Skal Labissiere is considering Europe, but that doesn’t mean there’s a market for him

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The most recent topic of discussion in the college hoops world to make the rounds on the #hotsportstake bandwagon is that of Emmanuel Mudiay.

You surely know the story by now. The No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2014 and an athletic, 6-foot-5, season-altering lead guard, Mudiay was scheduled to play for SMU this season. But two weeks ago, he announced that he would be forgoing college, forced to head overseas because he either wanted to help support his family (the Mudiay party line) or he was too worried about his academic eligibility and his status as an amateur to risk a season in college (what everyone else believes to be true).

Mudiay eventually signed with the Guangdong Dragons in China.

His contract? It’s reportedly worth $1.2 million.

The talking point here is whether or not Mudiay will be a trendsetter, a trailblazer leading a new breed of elite recruit overseas where they will make a seven-figure salary for seven months before entering the NBA draft.

And it’s certainty a conversation worth having. As I mentioned when the news first broke, the reason that Mudiay — and Brandon Jennings before him — went overseas was because NCAA rules more than likely were going to forbid him from playing college basketball. When ineligibility and the mountains of negative publicity that come with it are staring you in the face, you take that million-dollar contract every single time. With initial eligibility standards increasing, and thus making it more likely that a recruit will be ruled ineligible, there’s a real chance that this could become a more common occurrence.

And that’s saying nothing of the possibility that Adam Silver implements a two-and-done rule for entering the draft. High school kids these days have grown up knowing nothing other than college basketball with the one and done rule. Having to spend an extra 12 months on campus and sans paycheck may not be the easiest sell.

All that brings me to the latest development in this story: On Thursday, Skal Labissiere — a five-star, Class of 2015 center being pursued by the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina, Memphis and Georgetown — told CBSSports.com on the record that following in Mudiay’s footsteps is a route he’s looking into.

“Overseas is an option,” Labissiere said, which is notable. There have been rumblings that a number of players in Labissiere’s class are looking into that option, but the native-Haitian is the first to acknowledge, on record, that the money that Mudiay got will be a factor in his decision-making process. “I don’t know yet for sure. We’ll see. But that is a lot of money.”

When giving a million-dollar contract to an 18 or 19 year old American player, one of the biggest concerns for a professional team in a different country is how that player will acclimate. Living abroad, dealing with the massive cultural changes that come with international travel, is not an easy thing for a high school grad to deal with.

Labissiere, in theory, would be able to adapt as well as anyone because he’s already made that change. Labissiere grew up in Haiti and left after he survived the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 of his countrymen. He’s lived in a different country with a different culture for the last four years, and, by all accounts, he’s thrived. He’s one of the sweetest, most gregarious kids in this class, polite when dealing with the media and perpetually grinning from ear to ear, and he’s been through more than I can imagine. Heading to Italy or China or wherever to play pro ball for a year shouldn’t be all that much of an issue for him.

But that’s assuming that someone wants him.

Because the point that hasn’t been made nearly enough when discussing the potential for American teenagers to spend their year in NBA purgatory abroad is that there simply isn’t all that much of a market for these guys abroad, particularly in Europe.

Let’s start with the obvious: When we’re talking about guys who can go pro overseas and make seven-figures, we’re talking about the elite of the elite. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, Mudiay. In a strong class, you’re looking at maybe five to seven guys who are worth consideration. In a weak class like 2015, you’re looking at just Ben Simmons, and I’m not convinced he’s good enough to garner that kind of a salary.

The bigger problem?

Teams in Europe do not want to sign an 18-year old kid for just one season. What do they get out of it? A prospect who’s not ready to contribute major minutes at the highest level of European basketball for one season before they head back stateside to play in the NBA? As good as Labissiere is now and as promising as he is as a prospect, the fact of the matter is that he gets pushed around by stronger guys at the high school level here. He would routinely be overpowered in the paint in a good European league. If the team cannot develop him, it’s not worth a million dollars to them.

“If you don’t want to sign a four or five year deal than you don’t get paid as an 18 or 19 year old,” one NBA scout told NBCSports.com. “European guys are looking and saying, ‘Would I rather be Mario Hezonja, stuck in Barcelona not playing and not able to get to the NBA, or would I rather be in the league like Alex Len?

“If you want to play in the NBA, which is what a lot of the Europeans and all of the Americans do, than signing a long-term deal with a big European club, which is the only way to get paid over there, is not a good option.”

It’s part of the reason that Mudiay was forced to head to China, a league that pays well, but A) demands major performances out of their American players, B) is quick to cut players that struggle, and C) will not be a productive step, and could be a hindrance, in his individual development.

A smart European team could start to flip American players for profit, signing them to $200,000-$300,000 contracts with $600,000 buyouts, the max an NBA team is allowed to pay.

In theory, that makes sense.

In practice, it doesn’t.

If we’re going to be honest here, we need to acknowledge that any incoming freshman talented enough to garner that kind of deal from a European team has the avenues to get paid just as much, if not more, while he’s in college, and I say that without a shred of sarcasm. Whether it be boosters paying to bring him to their school, agents paying to ensure that he will be a future client or shoes companies paying to keep him loyal, there are avenues for elite recruits to generate a substantial income. It may not be savory, but they are there.

Which brings me back to Skal Labissiere.

He may be looking at overseas as an option. He may be quite intrigued by the contract that was given to Mudiay. He may like the idea of skipping college and getting $1.2 million put into his bank account.

That doesn’t mean that there is anyone who would be willing to pay him that much for one season, and even if there is, it doesn’t guarantee that the quick payout will be better for his long-term development — and, thus, career-earnings — than going to college.

Assuming that he’ll be able to get his academics in order and that he hasn’t compromised his amateur status, Labissiere, as well as the other recruits thinking about following in the steps of Mudiay, may simply be better off going to college, playing on national television and collecting those Ricky Roe duffel bags.

It’s the American way.

Diallo withdrawing from draft, returning to Kentucky

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It took plenty of time for the news to make its way public, but it was a wait that proved welcome for Kentucky fans.

Wildcat freshman Hamidou Diallo will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft and return to Kentucky, the school announced

Diallo’s situation was one of the more interesting in college basketball as he became an incredibly intriguing pro prospect despite being on a college roster and never playing a minute.

The five-star recruit enrolled at Kentucky in January after attending a semester of prep school with the plan to redshirt the season and then play for the Wildcats in 2017-18. There were rumblings and rumors about Diallo potentially playing for John Calipari’s group last year, but ultimately they stuck to the plan to keep him on the bench and preserve his eligibility. Throughout it all, there was always the specter that Diallo could just decide to go the professional route anyway.

That possibility moved fully into the forefront earlier this month when Diallo showed off a 44.5-inch vertical leap at the NBA Draft combine in Chicago. The 6-foot-5 guard also recorded a wingspan that nearly measured 7-feet. With those types of physical traits, he makes for an awfully interesting professional prospect, regardless of refinement or experience.

Given Diallo’s lack of high-level experience, though, there was no guarantee he’d be a first-round selection as teams would be wary of drafting solely on potential, rather than the mostly they typically do.

“I hope to play in the NBA one day — just not this season,” Diallo said in a statement. “Based on the information I received by testing the waters, I believe it’s in my best interests to return to school. Although I was a part of the team last season and trained with my teammates, I never fulfilled another one of my dreams, which was to play for a major college program and win a national title.

“I am excited about returning to Kentucky for the 2017-18 season. I can’t wait to play in a Kentucky jersey for the first time.”

Going back to Lexington to play college basketball gives Diallo a chance to showcase his skills against competition the NBA will be able to evaluate him against. It also makes Kentucky – surprise, surprise – extremely formidable this season as they, once again, restock the roster with potential lottery- and first-round picks. With Diallo officially in the fold, Kentucky is a no-doubt top-five team that will be among the favorites to cut down the nets in April 2018.

“I’m really proud of Hami,” Calipari said in a statement. “He took in all the information, asked a lot of questions, including questions to the NBA teams. I love the fact that he wants to put himself in a better position and help lead this new team to a championship.
“I can’t wait to get him on the court and have all of you fans see what I know.  He’s a special player and a special person.”

LaVar Ball selling “Stay In Yo Lane” shirts

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Create controversy. Profit from controversy.

It’s not an especially new or original strategy, but it’s one that LaVar Ball continues to try to exploit.

The infamous basketball dad is at it again, looking to capitalize on the uproar/kerfuffle/news cycle/debate/ickiness he created when he belittled FS1’s Kristine Leahy, telling her to “stay in your lane” on multiple occasions when claiming the Big Baller Brand didn’t need to market to women.

Well, they are now, with a nod to Ball’s proclamation, selling “STAY IN YO LANE” tees, for both men and women.

Marketing misogyny. Isn’t that nice.

It’s clear that LaVar Ball isn’t going to shy away from the public spotlight anytime soon, especially with eldest son Lonzo looking destined for the Lakers and middle son LiAngelo set to join UCLA, and he’s going to do his best to use that light to push the BBB franchise that scared away the world’s biggest apparel companies.

This plan has no mystery, subtlety or taste. Which might as well be the Big Baller Brand slogan.

Mykhailiuk returning to Kansas for senior season

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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.

Senior year gonna be fun😈👌🏼🤘🏼 #KUCMB

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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 to stay in NBA draft

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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.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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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.