Six Takeaways from the 2016 NBA Draft Combine

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CHICAGO — The 2016 NBA Draft Combine offered some interesting twists this year since the rule changes meant college players could still play and opt to later go back to school. The combine has been a bit stale in recent years, but this new development meant that current college players got to play against each other in front of nearly every relevant NBA person and it made for an intriguing few days.

1. The new format is a good thing for the players and NBA teams

It quickly became apparent that the new rules to allow college players to test the waters and return to school multiple times has paid off for quite a few underclassmen who were invited to the combine and allowed to play. It seemed as though the NBA opted to select underclassmen who haven’t signed with an agent rather than some battle-tested seniors, but it shed some light on where a lot of on-the-fence college players stand entering the May 25th deadline.

Since players can actually get seen by NBA personnel and they have a chance to interview with NBA teams, this is really a win-win scenario for both parties. If a college player goes through this combine process and still decides to go back to school, they’ll have done so after playing in front of every NBA team while also likely interviewing with at least a dozen of them. That’s a tremendous amount of feedback and it also amounts to relationship building for a future employer.

Jobs are constantly changing in the league and a player could impress someone in an interview one year and that person could become a general manager elsewhere by the next offseason and make a move on that player. It starts to get players involved in the professional conversation and helps them get mentally prepared to make the pro transition, even if they don’t decide to turn pro right away.

2. On-the-fence college players are working out a lot for local teams

One of the interesting things I learned at the NBA Draft Combine is how the players who are still amateurs are going through this NBA Draft process. In the past few years, everyone had an agent with professionally-run training sessions and workout regimens. But with the new rules in place, a lot of players without representation are training on campus with their college strength and conditioning coach.

It also means they have to be aware of NBA workouts. Under the new rules, college players who haven’t signed can also workout for NBA teams, but they must repay any costs if they decide to return to school. This means a lot of players who could return to school are trying to stay local and work out for NBA teams in their region.

Players from the Big Ten seemed to workout with a lot of Central Division teams within driving distance of campus while the same could be said for ACC and Big East players on the East Coast. It means that proximity becomes a new and interesting recruiting tool if a program embraces getting players to the professional ranks. If a college program is in a major market, or close to a lot of NBA teams, that could be an additional recruiting tool as long as these rules are in place.

3. This draft doesn’t appear very strong

The NBA Draft Combine doesn’t feature a lot of potential first-round picks playing in the 5-on-5 scrimmages. Even without that kind of talent on the floor, the games this year showed how this class just isn’t very strong when it comes to depth or star power. There wasn’t a lot of positive chatter from folks at the combine this year in terms of a group of prospects that would bring big returns.

There are some promising potential role players who appeared at the combine, but a lot of players have glaring holes that need to be addressed before they’re ready to really contribute at the pro level. Many have projected that this first round could see a lot of draft-and-stash overseas prospects in the first round. This allows teams not to spend money now against the salary cap while also letting a player develop with more time away.

A lot of teams are also beginning to stockpile second-round picks and use them as assets for potential D League guys and end-of-bench skill guys. There are plenty of players from the college ranks who will likely fall in this category and get a chance to prove themselves in Summer League after falling to the second round.

4. Cheick Diallo takes advantage of 5-on-5

During his freshman year at Kansas, former McDonald’s All-American Cheick Diallo played a total of 202 minutes. Issues with the NCAA and his former high school along with falling out of the Kansas rotation forced Diallo to spend a lot of time on the bench, but he still opted to test the pro process as a highly-regarded player coming out of high school.

Diallo made a statement on the first day of the Combine as he had people buzzing with his 18-point, 4-block performance as he seemed comfortable in the setting. The second day, Diallo followed that up with a solid nine points and 10 rebounds, so it comes as no surprise that he’s staying in the draft after hiring an agent after this weekend.

On an NBA floor in an up-and-down setting, Diallo looked really solid and he could see himself move into a few team’s first-round boards with the way he played. But he also has to show that he can produce in the half court and there is still a lot of time before next month’s draft.

If the motor is running like this and Diallo continues to show well in workouts, this is a pretty weak draft, so he could see himself shoot up draft boards.

5. People are fascinated by Thon Maker

One of the players who drew the biggest media gatherings was Thon Maker. The center is going from high school straight into the draft and it’s a shame he’ll never get a chance to play college basketball because there’s just so much intrigue surrounding his game and his persona.

With a media gathering about two-to-three deep Maker was poised as he went over his background and his process of getting into the draft.

But a lot of question marks remain.

Maker didn’t play in the 5-on-5 games at the NBA Draft Combine and he’ll likely only work out for a select group of teams. When you talk to people about his NBA draft stock it ranges anywhere from lottery to second round. People just don’t know what to make of Thon at this point and he’ll have to do well in workouts to rise in the draft.

This current group of college freshmen will be a ton of fun to watch but Maker would have added a unique player to that crop.

6. Small guards are still finding a way

Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas has become a popular man among players. Not only was the point guard the last pick in the NBA Draft in 2011, but he’s also 5-foot-9.

The rise of Thomas into All-Star has given new motivation to smaller guards like Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis and Oakland’s Kay Felder.

Ulis just opted to through testing and didn’t play in the combine, but he is still a likely first-round pick after being one of college basketball’s best players this past season. Felder played very well at the combine and has a lot of confidence going into the draft.

With the NBA game going smaller and putting a focus on perimeter shooting and ball handlers, there is still plenty of room for smaller guards who can still make plays. Ulis and Felder are both elite playmakers who should be able to make a roster if given the right tools to work with.

Report: Notre Dame closing deal with Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame is finalizing a deal to make Penn State’s Micah Shrewsberry its new men’s basketball coach, two people with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because contract details were still being completed and needed school approval.

Shrewsberry, in his second season at Penn State (23-14), led the Nittany Lions to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and a tournament victory for the first time since 2001.

The Nittany Lions beat Texas A&M and were eliminated by Texas in the second round.

Notre Dame has been searching for a replacement for Mike Brey, who spent the last 23 season as coach of the Fighting Irish. He announced in January that this would be his last season with Notre Dame

The Irish finished 11-21.

Shrewsberry grew up in Indianapolis and went to school at Division III Hanover College in Indiana.

He was the head coach at Indiana University South Bend, an NAIA school located in the same city as Notre Dame, from 2005-07.

He later worked as an assistant coach at Butler and Purdue, with a stint as an assistant with the Boston Celtics in between.

ESPN first reported Notre Dame was close to a deal with Shrewsberry.

Armando Bacot says he’s returning for fifth season at North Carolina

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina forward Armando Bacot is returning to play a fifth season for the Tar Heels.

Bacot announced his decision Wednesday, giving North Carolina fans a bit of good news after the Tar Heels failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.

The 6-foot-11 Bacot is North Carolina’s career leader in rebounds, double-doubles and double-figure rebounding games.

Bacot led North Carolina to a runner-up finish in last year’s NCAA Tournament, and his decision to return was a major reason the Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25.

The Tar Heels didn’t come close to meeting those expectations. They went 20-13 and opted against playing in the NIT. Bacot earned Associated Press All-America third-team honors and averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds.

He averaged 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds in 2021-22. He capped that season by becoming the first player ever to have six double-doubles in one NCAA Tournament.

Bacot participated in North Carolina’s Senior Night festivities this year. He has a fifth year of eligibility because of the waiver the NCAA granted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ed Cooley takes over at Georgetown with lofty aspirations

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WASHINGTON – Ed Cooley’s task at Georgetown is to bring a once-storied program back to prominence in a competitive conference that has three teams still part of March Madness in the Sweet 16.

Cooley’s lofty aspirations go beyond lifting the Hoyas up from the bottom of the Big East Conference. After leaving Providence, which he took to the NCAA Tournament seven times in 12 years, he already is talking about trying to coach Georgetown to its first championship since 1984.

At his introductory news conference Wednesday that felt like a pep rally, Cooley said he wanted current and former players to envision cutting down nets and watching “One Shining Moment” with the nets hanging around their necks. He promised wins – many of them – and plotted a path forward that he knows will involve some tough times.

“It’s a process, and the process now, because you have a changing landscape in athletics, you’ll have an opportunity to probably move it quicker than you would have 10, 20 years ago,” Cooley said. “We’re going to lose some games. It’s OK. Losing’s part of growth. But over the course of time, it will pay off.”

Georgetown has lost a lot the past couple of years under Patrick Ewing, who was fired earlier this month after six seasons. The team went 7-25 this season after going 6-25 last season and lost 37 of 39 games in Big East play.

While Cooley at Providence was responsible for four of those defeats, the 53-year-old distanced himself from Georgetown’s recent run of losing.

“I don’t have anything to do what happened yesterday,” he said. “My job is to move us forward from today.”

Cooley’s mere presence is an acknowledgement that Georgetown needed a major change to become relevant again. After late Hall of Fame coach John Thompson’s 27-year-old run led to longtime assistant Craig Esherick succeeding him and then son John Thompson III and Ewing getting the head job, Cooley is the school’s first outsider in the position in a half-century.

His only connection to the Hilltop – beyond coaching in the Big East – is his daughter, Olivia, attending Georgetown. Cooley, a Providence native, said her desire to live in the Washington area played into his decision to leave for a conference rival.

It was certainly no accident that athletic director Lee Reed and school president John J. DeGioia used phrases like “new era” and “new chapter” when discussing Cooley. DeGioia said he believes Cooley will “uplift and restore this team” to compete at the highest levels of the sport.

“He has a proven record of success,” Reed said. “We knew we needed a leader, someone who understood our identity and could reimagine Georgetown basketball to fit today’s unique basketball landscape.”

That landscape, including players being able to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) and more easily transfer schools, are the biggest changes Cooley has seen since landing his first head job at Fairfield in 2006. He expects to be aggressive, and given the high volume of Georgetown players coming and going via the transfer portal, could rebuild the roster in his image sooner rather than later.

“You have to find student-athletes that fit the way you want to play, your style of play, that fit you as a coach,” Cooley said. “We need to find players that can play for me that can attend Georgetown, not the other way around.”

Cooley acknowledged that some luck is needed but also stressed recruiting local talent to keep the best players in the region around. That’s just one building block to putting Georgetown back on the map, which Cooley wants the time and latitude to do.

“The word patience is always hard because everybody wants it and they want it right now,” he said. “Everybody wants it right now. Have a little bit of patience.”

Texas’ Arterio Morris plays amid misdemeanor domestic violence case

Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas — In a season when Texas fired coach Chris Beard after a felony domestic violence arrest, it has allowed a reserve guard to keep playing while he awaits trial on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting an ex-girlfriend.

Second-seed Texas has advanced under interim coach Rodney Terry to the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2008, and the Longhorns play No. 3 Xavier in Kansas City, Missouri.

Arterio Morris, a freshman who was one of the top recruits in the country last year, was initially scheduled to stand trial March 29, three days before Final Four weekend. Denton County prosecutors were granted a delay to an unspecified date.

Beard was fired Jan. 5, about three weeks after he was arrested on suspicion of a felony charge of choking his fiancée in a fight during which she also told police he bit, and hit her. She later recanted the choking allegation and the Travis County district attorney dismissed the case, saying prosecutors were following her wishes not to got to trial and that the charge could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Morris is charged with Class A misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury to a family member, which in Texas includes dating relationships. It stems from a June 2022 confrontation in the Dallas suburb of Frisco. The charge carries penalties ranging from probation and fines to up to a year in jail if convicted.

Morris’ attorney, Justin Moore, said the charges against Beard and the player are different.

“(Beard) was charged with a felony family assault,” Moore said. “That was far more serious as to what Arterio was alleged to have to committed. We maintain Arterio’s innocence.”

According to police, the ex-girlfriend said Morris grabbed her arm and pulled her off a bed, and later pulled the front of her sports bra, causing an injury to her neck and shoulder area. Police reported seeing a sizable bruise or scratch.

Texas officials declined comment. Beard said before the season that school officials he would not identify determined the freshman could play this season.

Moore defended Texas officials’ decision to not suspend Morris.

“I do believe Texas has taken this seriously. They’ve also allowed Arterio to enjoy his due process rights,” Moore said.

Morris has played in all 36 games this season, although his minutes and have been limited on a senior-dominated team. He averages nearly 12 minutes and 4.7 points per game. His biggest moment was a soaring alley-oop dunk against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.

Attempts to reach Morris’ ex-girlfriend through family members were not successful. According to online records, prosecutors sought the trial delay to “procure witness availability.” Prosecutor Jamie Beck did not immediately return messages.

Wichita State hires ORU’s Paul Mills to lead program

Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

Wichita State hired Paul Mills away from Oral Roberts to turn around its languishing men’s basketball program, landing what has been one of the hottest names among mid-major coaches.

The 50-year-old Mills led the the Golden Eagles to two of the past three NCAA Tournaments, engineering upsets of Ohio State and Florida as a No. 15 seed in 2021 before going 30-5 this past season and losing to Duke as a No. 5 seed.

He replaces Isaac Brown, who was fired after three seasons as the Shockers slowly slipped toward mediocrity.

“My family and I are extremely excited about being a part of Wichita State,” said Mills, who will be introduced during a news conference Thursday at Charles Koch Arena. “The rich history, winning tradition and unbelievable community support will keep us working on behalf of the greatest fans in all of college basketball.”

Mills got his break in coaching when he joined Scott Drew’s first staff at Baylor in 2003, working alongside future Kansas State coach Jerome Tang in helping to turn around a program that had been mired in controversy. Mills stayed for 14 years, helping to reach seven NCAA Tournaments, before replacing Scott Sutton at Oral Roberts before the 2017 season.

“I absolutely love Paul Mills. He’s like a brother to me. So happy for him and his family, for Wendy and the girls,” said Tang, who has Kansas State playing Michigan State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night. “He’s going to be incredible because he is passionate about young people and about developing young men.

“There’s no throttle, like, hold-back governor on him in terms of love and what he pours into his guys.”

Mills went just 11-21 each of his first two seasons in Tulsa, but the seeds of a turnaround had been planted, and the Golden Eagles have not had a losing season since. The biggest step came two years ago, when Mills led Oral Roberts to the Sweet 16 of an NCAA Tournament played entirely within an Indianapolis “bubble environment” because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Golden Eagles slipped to 19-12 the following year before winning 30 games and the Summit League title this past season, when they were led by high-scoring guard Max Abmas, an honorable mention All-American selection.

“He’s the one that told me, he said, ‘Tang, 10s hangs with 10s and one hangs with ones,’” Tang said, “and he’s a 10 and he’s going to have some 10s around him.”

The hiring of Mills comes as the Shockers try to position themselves at the forefront of a new-look American Athletic Conference. Perennial powerhouse Houston is joining Central Florida and Cincinnati in leaving for the Big 12 after this season, and six new schools are due to arrive from Conference USA for the start of next season.

Wichita State, a power under Ralph Miller and Gene Smithson in the 1960s, returned to prominence when Mark Turgeon took over in 2000. But it was under Gregg Marshall, who resigned in November 2020 amid allegations of verbal and physical abuse of players, that it began to soar. The Shockers advanced to the Final Four in 2013, finished the regular season unbeaten the following year and at one point went to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Brown, who was Marshall’s top recruiter, led them back to the NCAA Tournament in his first year. But the Shockers were just 15-13 last year and 17-15 this past season, leading Saal to decide that a coaching change was necessary.

Turns out the answer Saal was looking for was just a few hours south at Oral Roberts.

“Paul Mills’ heart for people, passion for life and approach to the development of young people and programs is energizing,” Wichita State athletic director Kevin Saal said in a statement. “He aligns with Shocker Athletics’ core values, facilitates a first-class student-athlete experience and fuels broad-based competitive excellence.”