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Paschall, Booth to return for senior seasons with Villanova

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Villanova announced on Thursday morning that both Phil Booth and Eric Paschall will be returning for their senior seasons with the Wildcats.

“Phil and Eric are two of the cornerstone leaders of our team,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “Each of them is widely respected by their teammates, not just for their talent, but for the kind of young men they are. We are thrilled that they will help lead our team again as seniors.”

Booth, a 6-foot-3 guard, is a redshirt senior from Maryland that averaged 10 points and 3.2 boards this past season despite dealing with a broken bone in his shooting hand that held him out of the lineup for seven games during Big East play. Paschall is a 6-foot-6 wing that started 38 games and averaged 10.6 points and 5.3 boards this past season, his second with Villanova after transferring into the program from Fordham.

There was some question that Paschall could end up declaring for the NBA draft. He is a redshirt junior and, given his athleticism, defensive versatility and ability to knock down threes, he would be an intriguing second round prospect and a potential role player at the NBA level. His return is big, because he is the piece that allows Villanova to be able to switch 1-through-4 without much worry, and he’ll allow sophomore Jermaine Samuels and incoming freshman Cole Swider to have another year before they are relied upon as heavily as they would be without him.

As good as Booth is at the college level, he’s not likely to end up being an NBA player. The concern is that, like Mikal Bridges and Paschall, is he was a senior from an education perspective, meaning that he could have earned his degree and moved on to the professional ranks. He will be an important veteran presence on the floor, and the kind of program piece that will help bridge the gap between last season’s title-winning team and the next crop of youngsters on the roster.

South Carolina’s Brian Bowen, still ineligible, to declare for draft

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Former Louisville forward and current South Carolina Gamecock Brian Bowen will declare for the NBA draft without signing with an agent as a safety measure in case the NCAA does not clear him to play in the 2018-19 season.

Bowen is the former top 25 prospect that was forced to leave the Louisville program after the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college hoops turned up evidence that his family had accepted the first payment of what was supposed to be a $100,000 fee to get him to be a Cardinal.

That investigation was ultimately what got Rick Pitino fired.

“I just felt that it was the right decision,” Bowen told ESPN. “My goal is still to play college basketball, but I felt as though it makes sense to cover my bases.”

Bowen is in a tough spot right now.

On the one hand, he has already missed an entire season of college basketball and there is no guarantee that he will be cleared to play next season, if at all.

On the other hand, the fact that he has not played in a year and that he has not played against any collegiate level competition is one of the reasons that NBA front offices are going to be hesitant to draft him, and that’s not a good thing for a player that was considered a second round pick before he spent a year on the sidelines.

Kentucky’s Gabriel to enter draft without agent

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Wenyen Gabriel announced on Wednesday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft but will not be signing with an agent at this time.

The 6-foot-10 Kentucky forward never quite lived up to his potential coming out of high school as a McDonald’s All-American. As a sophomore, he averaged 6.8 points and 5.4 boards while shooting 39.6 percent from three in just over 23 minutes as a reserve for the Wildcats during his sophomore season.

Gabriel is the fifth Wildcat to declare for the draft off of last season’s team. Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will all be signing with an agent, while P.J. Washington and Gabriel will be testing the waters, as of now. Kentucky also lost Sacha Killeya-Jones to a transfer.

“My dream has always been to play professionally,” Gabriel said in a news release announcing the decision. “After talking with Coach Cal and the staff, they believe it’s in my best interest to see where I stand in the eyes of the NBA. I’m confident I can play at the next level, but I want to be absolutely certain that this is the right decision for me at this time. I know that I have the opportunity to return to school and that I will have the full support of the coaching staff and the Big Blue Nation. No matter what happens, I love this university and all the opportunities it’s been able to provide me.”

If Gabriel were to return to school, he would be the only player on the Kentucky roster that would be an upperclassmen, but he would once against be fighting with, potentially, Jarred Vanderbilt, Washington, Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery for frontcourt minutes.

If he remains in the draft, however, there is a good chance that he will end up going undrafted. Gabriel has range on his jumper and the kind of length that makes him an intriguing small-ball option, but he’s not a great shot-blocker, he’s not a great rebounder, he’s not a great perimeter defender. Being tall and capable of making perimeter shots is a good thing, but if you can’t bring something else to the table — the ability to protect the rim, the ability to switch onto smaller defenders, etc. — there’s a limit to what your value is in a league that is as good as the NBA is.

I would recommend that Gabriel return to school, but even then, I’m not convinced there’s a real chance that Gabriel will be able to improve his stock all that much.

Texas Tech freshman Zhaire Smith to remain in NBA draft

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On the heels of a freshman season in which he established himself as one of the Big 12’s best newcomers and defenders, Texas Tech wing Zhaire Smith entered the 2018 NBA Draft without an agent in order to evaluate his professional prospects.

Smith’s decided to go “all-in,” with it being reported Tuesday night that he has decided to hire an agent and forego his final three seasons of eligibility. News of Smith’s decision was first reported by Michael Scotto of The Athletic, with Smith confirming the news shortly thereafter.

Smith, whose stock rose throughout the latter stages of the season as Texas Tech made its run to the Elite Eight, is projected by scouts to be a player who could land in the back end of the draft lottery because of his abilities as a defender, athleticism and upside.

Starting 21 of the 37 games in which he played, the 6-foot-5 Smith averaged 11.3 points and 5.0 rebounds in 28.4 minutes per game, shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 71.7 percent from the foul line. During an eight-game stretch that began in early February Smith averaged 15.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, shooting 61.0 percent from the field and 74.5 percent from the foul line.

Not only was Smith named to the Big 12’s All-Newcomer Team, but he was also an honorable mention all-conference selection and a member of the league’s All-Defensive Team.

It goes without saying that this is a tough personnel loss for Chris Beard and the Red Raiders to absorb, especially with leading scorer Keenan Evans, guard Niem Stevenson and forward Zach Smith both out of eligibility. With Zhaire Smith now moving on, returnees such as Jarrett Culver and Brandone Francis and grad transfer Tariq Owens will need to do even more as Texas Tech looks to build on its 27-win 2017-18 season.

South Carolina forward Chris Silva enters NBA draft sans agent

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Tuesday afternoon South Carolina junior forward Chris Silva announced that he will be going through the NBA draft process without an agent, thus preserving his final season of collegiate eligibility.

The 6-foot-9 Silva was one of the SEC’s best front court players in 2017-18, averaging 14.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game and earning first team all-conference honors. Silva, who also averaged 1.4 blocks per game, shot 46.7 percent from the field and 75.3 percent from the foul line during his junior campaign.

After serving as a reserve in Frank Martin’s rotation as a freshman, Silva’s been entrenched as a starter each of the last two years. As a sophomore Silva made 37 starts on a team that reached the Final Four, averaging 10.2 points and 6.1 rebounds in just under 21 minutes per game. Over the course of his career Silva’s improved with regards to staying out of foul trouble, with his fouls committed per 40 minutes dropping from 9.4 as a freshman to 5.3 in 2017-18.

Silva receiving feedback from NBA scouts and executives can only benefit him, especially if he can score an invite to next month’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. But if he were to leave South Carolina would have to account for the loss of its top scorer and rebounder, with Maik Kotsar (8.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg) being the Gamecocks’ second-most productive front court returnee.

Felipe Haase averaged 5.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 19.6 minutes per game as a freshman, with classmate Jason Cudd averaging 6.8 minutes per game in 23 appearances. South Carolina has also signed 6-foot-8 forward Alanzo Frink as part of its 2018 recruiting class.

Wake Forest loses Doral Moore to NBA draft

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One of two Wake Forest players to announce in late March that he would be entering the 2018 NBA Draft without an agent, 7-foot-1 center Doral Moore announced Tuesday that he has decided to forego his final season of collegiate eligibility and being the process of hiring an agent.

Moore averaged 11.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game as a junior, with all three numbers being significant improvements on his production during his first two seasons at Wake Forest. Averaging 25.5 minutes per game, Moore shot 68.9 percent from the field as a junior. With Moore’s decision to begin his professional career, head coach Danny Manning has another hole to fill on a roster that has been hit hard by departures since the end of the season.

Moore is the fifth player to leave Wake Forest this spring. Sam Japhet-Mathias was dismissed from the program, Keyshawn Woods will either begin his professional career or play at another school as a graduate transfer, and Donovan Mitchell and Richard Washington have both decided to transfer.

In Moore and Woods the Demon Deacons will, at minimum, have to account for the loss of two of their top three scorers from this past season. And should Crawford, the team leader in points and assists in 2017-18, decide to remain in the NBA draft, that would place even more pressure on Manning and a solid recruiting class led by 5-star forward Jaylen Hoard.