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Purdue’s Nojel Eastern isn’t going to get drafted, yet made the smart decision to declare

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Nojel Eastern spent his freshman season playing as Purdue’s back-up point guard, averaging 2.9 points and 2.5 boards with fewer assists than turnovers as it took him a couple of months to crack the rotation of a team that had as much veteran presence on the roster as any in the country.

On Monday morning, Eastern declared for the NBA draft without signing with an agent.

And he spent the rest of the morning getting roasted for making the decision that every underclassmen with the goal of, and the talent to, one day playing in the NBA should be making. Trust me when I tell that just about every player currently on scholarship at the Division I level counts themselves in that group, whether they believe they’re the next C.J. McCollum or that they just need a few more shots a night to prove that they are the real talent on the roster.

As of today, well over 100 college players have declared for the NBA draft. By the time the April 22nd deadline comes around, that number could surpass 150. That is before you factor in the seniors that are going to get drafted and the international prospects that are going to get selected. Hell, there are a handful of American players that have declared for the draft without setting foot on a college court.

You don’t need to be Will Hunting to figure out that not all of those players are going to be among the 60 kids selected in June’s NBA draft.

But roughly a quarter of those players that have declared have actually signed with an agent, foregoing their remaining eligibility, and even a handful of those players are turning professional despite the fact that they are unlikely to get drafted. Some, like Harry Froling of Marquette, are looking to play professionally overseas. Others, like Max Montana of San Diego State, have already completed their degree and would rather pursue a professional career than pretend to care about graduate classes.

All of that, however, is beside the point.

Two years ago, the NCAA changed the way that the early entry process works, allowing college basketball players to declare for the draft, workout for NBA teams and attend the NBA combine while returning to school so long as they don’t sign with an agent and pull their name out of the draft a week-and-a-half after the combine; this year, that deadline is May 30th.

The point is simple: To allow the players to truly gauge what their chances are of playing at the next level, and to get feedback directly from the mouths of NBA personnel on where they might be picked and what they would need to improve upon to better their draft standing.

Sometimes, that advice can change the trajectory of a player’s career; when Buddy Hield was told that he needed to become a better shooter if he wanted to last in the NBA, he spent a summer doing four-a-days to improve his stroke, became the 2016 co-National Player of the Year, reached a Final Four and got picked fifth in the 2016 draft. He was projected as a second round pick the year before.

And sometimes, the player declaring is barely going to hear from NBA people.

That will likely be the case with Eastern. A 6-foot-7 point guard with the kind of length and athleticism that NBA teams are going to look for out of a perimeter player, Eastern is still learning how to play the point at this level and, to date, is a non-shooter. He attempted just nine threes as a freshman, and that is not going to fly for a point guard unless you’re Ben Simmons or Rajon Rondo. Eastern is neither of them.

So what will happen?

He’ll probably struggle to find workouts, maybe getting invites to workout against other guards when teams within driving distance of Purdue’s West Lafayette campus — the Pacers, the Bulls, the Cavs, etc. — need a body to go up against the players they’re keen on evaluating. He’ll hear about how much work he needs on his jump shot and how he needs to develop as a lead guard. He’ll get that information straight from the horse’s mouth, and then return to Purdue next season with a chance to prove what he can do as a starter.

This is precisely why the rule was changed.

Because this is what’s best for the kids, even if there are players — like Eastern — who we all know are a ways away from being draftable.

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.