(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Six Takeaways from the 2016 NBA Draft Combine

2 Comments

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.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
3 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

Getty Images
4 Comments

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
3 Comments

STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.