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Testing The Waters: Donte DiVincenzo, Kevin Huerter star at NBA Draft Combine

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The fact of the matter is that for all the pomp and circumstance, the NBA Combine is, essentially, about getting face-to-face interviews with these prospects while also landing definitive results for height, length, athletic testing and medicals.

Those results, when they pop, can help — or hurt — a player’s standing.

That said, there is still plenty that can be taken away from the 5-on-5 games that are played.

For players from smaller schools, it’s a chance to prove themselves against a higher level of competition. Think Larry Nance Jr., who wound up as a first round pick out of Wyoming.

For players that are stuck in a rigid system in college, the combine is a chance to show what they can do when they are no longer reined in. Kyle Kuzma is the perfect example of this.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the players that are still testing the waters and how they performed in Chicago this week.

WINNERS

DONTE DIVINCENZO, So., Villanova: The star of the national title game did not disappoint at the combine, in either the 5-on-5 play or in the athletic testing. Let’s start with the latter, where DiVincenzo registered a 42″ max vertical — tops at this year’s combine — and a 34.5″ standstill vertical to go along with a top five time in the lane agility drill. His size and length (6-foot-4.5 with a 6-foot-6 wingspan) is a bit of a concern, but DiVincenzo’s effort stood out during the games. The competitiveness and toughness is there, as is the shot-making ability. Already trending towards being a late first round pick, DiVincenzo probably solidified his standing at the combine. At this point I would be very surprised if he opted to return to school for his junior year.

KEVIN HUERTER, So., Maryland: We’ve been talking about Huerter as an under-the-radar prospect this spring, and he showcased why at the combine. Posting solid athletic testing numbers (he was top ten is all of the sprint drills and measured out at a 38″ max vert), Huerter proved himself to be a 6-foot-7 shot-making wing with an impressive feel; the 3.4 assists his averaged this season wasn’t a fluke. There’s a real chance that Huerter would be a late-first round pick should be stay in the draft, but there is a growing sentiment in NBA circles that he may want to return to school to try and play his way into the lottery of the weaker 2019 draft. If he adds strengths and proves himself to be an above-average Big Ten defender, that’s not an impossibility.

JOSH OKOGIE, So., Georgia Tech: We didn’t even mention Okogie when discussing which players had the most on the line heading into the combine, and that was clearly a mistake. Okogie may have proven himself worthy of an early-second round pick, if not late-first. The 6-foot-4.5 wing measured out at a 7-foot wingspan and finished with the fastest sprint time and the second-fastest shuttle run. A member of John Calipari’s Team USA U-19 team last summer, Okogie showcased his impressive defensive versatility during the combine games which, when combined with the 38 percent shooting from deep (173 attempts) in his two seasons in Atlanta, makes him an intriguing 3-and-D prospect in a league where defensively versatile wings that can space the floor are in high demand.

*(UPDATE: Okogie signed with an agent on Monday.)

It’s probably worth noting here that Huerter won’t turn 20 until August 27th and Okogie won’t turn 20 until September 1st. DiVincenzo is 19 months older than him. Hell, both of them are younger than Mo Bamba, Deandre Ayton and Michael Porter Jr. That’s a massive amount of time on the development curve.

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LOSERS

CODY and CALEB MARTIN, Nevada: For both Martin twins, the combine made it looks like their incredible season with the Wolf Pack had more to do with the Mountain West than their future as NBA players. Caleb — the scorer — could not find a rhythm on that end while Cody — the jack-of-all-trades — didn’t exactly appear to be great at anything. The twins turn 23 in September, just received their degrees and Nevada would have 15 scholarship players if they return. They seem to be out the door, although that does not mean they’re headed for the NBA.

TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse: Physically, Battle tested out well, measuring nearly 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan and solid athletic testing numbers. But that was never the worry with Battle. His issue is that he was an inefficient, high-volume scorer that played predominantly with the ball in his hands at Syracuse. He needed to prove that he could a) play off the ball and b) shoot better than what his numbers were with the Orange. He did neither, and while I’m not sure he necessarily hurt himself, he did not play his way into the first round. If he remains in the draft, he’ll likely end up a second round pick.

BRIAN BOWEN, South Carolina: Bowen did not appear to be a draftable player during the games at the combine, which is more or less what we thought of him prior to sitting out the 2017-18 season after he was caught up in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. This is a nightmare scenario for him. He has until May 30th to decide if he should just get started on a pro career, whatever level that ends up being at, or returning to school and hoping the NCAA will clear him.

JARRED VANDERBILT, Kentucky: Vanderbilt pulled out of the combine prior to the start, which might have more to do with his health and controlling the flow of information over his medical testing than anything else. For a player that has had a myriad of lower left leg injuries over the years — he missed the first 17 games and the final six games of his freshman season, as well as much of the summer prior to his senior season in high school — he’s going to have a difficult decision to make in regards to turning pro. He’s not a first rounder, but just how long is his athletic career going to be given these health issues?

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THEY ARE WHAT WE THOUGHT THEY WERE

CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: Edwards was a late addition to the combine as other players dropped out. He’s more of a scorer than he is a point guard at this stage, and some of his struggles offensively at the combine showed that. He could use another year where he’ll be asked to do it all for Purdue offensively.

OMARI SPELLMAN, Villanova: We know what Spellman is. He’s a 6-foot-9 center with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a lethal three-point shooting stroke. We also know that he’s lost nearly 50 pounds since he was in high school. At the combine, Spellman checked in at 253 pounds with 13.75 percent body fat, still managing to post a 35.5″ max vertical at that weight. Put another way, there is still improvement that can be made on his body and, in theory, his athleticism. That keeps teams interested, but he certainly didn’t play his way into being a first rounder.

BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland: Fernando proved himself a very large human (6-foot-9.75, 7-foot-4.25) but beyond that, his instincts as a basketball players were not quite there. In an NBA era where paint-locked big men are becoming useless, Fernando seems to fall into that category. If anything, what may keep him in the draft is his guardian’s connection to Kansas big Silvio De Sousa and the FBI investigation into college basketball.

UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas: His 7-foot-7 wingspan is enough to make NBA GMs salivate, but that may be the only NBA-ready skill that the big fella has. He’s a non-shooter — career 40.6 percent from the free throw line — and his inability to defend on the perimeter was exposed by Villanova in the Final Four. He’s a late-second round pick at best.

SAGABA KONATE, West Virginia: The passion and the energy that Konate played with all season long was on full display at the combine as well. He’s a big, burly 6-foot-7.25 shot-blocker with a 7-foot wingspan and a better-than-you-think shooting stroke, but he didn’t do much to prove himself as more than a second round pick.

P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky: Physically, Washington doesn’t profile all that different that Spellman, who is slightly taller with a slightly longer wingspan and 30 extra pounds of weight he can stand to lose. The difference? Spellman is a very good shooter. The was time we saw Washington, who shot 5-for-21 from three as a freshman, he was missing 12 of his 20 free throws in a 61-58 loss to Kansas State in the Sweet 16. He’s already said he wants a first round guarantee to remain in the draft, and if teams didn’t rate him as a first rounder prior to the combine, I’m not sure anything happened that would change their minds.

JAYLEN HANDS and KRIS WILKES, UCLA: The most notable thing that happed with these two at the combine was that Hands, ironically enough, finished with the smallest hands at the event. He did, however, show some point guard instinct and fight defensively. There’s no guarantee he gets drafted, and the same can be same for Wilkes, who at least fits the profile of a versatile wing. Their decision essentially comes down to whether or not they think playing another year for Steve Alford will actually help their chances of getting into the first round in 2019.

Report: Alleged NCAA violations against former UConn coach Kevin Ollie revealed

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie allegedly committed multiple NCAA violations that led to his dismissal last spring, according to a report released Wednesday by the Hartford Courant.

Ollie was dismissed from the position after a disappointing 2017-18 campaign as he’s been in a battle with the school over the remaining $10 million on his contract. Since Ollie was fired for just cause, the school is trying to withhold that remaining money as the case will proceed to arbitration. UConn president Susan Herbst upheld the school’s decision to terminate Ollie for just cause on Tuesday as he is still, technically, suspended without pay.

According to documents obtained by The Courant under a Freedom of Information Act request, Ollie and his staff committed multiple violations, including an impermissible phone call between Huskies legend Ray Allen and a recruit. Multiple UConn players were also sent to work with an outside trainer on campus, and later, in Atlanta. Another violation occurred when Ollie shot baskets with recruit James Akinjo during an official visit as the video was posted by Akinjo’s guardian on Twitter. The video was later deleted.

Among the 1,355 pages of documents that The Courant obtained, it includes the NCAA’s transcripts from their investigation as well as UConn’s case to terminate Ollie as head coach.

Perhaps the worst violation includes the alleged involvement of the trainer, as Ollie allegedly had a friendship with Derrek Hamilton. During the 2015-16 season, Hamilton allegedly worked out UConn players after hours during on-campus workouts as well as off-campus workouts. Three players also allegedly traveled to Atlanta to train with Hamilton as the players were fed, transported and housed for free — all of which are NCAA violations.

The NCAA has yet to proceed with any action against UConn as 900 pages of the report were based on the NCAA’s interviews and findings. Former UConn coach Glen Miller was also granted immunity in exchange for his testimony to the NCAA regarding the violations.

These alleged violations are a new step in the Ollie case, as the case does not look great for him to receive the remaining $10 million on the contract. Ollie and UConn still have to go through arbitration, but the release of these documents, and alleged violations, is very hurtful to Ollie’s case.

Harvard captain Chris Egi opts for Wall Street instead of pro basketball dreams

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Harvard forward and team captain Chris Egi is opting to skip potential professional basketball options in order to pursue a career on Wall Street.

In a great profile from Michael Grange of Sportsnet Canada, the 6-foot-9 Egi will become an investment analyst at Goldman Sachs after his four-year career with the Crimson ended after this season.

At one point considered a top-100 prospect in his high school Class of 2014, Egi never found consistent footing on the Harvard basketball team as he played sparingly over the course of his four seasons. Injuries and a competitive roster forced Egi to re-evaluate his basketball ambitions as a concussion forced him to miss a lot of his senior season.

“I kind of made an agreement with myself that I’d put it all in for a final shot senior year. But chances were it wasn’t going to be basketball for me unless something great happened,” Egi said in the story.

“[Playing professionally] would be a great experience and part of me wants to do it. But part of me feels like this isn’t the path for me and there are a lot of opportunities here that aren’t about playing basketball and I want to take advantage of those and get started on this new journey.”

While Egi never got stable playing time with Harvard, he could have been an intriguing professional player thanks to his run-and-jump athleticism. Since Egi is also Canadian, he would not have fit under some international league policies that limit the number of American players on certain rosters. If healthy, Egi could have eventually morphed into a serviceable pro after a disappointing college basketball career.

In the classroom at Harvard, however, things were hardly disappointing for Egi. In fact, it appears he might have made the correct decision by going the Wall Street route. Selected to give a commencement speech at Harvard’s underclass graduation late in May, Egi shined as he told his family’s story and personal experiences at the Ivy League school he always dreamed of attending.

As Michael Porter Jr. joins Puma, will brand make splash into college basketball?

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As the 2018 NBA Draft approaches, Puma has made major headlines by signing a handful of lottery picks — including the potential top two picks in Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley.

Puma’s aggressive move to get back into basketball continued on Wednesday afternoon as ESPN’s Nick DePaula reported that Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. — another likely top-10 pick — will sign a multi-year deal with the apparel company.

Dormant in the basketball business since Vince Carter signed with the brand as a rookie in 1998, Puma has become one of the intriguing subplots of this year’s draft as they attempt to position themselves in a crowded basketball apparel market that includes heavyweights like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.

But while Puma has made a splash by signing three potential top ten picks, and another potential lottery pick in Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith, the intriguing question becomes what the brand might do at the college and grassroots levels of basketball?

Besides targeting 2018 NBA draft picks, Puma has recently made a strong push as a lifestyle brand by forging partnerships with music icons like Jay-Z and Rihanna. The brand’s soccer division also received a boost when they opted to sign Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku to a roster that already included the likes of Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann. The company also has a longstanding partnership with 11-time Olympic gold medal sprinter Usain Bolt.

So, even outside of professional basketball, Puma is trying to make major moves, while spending major money, over the last several months.

Having star NBA talents signed to apparel deals is one thing. Those same companies often attempt to align with as many college programs and high school programs as possible. Nike, Adidas and Under Armour have also formed their own spring and summer grassroots basketball leagues over the last decade with the EYBL, Adidas Gauntlet and the Under Armour Association.

While Puma is undoubtedly spending enough to be seen by the masses, it’s hard to say if they have the monetary means, or the labor, to make a major push into smaller basketball levels like college and the AAU scene. Multiple basketball and apparel sources speculated to NBCSports.com that Puma’s sudden rise into the NBA doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll want to make the leap into college or high school basketball.

That’s been the natural progression of the other apparel companies who have made a major mark in basketball, as those brands value the long-term relationships and local credibility that comes with having top-notch college and high school players wearing their product.

Maybe Puma doesn’t see things that way as they try to align themselves with star professional players. And for all of the talk of Nike having long-term relationships with Ayton, Bagley and Porter, all three of them jumped at the chance to make the most money with the new(ish) kids on the block. Money will still be the ultimate factor in a lot of athletes signing with apparel companies.

If Puma does decide to enter the college athletics arms race, it would certainly make for a fascinating apparel company to enter the mix. Since Puma has credibility in sports like golf, tennis, soccer and track and field they could also make a splash signing larger schools to long-term apparel deals that go across all sports.

But it remains to be seen what Puma’s long-term goal is after signing four strong draft prospects. Puma is off to a great start re-entering basketball, but we have no idea what kind of end-goal they have in mind. Or if that even involves college basketball.

Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis commits to Kentucky

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Reid Travis announced on Wednesday morning that he will be committing to Kentucky.

Travis had spent the past four seasons at Stanford, where he averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 boards and, when healthy, had been one of the best big men in the Pac-12 for the better part of three seasons.

But injuries had taken a toll on the 6-foot-8, 250 pound forward. He played just eight games his sophomore season due to a stress reaction in his left leg, for which he was given a medical redshirt for. In total, Travis missed 35 games in four years with the Cardinal.

Travis is a terrific rebounder and a low-post scorer that will immediately provide a Kentucky team with plenty of perimeter talent with an anchor in the paint. Travis will be the only scholarship player on the roster with more than one season of experience.

If there is a concern here, it’s that Travis and fellow forward P.J. Washington play a similar style. Both are somewhat undersized bigs that do most of their damage in the paint, and neither are known for their ability to be a rim protector or to stretch the floor. Spacing, once again, is going to be an issue for this Kentucky team, even with all the perimeter talent that is on the roster.

But there is a ton of perimeter talent. Ashton Hagans, Kelden Johnson, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, Quade Green. Kentucky is not short on pieces, but like we seem to say every season, the key to unlocking that talent is finding a way for all those pieces to fit together. It’s not perfect, but this is certainly a more balanced roster than Kentucky had a year ago, and if anyone has earned the faith that he can find a way to make it work, it’s John Calipari.

From Spokane to Serbia, Nigel Williams-Goss sees NBA dreams take a detour

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The Grobari was the most shocking part.

After two seasons playing in the Pac-12 and two years at Gonzaga, where The Kennel is renowned as one of the best student sections in college basketball, Nigel Williams-Goss was still not prepared for what he was going to encounter playing for KK Partizan, a Serbian club in Belgrade, one of the few European cities that is as crazy about basketball as they are soccer.

Grobari is what the Partizan fans call themselves — as in, “I’m Grobari” — and they support both Partizan’s basketball and soccer teams. Rabidly. When they behave, they’re called Ultras. When they don’t, which is fairly often, they’re referred to as Hooligans.

“I’ve see the flares being lit in the gym,” Williams-Goss told NBC Sports in a wide-ranging interview last month. “I’ve had times where I had to cover my head with a towel because the fans start throwing lighters and coins because they disagree with a call.”

“I remember one time we were playing a team and as they were warming up, our fans just threw like 100 rolls of toilet paper so they couldn’t warm up. They kept having to sweep off the toilet paper, and then they would throw rolls again.”

That is where Williams-Goss, coming off of a first-team All-American season for a team that lost in the national title game, spent his first season as a professional, wearing the badge of the highest college player selected in the 2017 NBA Draft that did not get a guaranteed contract or wind up as a two-way player for the organization that drafted him.



There may not be a better example of just how hard it is to sign one of the 510 available NBA contracts than Williams-Goss.

His amateur career was as decorated as anyone in recent memory. After becoming the first, and still only, player to spend four seasons as a member of Findlay Prep’s basketball program, where he won two national titles, Williams-Goss was named a McDonald’s All-American and played in the Jordan Brand All-American game. He won a gold medal with USA Basketball playing for the U19s. He spent two all-Pac-12 seasons at Washington before transferring to Gonzaga, where he led the Zags to a nearly-undefeated regular season, a No. 1 ranking for the majority of the year and a trip to the national title game. He was named a first-team All-American for his troubles, becoming one of just five players in Division I history to be named an academic All-American and a first-team All-American.

After that national title game loss, after completing an undergraduate degree in Psychology and starting in on a masters in Organizational Leadership, Williams-Goss left school with a year of eligibility still on the table.

He was selected by the Utah Jazz with the 55th pick.

His lifelong dream of hearing his name called during the NBA draft had come true. The reward was being forced to fight for a roster spot on a team with three established NBA point guards and Donovan Mitchell, a lottery pick that turned into the best player in the draft class.

“That was an emotional night for me,” Williams-Goss said. “Because I know that I did everything I could possibly do to put myself in a better position than that.”

“I had proven myself every step of the way. For me, it was weird, because [NBA teams] had seen [me] perform at a high level on the biggest stages my entire career, and then to fall that far in the draft and watch guys that were nowhere near as accomplished as I was get picked in front of me was really tough.”

He had to face reality: The NBA draft is all about potential — some combination of youth, athletic ability and physical tools — and shooting. Williams-Goss was a redshirt junior when he left school and 23 years old before the season started. He’s a below-average athlete by the standards that come with being an NBA point guard, and in four years he shot 33.1 percent from three on nearly 300 attempts.

That combination is far from ideal, but a death knell for his NBA dreams it is not.

Because the Utah Jazz still want him, or at least they are not yet ready to dispose of him. He wasn’t relegated to Europe as much as he was placed there, a draft-and-stash prospect. He’s stayed in regular contact with people in the Jazz front office and, after winning an MVP award and a tournament title in February, he was sent a care package from Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsay. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Jazz brass believed that spending a year overseas would benefit Williams-Goss more than if he had remained stateside as a G League player or on a two-way contract.

So after playing in the NBA summer league, Williams-Goss was faced with a decision: Accept an invite to training camp, where the Jazz had one roster spot available and four point guards on the roster, or get his passport ready. He met face-to-face with Lindsay and talked through all of his options, and all parties agreed that it was best to head to Europe.

“In my first year as a professional, it was important that I continue to develop and further my growth,” Williams-Goss said.

To do that, he needed to play.


Via Partizan

Partizan is one of the most storied clubs in all of European basketball.

A powerhouse in Serbia, Partizan has sent the likes of Vlade Divac, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nikola Peković and Jan Vesely to the NBA, and they’ve won more trophies than any other club in Serbia: 21 Serbian League championships, 14 Serbian Cups, six Adriatic League titles and the 1992 EuroLeague title, the most prestigious of the bunch.

But prior to Williams-Goss’ arrival in Belgrade, Partizan had been stumbling. It had been four years since the Black And Whites had won one of the four competitions they play in annually, an eternity for the Grobari. To make matters worse, their failures in the Adriatic League, which features teams from the seven countries that previously made up Yugoslavia and is considered one of the very best in the world outside of the NBA, coincided with archrival Red Star-Belgrade was representing Serbia in the EuroLeague, basketball’s equivalent to soccer’s Champions League; Luka Doncic was recently named the EuroLeague MVP.

And, as it would turn out, Williams-Goss would become the savior Partizan was looking for.

Despite beginning the year playing for a coach that spoke no English while playing abroad for the first time in his life on a team that was, and still is, in financial disarray, the Gonzaga product still managed to put together a masterful season, averaging 16.9 points and 6.8 assists across all competitions.

But most importantly, he was the MVP of the Korać Cup — the Serbian League’s equivalent of a conference tournament — as Partizan won their first trophy in four years by defeating the reigning evil empire, Red Star, in the finals.

Williams-Goss had 23 points and seven assists in the title game. He had become a sensation in Belgrade, living up to the burden that came with the All-American tag. The Grobari knew who he was before he showed up in their city. With notoriety comes expectation, and Williams-Goss handled it better than anyone could have asked for.

“There was a lot of pressure on my shoulders from fans even though I was a rookie,” he said. Partizan has always had a reputation for being a place that young talents can go to shine, and Williams-Goss was the latest — and the rare American — to be burdened with that honor. “The success of a season is determined by how many trophies you can rack up in a year, because it’s not like college or the NBA where there’s only one final trophy. There’s a lot of different leagues. Not having a single trophy for almost four years, and then to do it this year with such a young group being led by an American rookie, was special.”

And he wasn’t kidding.

One afternoon, before the season had come to an end and Williams-Goss had returned to the states, he was walking past a cafe on a Belgrade street when he was recognized. Three of the employees of that cafe came sprinting out and grabbed Williams-Goss before he was out of sight.

“They made me come in and made me a cake with my number on it,” he said.

That’s one way to say thank you.


Courtesy Nigel Williams-Goss

Williams-Goss has some options heading into the summer.

The word is out about how well he adjusted to playing European basketball, and EuroLeague suitors have already come calling. There’s a market for him in Europe, one where he should be able to double what was reported to be a $130,000 salary; keep in mind, for most European teams, the salary they pay is take home money. They’ll cover things like rent, travel and even taxes.

As good as that sounds, the dream isn’t to play in the EuroLeague.

The dream is the NBA, and the Utah Jazz still own the rights to Williams-Goss. Mitchell isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and Rubio still has another year on his contract. Exum and Neto are both at the end of their rookie contracts, and while the expectation is that the Jazz will try to sign Exum to a longer deal — he’s been a very effective piece when his body doesn’t fail him — should Williams-Goss head to training camp with the Jazz, he’d likely be competing with Neto for a spot.

If he makes the team, great. If he’s cut, suddenly he’s a free agent and available for other NBA teams to sign, but that comes with a significant amount of risk as well. European teams typically make their signings earlier in the calendar than that, which would make the market for Williams-Goss abroad smaller and, potentially, less lucrative.

He’s going to have some decisions to make, that much is certain.

But this is not a situation where he is going to be choosing between eight-figure deals and deciding which NBA city he wants to live. No matter how you slice it, Williams-Goss is a fringe NBA player right now despite the fact that the former Burger Boy and first-team All-American just finished an outstanding rookie campaign for one of the most storied clubs in Europe.

He knows first-hand just how hard it is to get to the NBA, which is why he was so frustrated seeing how many players without any chance of getting drafted announced their intentions to test the waters of the NBA draft this spring.

“If you know that you’re not that you’re really on that cusp and it is just for feedback, I don’t understand the point of announcing,” he said. “To me, it just looks like you’re doing it for the attention and for the non-basketball knowing peers and other people to think, ‘Aww man, this guy that we know is close to going to the NBA.'”

“There’s 60 picks,” he added, “but the game is international. There’s 60 picks for kids all over the world. It’s definitely one of the toughest jobs to get. But people know how tough it is, which is why this opportunity of announcing they can test the waters kind of gives them a feeling that they can show other people that they’re closer to that reality than they might actually.”

Williams-Goss was one of those kids three years ago. When he left Washington, he had the chance to put his name into the draft but declined. He knew he wasn’t ready. After two more years at Gonzaga, completing his degree and jump-starting his work on a masters, it was time.

“I’ve put myself in a great position moving forward,” Williams-Goss said, “whether that’s the NBA or an opportunity to move up in Europe.”

Hopefully, wherever he lands, he won’t have batteries being thrown at his head.