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.

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.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.