Elfrid Payton emerges as the 2014 NBA Draft’s biggest sleeper

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CHICAGO — Elfrid Payton is the most polarizing prospect in the 2014 NBA Draft.

If you’ve browsed through the litany of mock drafts in advance of Thursday night’s draft, you’ve probably seen the Louisiana-Lafayette point guard’s name everywhere from the top ten to the 20s — and every pick in between.

Plenty of scouts and draft pundits have called the 6-foot-3 Payton a sleeper in this draft — thanks in-part to his small-school upbringing and tremendous athleticism — but the soft-spoken point guard is confident about what he’ll bring to the team that selects him — wherever that may be.

“I think (I’m) the best point guard in the draft; just a leader,” Payton told NBCSports.com in Chicago. “(I’m) somebody that’s going to try to bring a winning culture and be somebody that is going to make other players around him better.”

As a sophomore, Payton put up good numbers for Louisiana-Lafayette, but many weren’t familiar with him in the college basketball world. That changed when Elfrid was a surprise addition to the USA U19 team that won gold last summer at the FIBA World Championships in Prague. Payton acknowledged that his star-studded supporting cast, filled with six McDonald’s All-Americans, had little idea about who he was or what he could do on the court, but the point guard won the starting point guard role for Billy Donovan’s squad and made a big impression on the team.

“It was cool, man. Everybody not to know me and just go in there and do well and wind up starting on that team. That was great for me. I think they were definitely surprised,” Payton said of his USA Basketball experience. “It helped a lot. Giving me a little bit of recognition. I learned a lot from those coaches and from my teammates that played there. It was big for me.”

While the basketball part of the equation came natural to Payton, Donovan worked with the guard to be more of a floor leader, something Payton credits for helping his game as a junior.

“The biggest thing (Donovan) taught me was about being a vocal leader and not just leading by example. I was able to take that back to my teammates this season and moving forward now,” Payton said.

Because of Payton’s leadership and overall play at the point guard position, the Ragin’ Cajuns made a surprise appearance in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, as they knocked off favored Georgia State in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship game.

Louisiana-Lafayette fell in the Round of 64 to Creighton, but Payton opened eyes with a 24-point, 8-rebound performance in which he also stuffed the stat sheet with three assists, three steals and two blocks. It was a typical effort from the junior as he averaged 19.2 points, 6 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game during the 2013-14 season.

Because of his propensity to fill up a box score, coupled with his athleticism and inconsistent shooting, Payton has been compared favorably to Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo. Payton shot 50 percent from the field as a junior, but he was only 25 percent from the three-point line and 60 percent from the free-throw line. As a former Kentucky point guard, Rondo was also a streaky perimeter shooter, as he shot 27 percent from three-point land and 57 percent from the free-throw line as a sophomore in his final season in Lexington.

Thanks in-part to his inconsistent shooting, Rondo slipped to No. 21 on draft night in 2006, but later blossomed into the starting point guard of the NBA-champion Celtics in 2008.

Payton takes pride in being compared to the four-time All-Star because of Rondo’s tenacity and willingness to make others around him better.

“The way (Rondo) plays defense, he gets his hands on a lot of balls,” Payton said. “He gets a lot of people involved. Most importantly, he gets other players around him better too. That’s what I really like (about him).”

Ed Isaacson of NBA Draft Blog also sees some similarities between Payton and Rondo and because Rondo has thrived in the league, Isaacson believes Payton is not as likely to fall in the draft as Rondo once did.

“I’m not very big on comparisons, but this is a case where I can see where it comes from and agree in some ways with it,” Isaacson said to NBCSports.com. “Payton, like Rondo, is capable of doing almost everything his team needs from him. They both even have the same major weakness — perimeter shooting. I think where the comparison is at its best is on the defensive end, where both can be pests on the perimeter, force opponents into mistakes, and have no problem getting involved on the boards. I think the fact that Rondo turned out to be a very good NBA player has eased the way that many teams are looking at what Payton can do, and you won’t find the same polarization on his style of play.”

It also doesn’t hurt that another small-school guard, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, has found immediate NBA success after four years at Weber State. Payton acknowledges that Lillard is another guard that he admires and Lillard has even taken to Twitter to back Payton’s game.

“My coach gave me a lot of articles about him last year and even more this year. That’s definitely someone I look up to,” Payton said of Lillard.

The comparisons for Payton may be favorable, but he acknowledged that he still has a long ways to go to be mentioned in the same breath as those All-Star caliber point guards in the NBA.

“I think I’m ready to handle it. I think there’s going to be some challenges but we all have the same challenges ahead of us,” Payton said. “I always have a chip on my shoulder and coming from a small school, that makes it a little bit bigger.”

2018 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who declared? Who is returning? Who are we waiting on?

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Here is a full list of the players that have signed with an agent, declared and are testing the waters and those that have decided to return to school.

Underclassmen have until April 22nd to declare for the NBA draft this season and until 11:59 p.m. on May 30th to remove their name from consideration.

The NBA Combine will be held May 16-20 this year. 

We also have a long — but probably not complete — list of players that we are still waiting to hear from.

DECLARED, SIGNING WITH AGENT

TESTING THE WATERS

  • ESA AHMAD, West Virginia
  • KOSTAS ANTETOKOUNMPO, Dayton
  • UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas
  • TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse
  • BRIAN BOWEN, Louisville
  • KY BOWMAN, Boston College
  • JORDAN BRANGERS, South Plains
  • BARRY BROWN, Kansas State
  • BRYCE BROWN, Auburn
  • TOOKIE BROWN, Georgia Southern
  • TROY BROWN, Oregon
  • C.J. BURKS, Marshall
  • JORDAN CAROLINE, Nevada
  • HAANIF CHEATEM, FGCU
  • KAMERON CHATMAN, Detroit
  • YOELI CHILDS, BYU
  • CHRIS CLEMONS, Campbell
  • TYLER COOK, Iowa
  • ISAAC COPELAND JR., Nebraska
  • BRYANT CRAWFORD, Wake Forest
  • MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State
  • JON DAVIS, Charlotte
  • TERENCE DAVIS, Ole Miss
  • TYLER DAVIS, Texas A&M
  • NOAH DICKERSON, Washington
  • DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova
  • TORIN DORN, N.C. State
  • NOJEL EASTERN, Purdue
  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
  • JON ELMORE, Marshall
  • JACOB EVANS, Cincinnati
  • BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland
  • JARREY FOSTER, SMU
  • MELVIN FRAZIER, Tulane
  • WENYEN GABRIEL, Kentucky
  • EUGENE GERMAN, Northern Illinois
  • ADMON GILDER, Texas A&M
  • JESSIE GOVAN, Georgetown
  • TYLER HALL, Montana State
  • JAYLEN HANDS, UCLA
  • ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin
  • JARED HARPER, Auburn
  • ARIC HOLMAN, Mississippi State
  • JALEN HUDSON, Florida
  • DEWAN HUELL, Miami
  • KEVIN HUERTER, Maryland
  • TRAMAINE ISABELL, Drexel
  • DEANGELO ISBY, Utah State
  • JUSTIN JAMES, Wyoming
  • ZACH JOHNSON, Miami
  • CHRISTIAN KEELING, Charleston Southern
  • SAGABA KONATE, West Virginia
  • DOMINIC MAGEE, Southern Miss
  • FLETCHER MAGEE, Wofford
  • CALEB MARTIN, Nevada
  • CODY MARTIN, Nevada
  • ZANE MARTIN, Towson
  • CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan
  • JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State
  • ELIJAH MINNIE, Eastern Michigan
  • SHELTON MITCHELL, Clemson
  • TAKAL MOLSON, Canisius
  • JUWAN MORGAN, Indiana
  • MATT MORGAN, Cornell
  • JOSH OKOGIE, Georgia Tech
  • JAMES PALMER JR., Nebraska
  • LAMAR PETERS, Mississippi State
  • SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s
  • JONTAY PORTER, Missouri
  • MARCQUISE REED, Clemson
  • TRAYVON REED, Texas Southern
  • ISAIAH REESE, Canisius
  • KERWIN ROACH II, Texas
  • JEROME ROBINSON, Boston College
  • AHMAAD RORIE, Montana
  • QUINTON ROSE, Temple
  • ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD, Tennessee
  • MICAH SEABORN, Monmouth
  • CHRIS SILVA, South Carolina
  • FRED SIMS, Chicago State
  • OMARI SPELLMAN, Villanova
  • MAX STRUS, DePaul
  • DESHON TAYLOR, Fresno State
  • KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton
  • REID TRAVIS, Stanford
  • JARRED VANDERBILT, Kentucky
  • LAGERALD VICK, Kansas
  • CHRISTIAN VITAL, Connecticut
  • JAYLIN WALKER, Kent State
  • NICK WARD, Michigan State
  • PJ WASHINGTON, Kentucky
  • QUINNDARY WEATHERSPOON, Mississippi State
  • ANDRIEN WHITE, Charlotte
  • DEMAJEO WIGGINS, Bowling Green
  • LINDELL WIGGINTON, Iowa State
  • AUSTIN WILEY, Auburn
  • KRIS WILKES, UCLA
  • JUSTIN WRIGHT-FOREMAN, Hofstra

RETURNING TO SCHOOL

STILL WAITING TO HEAR FROM

KYLE ALEXANDER, Tennessee
NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech
DONTA HALL, Alabama
HERB JONES, Alabama
JOHN PETTY, Alabama
JOSH REAVES, Penn State
MATISSE THYBULLE, Washington

John Calipari lobbies for change in one-and-done rule to help athletes

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Kentucky head coach John Calipari is hoping the one-and-done rule changes so that athletes have more rights.

In a revealing interview with Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Calipari went into great detail about his thoughts behind a rule that many believe he has exploited greatly to his benefit over the last 10 years. Even though the Wildcats and Calipari have figured out the one-and-done rule to their advantage, the Hall of Fame coach still wants the rule to be abolished.

“Kids should be able to go (to the NBA) out of high school. That’s not our deal. That’s between the NBA and the Players Association,” Calipari said Friday. “Don’t put restrictions on kids.”

Calipari told Engel that he met with the NBPA last week in the hopes of the organization creating a combine for worthy high school juniors with pro potential. Calipari also wants agents more involved with high school kids.

“The players and the families need to know – here are the ones who should be thinking about the NBA, and here are the ones who should not,” Calipari said. “That’s why you need a combine.”

“If they want to go out of high school, go. If they want to go to college and then leave, let them leave when they want to leave. Why would we force a kid to stay? ‘Well – it’s good for the game?’ It’s about these kids and their families. Because let me tell you, if we (abolish one-and-done), the kids that do come to college will stay for two to three years.”

Calipari also has plenty of thoughts on the NBA G-League and how the league could potentially help young athletes with an education fund if they choose to turn pro directly out of high school. Regardless of what happens with the NBPA and the one-and-done rule, Calipari also said that his program would be fine — regardless of the rules.

Given that Calipari has operated on a different recruiting plane than everyone else in college basketball (with the exception of a few other bluebloods like Duke and Kansas) the last several years, it’s always notable when he gives his thoughts on the overall landscape of basketball.

But is Calipari actually lobbying for this? Or is this yet another way for Calipari to mold quotes into a recruiting pitch for elite players? Ultimately, it’s up to the NBPA to decide how the rules will be for future pros.

Report: NCAA allows Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale to compete on Dancing with the Stars

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After a memorable March Madness run that included two game-winning jumpers in the Final Four and an eventual national title, Notre Dame junior guard Arike Ogunbowale became a breakout national star.

Ogunbowale already appeared on Ellen while meeting her basketball idol, Kobe Bryant. Now, Ogunbowale will get the rare opportunity to appear on Dancing with the Stars — which the NCAA will allow even though Ogunbowale is still a rising senior who is scheduled to return to school next season.

Dancing with the Stars compensates its contestants and also has a prize for the winner. Under NCAA Bylaw 12.4.1, college athletes cannot be compensated based on their athletic abilities.

But the NCAA is arguing that Ogunbowale’s appearance on the show is “unrelated to her basketball abilities,” according to a statement they released regarding the decision. According to a report from Jacob Bogage of the Washington Post, the NCAA is also limiting Ogunbowale’s visibility for the show’s promotional tools.

From the Washington Post report:

The NCAA has placed restrictions on Ogunbowale that limit her involvement with the show and her potential to build her brand. She is not allowed to appear in promotional materials for the show, including commercials, according to the NCAA’s statement. She didn’t join other contestants during a group appearance on “Good Morning America” last week. Show handicappers have already wondered whether the NCAA’s limits will hurt her chances.

And the NCAA could turn down future requests by arguing that Ogunbowale is not endorsing “Dancing with the Stars” by appearing on the program, but instead is participating in a “personal growth experience” by learning how to ballroom dance, said Barbara Osborne, a professor of exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina.

This is a slippery slope for the NCAA to take with this. Ogunbowale is, quite clearly, a famous basketball player. She’s on Dancing with the Stars because of her basketball abilities. The NCAA arguing anything else is just silly and embarrassing. The NCAA is also trying its best to uphold its argument about amateurism in the only way they know how.

But could this also could be a sign that the NCAA is perhaps open to the potential of allowing athletes to profit off of themselves in the future? The NCAA is currently handling a number of different court cases regarding amateurism, so it’s hard to say where all of this might go until the legal process starts to clear up.

Either way, this should be a fun experience for Ogunbowale while providing great national exposure for herself and women’s basketball. Ogunbowale might not be technically allowed to build her own brand during the show, but she’ll be gaining tons of new exposure for her basketball future — regardless of what the NCAA says in a statement.

Memphis center Karim Sameh Azab diagnosed with leukemia

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Memphis center Karim Sameh Azab announced on Saturday that he’s been battling leukemia lymphoma.

The 6-foot-11 big man from Egypt has been receiving medical treatment since the beginning of April as he took to Twitter to announce his current status.

Sameh Azab played in 15 games this season for the Tigers as he saw action for 84 total minutes. The reserve big man was a late addition in former head coach Tubby Smith’s first recruiting class at Memphis as he didn’t quality to play during his first season.

“Karim has my full support and the support of our whole team,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said in a statement earlier this month. “While we appreciate the support of the Tiger family in this matter, we would also like to protect the privacy of Karim and his family.”

South Dakota State’s Mike Daum declares for 2018 NBA Draft without an agent

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South Dakota State big man Mike Daum will enter the 2018 NBA Draft without an agent, he announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-9 redshirt junior has been a mid-major draft darling the past few seasons as Daum was one of the most productive players in the country last season. Putting up 23.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, Daum shot 46 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point range during the season.

With his size and unique floor-spacing ability, Daum is going to be an interesting player to track during the NBA draft process. Teams are always looking for big men who can space the floor, and if Daum shoots well in workouts, he could wind up staying in the draft.

If Daum returns to South Dakota State, then he once again makes them a major NCAA tournament contender after the Jackrabbits won the Summit League last season.