections: DX (33rd), CF (22nd)
  • SP: “In the epic Round of 32 loss to Kentucky in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Early looked like the best player on the floor in a game full of future pros. Obviously, he’s older and more experienced than those young Kentucky prospects, but he’s steadily improved his two seasons under Gregg Marshall. Early’s also deceptively good as a catch-and-shoot wing (50 percent from left corner, 42 percent from right wing last season) and finishes through contact at the rim.”
  • RJ: “We all saw Early perform very well for two years at Wichita State. Tough player, athletic and a solid skill set.”
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Shabazz Napier

5. Shabazz Napier, UConn

  • Projections: DX (24th), CF (26th)
  • TP: So he’s undersized, and not very athletic for an NBA-level point guard. Despite those shortcomings, score and run a team. He’d be a great addition to any locker room.”
  • RJ: “Late first round has been the projection I’ve seen most often, and that’s low given his ability to score, distribute and lead. Some perennial playoff team will get a steal as a result.”
  • RD: “Napier can run a team, he’s willing to distribute the ball, he can score in pick-and-roll situations, he’s got three-point range and he can defend. He might be a career backup, but I think he’ll have a 10-year NBA career.”

6. T.J. Warren, N.C. State

  • Projections: DX (17th), CF (18th)
  • RD: “He gets buckets, and he’ll be able to do that at the next level.”
  • RJ: “Love his ability to score in a variety of ways, and he’ll have cleaner opportunities at the pro level given the spacing and his likely winding up on a team that already has bonafide scoring options given where he’s projected to go.”

7. Kyle Anderson, UCLA

  • Projections: DX (25th), CF (30th)
  • RD: “I don’t know who he guards at the next level. I don’t know what position he plays. In fact, I’m not even sure what kind of system he would fit well within. All I know is that he’s as unique of a talent as I’ve seen at the college level, and while his athleticism leaves much to be desired, Slo-Mo does so many things well that I have a hard time seeing teams not get value out of him at the end of the first round.”

8. Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette

  • Projections: DX (20th), CF (12th)
  • TP: “The late bloomer has emerged as a serious prospect with a stint last summer with USA basketball, and a march to the NCAA tournament this past season. Payton can create for himself and others. He’ll also be 20 for another eight months.”

Arkansas hoping for more backcourt depth and stronger press in 2016-17

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 27: Dusty Hannahs #3 of the Arkansas Razorbacks drives to the basket against Michael Humphrey #10 of the Stanford Cardinal  at Barclays Center on November 27, 2015 in Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Arkansas is coming off of a disappointing 16-16 season in which they missed the postseason.

The Razorbacks lost two key guards in Anthlon Bell and Jabril Durham — who both exhausted their eligibility — but they’re hoping a couple of additions will bolster the depth of their backcourt and make their trademark press stronger.

In a story from Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Razorbacks are excited about the possibilities of their new backcourt.

Although Arkansas lost two talented seniors and a transfer in Jimmy Whitt, they return Dusty Hannahs, Manny Watkins and Anton Beard while also getting two of the best junior college guards in the country. Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon come in highly touted for next season and both junior college guards garnered a lot of praise from their play last season.

With Arkansas also bringing in some freshman guards like C.J. Jones and RJ Glasper, head coach Mike Anderson is hoping to have enough bodies to play fast and use his press. The team appears to be optimistic as well.

“I think we’ll have a lot more toughness at the guard position, and depth,” Watkins said to Murphy. “We’ve got a lot of guys. When we’re pressing and stuff, we’ve got bodies we can bring in.”

Arkansas also returns an SEC Player of the Year candidate in big man Moses Kingsley and they could be an intriguing team to track this season if Barford and Macon are as good as advertised. They’ll certainly have more bodies to throw at opposing guards and that should help Arkansas play faster than they did last season.

College career over for Nevada’s Hallice Cooke due to heart issue

DENVER, CO - MARCH 19:  Hallice Cooke #3 of the Iowa State Cyclones celebrates after hitting a three pointer in the second half against the Arkansas Little Rock Trojans during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Pepsi Center on March 19, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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The college basketball career of Nevada guard Hallice Cooke is over, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-3 native of New Jersey will stay with the program as a volunteer assistant as a heart issue will force Cooke to end his career prematurely.

Cooke started his career at Oregon State before transferring to Iowa State and eventually ending up at Nevada. During the 2015-16 season, Cooke was a role player for the Cyclones as he averaged 10 minutes per game off the bench.

Obviously it’s unfortunate to see someone’s career end early, but it’s also good that Cooke is still going to be involved with the game as an assistant. This could be the type of thing where Cooke eventually ends up coaching in college basketball and it’ll be interesting to see if he tries to stay in the game and get serious about coaching.

N.C. State’s Dennis Smith Jr. fully recovered, ready to go

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Dennis Smith Jr. sure looks ready.

North Carolina State’s prized freshman point guard is pushing through a workout in the practice gym on a hot July afternoon, and there’s no sign of the knee injury that defined his past year.

He’s sprinting along the baseline to bury a catch-and-shoot corner 3-pointer. He’s dribbling between chairs and stutter-stepping his way to a pull-up jumper. He’s launching himself at the rim for a dunk off the dribble.

“I don’t expect to be rusty at all,” Smith said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I was feeling kind of nervous at one point, but I went in and did a workout and then I was thinking, `I’m putting in all this work so all the nervousness should be out of my mind.’ I had no reason to be timid.

“I just have to go out there and perform, no excuses.”

A lot has happened for Smith in 12 months. The Fayetteville native suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in a game during the Adidas Nations event featuring top prospects. He had surgery, picked N.C. State, graduated from high school early and enrolled in college in January to rehab and learn the Wolfpack’s system before his debut later this year.

Tuesday marks one year since the injury for the 6-foot-3 Smith, ranked by ESPN as the nation’s No. 1 point guard when he signed last fall.

“We’ve tried to be real conservative with him as far as not letting him do too much too fast,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “At his age, he can’t wait. He’s dying to play every day.”

Smith started earning his leadership role as soon as he arrived in Raleigh, pointing out instructions to teammates or calling them to the gym for extra work even though he couldn’t play. He figures that time observing from the sideline has prepared him to replace high-scoring floor leader Anthony “Cat” Barber.

“I feel like I’ve gotten smarter, definitely,” Smith said. “I see the game totally different now. I read pick-and-roll easier. I feel like I’ve gotten more sound on defense because I understand angles better.”

The physical work to get back has been tougher.

Roughly a year ago, Smith was lying in a bed after surgery trying to stay positive. He asked trainer Ja-Rell Bailey to bring him some free weights for upper-body exercises even if he couldn’t do much else, an example of why Bailey described Smith as “a man determined.”

Smith’s father said the rehab emphasized building leg strength to protect and stabilize the injured knee, something his son said he will keep doing in both legs for years to come. Smith’s work has helped him go from 180 pounds to a college-ready 192-pound frame.

“He’s got his bounce back, so he can dunk and everything,” Dennis Smith Sr. said. “But what Junior has got, God gave it to him. . A lot of times you run into kids who are built off of hype because they do a fancy move or have a good game. Junior ain’t hype. He’s the real deal.”

Regardless, Gottfried expects Smith to have “a learning curve.”

“For me,” he said, “I think what you see in November is going to be much different than what you see in January.”

The Wolfpack will look much different, too, after missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five seasons. N.C. State welcomes Scout.com’s No. 6-ranked recruiting class that includes five-star Turkish big man Omer Yurtseven. Senior guard Terry Henderson returns from an ankle injury that sidelined him 7 minutes into last season. Charlotte transfer and former Conference USA freshman of the year Torin Dorn Jr. will play after sitting out last year.

Still, Smith is the guy stirring the most buzz for Wolfpack fans – something he has no trouble embracing.

“I really don’t feel that pressure though,” Smith said. “I feel like if you come in and you expect to play well, then you should have those expectations of people talking. It’s just playing basketball to me. I’ve been doing it my whole life.”

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Washington lands commitment from Mamoudou Diarra

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For the second time this summer, Washington has landed a commitment from a forward in the Class of 2017.

On Friday, it was Mamoudou Diarra that pledged his future to Lorenzo Romar. Diarra is a 6-foot-8 combo-forward that is currently unranked by Rivals but was targeted by a number high major program.

Washington landed a commitment from Michael Porter Jr. earlier this summer, and given Porter’s standing as the potential No. 1 player in the class, the Huskies will be in the mix for the best crop of freshmen in the country in 2017-18. Romar has also landed commitments from four-star guard Jaylen Nowell and three-star guard Blake Harris.

RELATED: How the Michael Porter Package Deal came to fruition

Diarra played his high school basketball in St. Louis.

Xavier lands second top 100 commitment in 2017

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Xavier landed a key commitment on Friday morning in Naji Marshall, one of the Musketeers’ top targets in the Class of 2017.

Marshall is a la 6-foot-5 wing from Washington D.C. that is currently ranked 62nd in the 2017 class by Rivals. He’s a scorer that has shown off a versatile offensive game, averaging better than three assists on the Under Armour Association circuit.

This is the third commitment from head coach Chris Mack in the class and the second top 100 player to pledge to the Musketeers. Marshall picked Xavier over Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Rhode Island and Virginia Tech, among other.