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Five Takeaways from the NBA Draft Combine

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CHICAGO — This year’s NBA Draft Combine was the second year in which college players testing the waters were allowed to participate and get feedback from NBA teams. Here’s a look at five main takeaways.

1. The Combine still serves an important purpose for testing players

We saw a handful of players make permanent decisions based on the combine this year.

Duke’s Frank Jackson opted to sign with an agent and stay in the NBA Draft after his first-day performance as he told reporters that he felt comfortable with how he played and how he felt that he belonged in the pros.

Testing well for himself in the combine and playing well in five-on-five, Jackson certainly elevated his profile and having an agent like Bill Duffy is only going to enhance his workout schedule for NBA teams as he hopes to vault into the first round.

SMU’s Semi Ojeleye also looked very good during combine testing as his max vertical (40.5″), lane agility (10.58) and three-quarter court sprint (3.16) all ranked in the top ten among prospects. With all of that athleticism at 241 pounds, Ojeleye has the size, strength and athleticism to be a unique force in the right system. After the combine, Ojeleye also decided to stick in the draft and sign with the agent as the combine also gave him confirmation that it was okay to go.

Others who are testing (more on some below) also received necessary feedback in Chicago through their play and testing against others.

2. Interviews with NBA teams show actual value

Interviewing with NBA teams is another underrated component of the Combine and the week in Chicago. Every team is located within one small area of Chicago and nearly every draft hopeful — combine participant or not — is interviewing with NBA teams.

North Carolina’s Justin Jackson mentioned to reporters that he got a lot of important feedback last year during the interview process that helped him enhance his game. Jackson improved his three-point percentages as a junior and now stands to be a potential lottery pick after being a fringe first-rounder last season. He listened to what teams had to say, got better at those things and helped the Tar Heels win a title, and now he’s a potential lottery pick.

That’s the type of win-win-win situation that this process is hoping to accomplish.

These interviews by NBA teams are being conducted by NBA legends like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. When these players hear criticisms from guys wearing rings on both hands, it registers a little bit more in some cases. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone testing decides to return and elevates into lottery status in 2018 based on feedback from this year’s combine.

3. Hamidou Diallo made the right decisions at the Combine

Kentucky redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo is attempting to become the first “none-and-done” player of all time. He spent the second semester this season on the Wildcat roster while going through practices, but he was redshirted to prepare for next season. But Diallo decided to gather information by going through the NBA Draft process and participating in Combine testing.

And as a former five-star prospect who is an elite athlete at shooting guard, Diallo really showed well for himself by going through this process.

Diallo had plenty of buzz in Chicago with his 44.5″ max vertical leap — which would be the highest mark of any player drafted into the NBA since they started testing for this. Also second in shuttle run time (2.79) and third in three-quarter court sprint (3.11) at this year’s combine, Diallo showed that he could be a mega athlete at the next level while he could be steadily climbing up boards.

For perspective, Diallo’s max vertical was three inches higher than Zach LaVine while also running slightly faster. And Diallo also measured well as he was 6’5″ with a 6’11” wingspan. (H/T to Julian Applebome at Draft Express for that great Diallo/LaVine tidbit.)

It was also smart of Diallo to pull out of of the five-on-five portion of the Combine because it might have exposed some flaws in his overall skill level. Diallo might still need to work on the inconsistent jumper that he showed in high school and he might also stand to improve his handle with the ball. But by skipping out on playing at the combine, Diallo protects himself to a degree as only teams who are serious about him will get to see what he’s capable of in private workouts.

All it takes is for one team to fall in love with Diallo during a workout and suddenly he sneaks into the first round of the NBA Draft. That’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion at this point, but Diallo has a lot of people saying good things about him at this point in the process.

4. Tony Bradley remains college basketball’s biggest returning decision

North Carolina freshman Tony Bradley surprised last season as he got in great shape before the year while looking like one of the more productive newcomers in the country. The former McDonald’s All-American played a vital role in helping the Tar Heels win the national championship by coming off the bench. His strong play and winning a title led to Bradley putting his name in the NBA Draft testing process this year.

Currently sitting at No. 40 overall, a second-round pick, on Draft Express, Bradley has an intriguing decision because the Tar Heels still have plenty back for next season while potentially giving him a chance to be a showcase piece on the interior.

With Joel Berry II returning and the Tar Heels losing both Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, that means an ample opportunity for post touches and other scoring opportunities for Bradley. When coupled with the departure of Justin Jackson, it means North Carolina could turn to Bradley as a go-to scoring option at times during the season.

Since North Carolina returns so many weapons from a national championship team, they could be a solid contender to repeat if Bradley comes back next season and elevates his play.

5. The lack of star power was noticeable at this year’s combine.

As the NBA Draft becomes more of a television-focused event, it is hard to imagine the NBA being thrilled about most top picks not showing up to do media sessions in Chicago. In the past, most potential top picks would interview with media at the combine because they were already in town to talk to NBA teams.

But this year’s event lacked serious star power as there were a lot of unanswered questions going around about how this process is playing out. This isn’t me, a member of the media, complaining about the lack of access. It’s me saying that there won’t be as much relevant information being reported about where potential top picks have worked out and who they interviewed with.

It makes for an NBA Draft process where there isn’t a lot of insight from top players.

High school basketball player collapses, dies at AAU event

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James Hampton, a member of Team United and a senior at Liberty Heights, a private high school in Charlotte, collapsed and died during a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League game on Saturday night.

Hampton was 17 years old.

In the second half of a game against Nike Phamily, a Phoenix-based program that is run by the father of Marvin Bagley III, Hampton collapsed to the floor unresponsive. Trainers at the event began CPR on and administered chest compressions. Parademics arrived within 10 minutes, but Hampton could not be revived.

The cause of death has not yet been released, but this is not the first time that Hampton had an issue. Last spring, at an event in the Washington D.C. area, Hampton collapsed on the court and had to be given CPR.

“He just fell down on the floor,” Team United director Jacoby Davis told the Charlotte Observer. “He had seizures a year ago and I remember (one of the Team United coaches) telling me that, ‘I saw his eyes rolling back in his head.’ I ran on the court thinking he was having a seizure. A trainer came over and said he didn’t know what was wrong. Another trainer checked his pulse. He said he didn’t have a pulse. It got crazy after that.”

RIP James Hampton.

Nevada’s Jordan Caroline pulls out of 2018 NBA Draft

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Jordan Caroline has opted to pull his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft as he will return to Nevada for his senior season, he announced on Saturday.

The 6-foot-7 Caroline put together a strong season for the Wolf Pack as he averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as Nevada made the Sweet 16 behind one of the most talented offenses in the country.

Caroline’s return is a huge boost for Nevada as they still await the NBA draft decisions of Caleb and Cody Martin.

Currently ranked No. 17 in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25 (without the Martin twins), the Wolf Pack will still have a ton of talent around Caroline next season. Five-star freshman center Jordan Brown recently committed to Nevada. The program also a number of talented transfers entering the mix, including Tre’Shawn Thomas, Nisre Zouzoua and Ehab Amin.

If the Martin twins return to school (and that is a big if) then Nevada could have a potentially elite offense next season. But even if the Martin twins go pro, Nevada should still be the favorite in the Mountain West and a threat to once again make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Dewan Huell returning to Miami for junior season

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Miami received some positive news on Saturday afternoon as the school announced the return of forward Dewan Huell for his junior season.

After testing the NBA draft waters without an agent, the 6-foot-11 Huell will be back for the Hurricanes. Starting all 32 games for the program last season, Huell averaged 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor.

“After getting feedback from NBA teams and talking it over with my family and coaches, I would like to announce that I will be returning to Miami for my junior season,” Huell said in the release. “I’m really excited to get back to work with my brothers so we can accomplish more than ever during the 2018-19 season.”

A former McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, Huell’s return gives the Hurricanes stability in the front court for next season as he’ll play with other returning players like Sam Waardenburg and Ebuka Izundu. With Miami losing both Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown early to the 2018 NBA Draft, Huell could be expected to provide more offensive production as a junior.

Bruce Weber receives contract extension at Kansas State

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Kansas State and head coach Bruce Weber have agreed to a two-year contract extension, according to a release from the school.

After leading the Wildcats to a surprising Elite Eight appearance in March, Weber will be the head coach at Kansas State through the 2022-23 season, which gives him another five seasons to work with. Weber will be paid $2.5 million in 2018-19 and he’ll receive a $100,000 increase to his salary in each remaining contract year.

Weber had already signed a two-year extension in August 2017, but this move gives the veteran head coach more job security (and positive recruiting perception) for the next few seasons.

“We are very fortunate to have not only such an outstanding basketball coach but also a man in Coach Weber who conducts his program with integrity and class and is widely respected across the nation,” Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor said. “Certainly last season was one of the most memorable postseason runs in our program’s history, and we are excited for next season and the years ahead under Coach Weber’s leadership.”

With Kansas State returning most of its roster from last season, including the return of guard Barry Brown from the 2018 NBA Draft process, expectations are sky-high for Weber and the Wildcats this season. Currently ranked as the No. 8 team in the NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25, Kansas State’s veteran club could give Kansas a serious run for a Big 12 regular season title this season.

Northwestern loses incoming freshman point guard

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Northwestern and incoming freshman point guard Jordan Lathon are parting ways. The 6-foot-4 Lathon was viewed as a potential candidate to replace Bryant McIntosh at lead guard for the Wildcats this season, but Northwestern has reportedly revoked his offer of admission and basketball scholarship.

It is unclear why Lathon was unable to be admitted into Northwestern, but the school’s VP for University Relations, Alan Cubbage, gave a statement to Inside NU’s Davis Rich and Caleb Friedman.

“Northwestern University has revoked its offers of admission and an athletic scholarship for Jordan Lathon, a recruit for the Northwestern men’s basketball team,” the statement said. “Out of respect for the privacy of the student, the University will have no further public comment.”

Lathon later acknowledged the situation in a tweet explaining to fans that he will no longer be attending Northwestern.

While it is unclear why Lathon and Northwestern are parting ways, other high-major programs are already very interested in bringing in Lathon for next season. Oklahoma State immediately jumped in with a scholarship offer. There is also speculation that Lathon, a native of Grandview, Missouri, could also hear from the in-state Tigers as well.

It’ll be interesting to see where Lathon lands, and how this also affects Northwestern’s point guard situation. The loss of a four-year starter like McIntosh will be tough to fill, especially since Lathon was committed to Northwestern since last June. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins seek out a veteran point guard graduate transfer to try and get some immediate help.