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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.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.