Saturday morning the first annual Nike Basketball Academy got underway in southern California, with the event hosting some of the top college and high school players in the country. Those in attendance will receive instruction from coaches as well as NBA players such as Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
The college roster doesn’t lack for talented players who should factor into the national Player of the Year conversations next season. Among those invited are Providence point guard Kris Dunn, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield and Iowa State forward Georges Niang. There are also two players in the group who have yet to play a game at the Division I level in LSU’s Antonio Blakeney and Ben Simmons.
LSU is one of three schools with multiple players in attendance. Arizona has two in guard Kadeem Allen (who redshirted last season and center Kaleb Tarczewski, and Gonzaga forwards Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are representing the Bulldogs. Below is the list of college players in attendance at the camp, which runs through the weekend.
Kadeem Allen (Arizona)
Paris Bass (Detroit)
DeAndre Bembry (Saint Joseph’s)
Antonio Blakeney (LSU)
Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia)
Isaac Copeland (Georgetown)
Tre Demps (Northwestern)
Kris Dunn (Providence)
Daniel Hamilton (Connecticut)
Buddy Hield (Oklahoma)
Justin Jackson (North Carolina)
Damian Jones (Vanderbilt)
Shawn Long (UL Lafayette)
Georges Niang (Iowa State)
Gary Payton Jr. (Oregon State)
Jakob Poeltl (Utah)
Taurean Prince (Baylor)
Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga)
Ben Simmons (LSU)
Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona)
Isaiah Taylor (Texas)
Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa)
Denzel Valentine (Michigan State)
Tyrone Wallace (California)
James Webb III (Boise State)
Troy Williams (Indiana)
Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga)
Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield returning for senior season
Already expected to be a good team in 2015-16, Oklahoma’s prospects for next season improved a great deal Friday morning as Buddy Hield announced that he will be back for his senior season. Last year’s Big 12 Player of the Year, Hield averaged 17.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in helping lead Lon Kruger’s program to 24 wins and its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2009.
With Hield returning the Sooners return four of the five players who started all 35 games this past season, with forward TaShawn Thomas being the lone departure. And the combination of experience and talent should once again have Oklahoma in the mix for the Big 12 title alongside reigning regular season champion Kansas and two-time tournament champion Iowa State.
“I’m on a great team and we have a lot of unfinished business,” Hield said Friday. “I just can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year. I want to go to the Final Four. That’s always been a dream for me. Playing with these guys, for my coaches and for my university is a lot of fun.
“I’ve been with Isaiah (Cousins) and Ryan (Spangler) for three years and Jordan (Woodard) for two. We’ve got some young pieces. This is a fun group and bonding with them has been a big part of my life. Getting my degree is also really, really important to me.”
Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard will once again lead the way on the perimeter, with Ryan Spangler being the team’s best option in the front court. Players such as Khadeem Lattin, Jamuni McNease and junior college transfer Akolda Manyang will need to step up alongside Spangler in order to account for the loss of Thomas, but overall Oklahoma has the pieces needed to meet and possibly exceed their accomplishments of 2014-15.
DraftExpress projected Hield as a second round pick in this year’s draft.
College basketball’s eight most important NBA Draft decisions
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: No one has more on the line with a little more than a week left before the NBA Draft’s early entry deadline than the Hoosiers, who will be waiting until April 25th to find out whether or not their star point guard will be back on the roster in 2015-16. Ferrell averaged 16.3 points and 4.9 assists last year, but more importantly, he was the point guard that made Indiana’s spread-out offensive attack so dangerous. You can’t guard Ferrell one-on-one, but you can’t help off of James Blackmon, or Robert Johnson, or any of Indiana’s myriad of shooters.
With Thomas Bryant set to join the program next season as well, the Hoosiers have already addressed their issue of rebounding, shotblocking and toughness in the paint. Now they just need their point guard back, because with him, they’re a preseason top 15 team. Without him? The NIT is possible.
Ty Wallace, Cal: The Golden Bears struggled in Cuonzo Martin’s first season as head coach, but much of that was due to a lack of depth and some injuries. With Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews back, Kameron Rooks healthy, Stephen Domingo eligible and top five recruit Ivan Raab joining the program, Cal as the pieces to be a threat in the Pac-12. But, like Indiana, they need their point guard, Wallace, back. He averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 boards and 4.0 assists last season.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: The Sooners are already losing Tashawn Thomas to graduation, and with Frank Booker transferring out of the program, Lon Kruger’s back court depth will already be tested next season. Hield, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, is good enough keep Oklahoma in and around the top 15, considering Ryan Spangler, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard all return. Without him, and the Sooners will have to scrap to ensure a tournament berth.
Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: Mark Few is already losing his starting back court of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell to graduation, and with all due respect to Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, that’s a loss that is going to be tough to overcome. Getting Przemek Karnowski and Domas Sabonis back ensures the Zags will have a formidable front line, but Wiltjer’s ability to spread the floor due to his scoring prowess creates all kinds of space on the interior. He’ll be a preseason all-american if he returns.
Here’s the kicker for Gonzaga fans: It seems going pro is something Wiltjer is actually toying with, but at this point, he’s not an NBA player. But if he gets his degree and decides he wants to start making money playing basketball, can anyone really look down on him for it?
Kris Dunn, Providence: If Kris Dunn returns to school, we’re looking at a first-team all-american that is good enough to carry the Friars back to the NCAA tournament. Without Dunn, who is a late-first round pick, the Friars will likely be back in rebuilding mode. There’s a real chance he comes back, however. Improve his jumper, cut down on those turnovers, and he’s a lottery pick, potentially top ten.
Caris LeVert, Michigan: I’ll just get this out of the way now: I think it would be foolish for LeVert to return to school. He’s broken the same foot twice in the last year, and feet are not a part of the body that professional athletes want to mess with. Playing another year in college is a serious risk, especially if he’s not completely healthy by the start of the year. That said, NBA team are aware of this as well, which means he may have already fallen out of the first round. If he comes back and he’s healthy, we’re looking at an all-american that can climb right back up those draft boards.
With LeVert, Michigan should be really good as well. We all saw how well Beilein had his kids playing by the end of last season, and that was without LeVert or starting point guard Derrick Walton. With LeVert, they’re probably top 25-good. Without him, we’re likely looking at a bubble team.
A.J. Hammons, Purdue: When Hammons is engaged, he’s an all-Big Ten caliber player. This past season, he was engaged, and it helped get Purdue to the NCAA tournament. He’s a defensive menace with a developing post game that would give Purdue a pair of seven-footers on their front line. The Boilermakers still could make an NCAA tournament without him, but if he’s back, they’re a borderline top 25 team.
Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Poeltl is a borderline lottery pick, and it would seem sensible for him to head off to the NBA. But there actually seems to be some doubt in whether or not he is going to go, and if he does decide to come back, the Utes will have at their disposal one of the best big men in the Pac-12. With Poeltl, they should make a second-straight NCAA tournament despite the fact they lose Delon Wright. Without him, they’re probably going to end up being a bubble team.