The 15 Most Important NBA Draft Testing The Water Decisions

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The deadline to enter the NBA Draft came and went at midnight on Sunday night, meaning that if your favorite team’s best player does not have his name in the draft as of today, he will be back in school.

But thanks to a rule change that came down last year, the players with their names currently in the draft aren’t locked into remaining in the draft. They have until May 24th — 10 days after the NBA combine — to pull their name out and return to school so long as they don’t sign with an agent.

The NBA’s official early entry list won’t be out for a couple more days, but here is the current list of players that we have entering the NBA Draft, signing with an agent and already planning on returning to school.

Too many names to get through?

I got you covered. Here are the 15 teams with the most on the line over the course of the next four weeks:

1. Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel, Louisville: As it stands, Louisville is the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 for the 2017-18 season. That’s the case because I am assuming that both Mitchell and Adel will be returning to school for their junior seasons. As good as Adel was in stretches at the end of the season, the bigger story here is Mitchell, who had a legitimate case to be named the ACC Player of the Year. He was sensational for a month-long stretch in the middle of ACC play last year, but he may have just been inconsistent enough to scare off NBA teams from guaranteeing him a spot in the first round of the draft.

If Mitchell does return, he’ll be on a short list — with guys like Miles Bridges, Allonzo Trier and a few of the names on here — for Preseason National Player of the Year. He’ll be a virtual lock to be placed somewhere on every outlet’s preseason all-america. If both return, Louisville will have a real chance to win a national title. If Mitchell — and, to a lesser extent, Adel — leaves, we could be looking at a situation where the Cardinals will have to fight to finish in the top two of the ACC.

2. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Motley was Baylor’s best player a season ago, a second-team all-american for a Bears team that outperformed everyone’s expectations. Motley has a shot of being a late-first round pick, but he’s also a redshirt junior that will be 22 years old by the time the NBA combine happens. With him back in the fold, Baylor, who returns the majority of their key pieces, might be able to give Kansas a run for their money in the Big 12 again. Without him, they’re still a back-end top 25 team, but it significantly changes their ceiling.

Johnathan Motley (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

3. Joel Berry II, Tony Bradley and Theo Pinson, North Carolina: This is obvious, isn’t it? The Tar Heels lost Justin Jackson to the NBA already. Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Nate Britt have graduated. If these three remain in the draft, the Tar Heels — who are the reigning National Champs — will be without their top seven from that title winning team. Pinson is a key role player, but both Berry and Bradley will be expected to star next season. Berry should be a Preseason All-American while Bradley will make preseason all-ACC teams. Of the three, only Bradley has a real shot to be a first round pick.

(UPDATE: Since this story was published, Berry has announced that he will be returning to school.)

4. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan was the runner-up last year for National Player of the Year, averaging a ridiculous 18.5 points, 12.5 boards and 3.1 assists while shooting 44.7 percent from three. With the Boilermakers returning essentially everyone else from a team that won the Big Ten regular season title, it’s hard not to see what Swanigan’s return would mean: Preseason National Player of the Year, preseason Big Ten title favorite, preseason top ten nationally. The problem? I just don’t see Swanigan returning to school, not after what he did last season and not when there really isn’t all that much more that he can do to improve in college.

Trevon Bluiett (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

5. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett was the best player in the NCAA Tournament not named Tyler Dorsey, and with the Musketeers, who made a run to the Elite 8 without Edmond Sumner, already losing their star point guard to the draft, getting back the guy that would be the Big East Preseason Player of the Year would help keep them in the mix for the Big East title. Without him, they’re probably more of a borderline top 25 team.

6. Semi Ojeleye, SMU: The Mustangs already have some solid pieces on their roster coming back next season, with the added boost of Shake Milton’s decision to return to school, but Ojeleye is the difference maker. He was incredible last season, so good, in fact, that he may have played his way into the NBA Draft’s first round. He’s a redshirt junior that turns 23 in December. If he’s back, SMU if a top 15 team, but I don’t expect him to come back.

7. Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love this Seton Hall team and I am going to end up overhyping them all offseason. It’s inevitable at this point. That said, my love affair with the Pirates stems from the fact that I am assuming both Carrington, the team’s most explosive back court scorer, and Delgado, arguably the nation’s best rebounder and the best big man in the Big East, return to school. They’re a top 20 team and a sleeper to win the Big East with them in the mix. They may not make the tournament without them.

(UPDATE: Since this story was published, Carrington has announced that he will be returning to school.)

8. Mo Wagner and D.J. Wilson, Michigan: The major blow that Michigan is going to take this offseason is to their back court. Derrick Walton Jr. was unbelievable in the last two months of the season, and he graduates. John Beilein added grad transfer Jaaron Simmons, who averaged 15.9 points and 6.5 assists at Ohio last season, to fill in at the point, but Michigan’s ceiling is going to be determined by whether or not they get their two stretch-fives back. Wagner and Wilson are perfect big men to play for Beilein — think Kevin Pittsnoggle with athleticism and mobility — and if they return, the Wolverines are a sneaky pick to finish top three in the Big Ten.

Aaron Holiday (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

9. Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh, UCLA: As it stands, UCLA is losing their top seven players from last season’s team. They are bringing in a talented freshman class, but it’s hard to picture a team made up of just freshmen and G.G. Goloman competing with Arizona and USC atop the Pac-12. Throw Aaron Holiday, who was one of the most under-appreciated players in the country last season, and Welsh back into the mix, however, and suddenly there are some veteran leaders on the roster to provide Steve Alford with an anchor. Neither are projected as first round picks.

10. Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky: Should Diallo opt to return to school for what would be his redshirt freshman season, he would be one of the veterans on Kentucky’s roster. He hasn’t played a second for the Wildcats, but given that this will be Kentucky’s youngest and most inexperienced team in John Calipari’s tenure, having another guy — one that is, you know, a top ten recruit and a freak athlete and defender — that’s been through three months of practices with the team is a bonus Kentucky can’t really pretend they don’t need.

11. Frank Jackson, Duke: In a vacuum, ranking Jackson this low probably seems silly. He was a borderline top ten recruit last season that played his best basketball down the stretch of the year and eventually unseated Grayson Allen from the Duke starting lineup. But he’s also a guy that’s testing the waters to protect himself in case Trevon Duval commits to Duke. If Frank Jackson stays in the draft, does that mean Duke is getting Duval? If he’s back in Durham, does that mean they missed on Duval? For a team in need of a point guard, which is the better option to have?

12. Thomas Bryant, James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson, Indiana: It’s really this simple for Indiana: If Archie Miller gets all three of these guys to return to school, Indiana is probably going to be a preseason top 25 team. If all three of them stick in the NBA Draft, Indiana is going to have to scrap to make the NCAA tournament.

13. Markis McDuffie, Wichita State: I think McDuffie is one of those guys that has flown under the radar as a talent, largely due to the fact that he plays on a team that spends less time on national television than Rutgers. That said, he’s the leading scorer of a team that’s going to be on everyone’s preseason top ten next season. Losing him would be a major blow for the Shockers.

14. Tacko Fall, UCF: UCF actually has a shot to be an NCAA tournament team next season — Johnny Dawkins has a better roster than you realize — but that hinges somewhat upon Tacko Fall and whether or not he’ll return to school for his junior year. The 7-foot-6 Fall made massive strides this season, but he still has a ways to go before he’s ready to handle the rigors of being a professional basketball player.

15. Braxton Key, Alabama: Alabama is going to pop up in the preseason top 25 this season and Key led the team in scoring as a freshman. So why is he so low here? Because Alabama is top 25 due to the fact that they bring in a loaded freshman class headlined by a pair of five-star scorers in Collin Sexton and John Petty. Key’s numbers will take a hit.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.