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2019 NBA Mock Draft 2.0: Zion Williamson remains No. 1, Duke goes 1-2-3

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Periodically, over the course of the rest of the season, we will be posting an updated mock draft here on College Basketball Talk.

This will be different than other mocks, mind you. We’re not as much projecting who is going to be picked where — that is impossible to do right now, as the NBA season is just past the halfway point and the NBA changed their lottery rules to flatten out the odds of who gets the first pick — as much as take a look at where, in a vacuum, a player should be picked. 

With that in mind, one of the objectives of this mock will be to take a deeper dive into a handful of the most intriguing prospects in the mock each and every time we update. This isn’t meant to be just a place to rank prospects, the goal is to open up the floor for some discussion about the players that need the most discussing. 

Oh, and one other note: We’re only talking about the college kids here. I could sit here and pretend like I know something about Sekou Doumbouya beyond what I Googled and found on YouTube, but the truth is I don’t know a damn thing about him.

I’ll stick to what I know for now.

And that is these prospects:

1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

Zion is going to end up being the No. 1 pick, and he’s probably going to end up being the National Player of the Year as well. Because of that, the conversation around has gotten somewhat stale. We know what he is. I’m just going to enjoy the final three months of his college career.

2. CAM REDDISH, Duke

For my money, Reddish is the most interesting and, arguably, the most difficult evaluation that NBA teams are going to have on their hands at the top of this year’s draft.

On paper, he is everything that NBA teams want out of a wing. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and plus athleticism. He’s proven to be, at the very least, a capable catch-and-shoot floor-spacer. He can be a positive force on the defensive end of the floor when he is locked in. He’s can guard wings, he has the size to play some small-ball four and he spent his entire career before he got to Duke playing as a lead guard — he’s more than capable of making plays with the ball in his hand, can attack close-outs and should have success playing in isolation:

The problem is that Reddish — who committed to Duke before R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson announced where they would be playing their college ball — has been forced into playing a role as the fourth-most important player on the floor. He committed to Duke with visions of being the next Jayson Tatum, or Jabari Parker, or Brandon Ingram, or Justise Winslow, and he’s spent the year being asked to essentially be Duke’s 3-and-D wing.

And to his credit, he hasn’t complained. We haven’t heard from “sources close to Reddish” how unhappy he is, or that he is upset with his playing time, but what we have seen is Reddish struggling to really make a major impact in this role. Some of this is understandable — he’s being asked to do something that he’s never done before — and some of it plays into the previous narratives that surrounded him: That he is not a player that impacts winning.

This is why you see him getting compared to players like Rudy Gay and Andrew Wiggins, athletic marvels that put up big (scoring) numbers but that in a total of 17 seasons have played 17 playoff games combined. Neither has ever won a playoff series.

That’s where two factors come into play:

  1. The interview process and any intel that teams can dig up on what motivates Reddish.
  2. The games that Duke plays without one of their other star freshmen available.

The latter point is going to be the most fascinating part in all of this. In the six games prior to Saturday’s win at Florida State, Reddish was averaging 7.7 points and shooting just 28.8 percent from the field and 18.4 percent from three. He had seven points in the first half, but with Williamson going out for the second half, Reddish scored 16 and hit the game-winning three at the buzzer.

Now Tre Jones appears to be out for an extended period of time. Will this mean that more of the offense flows through Reddish? Will this give him a chance to play on the ball as a lead guard to keep Barrett off the ball? Will he step up and embrace the larger role, keeping Duke at or near the top of the ACC standings without the guy that is, arguably, their most irreplaceable piece?

We shall see.

In a month’s time, maybe I will be convinced that Barrett should actually be the No. 2 overall pick. Or maybe Reddish will shine and the rest of the world will join me in saying that betting on Reddish reaching his ceiling is the optimal move at No. 2.

3. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

Much has been made of Barrett’s 8-for-30 performance against Syracuse and the fact that he was 4-for-17 from three in a game where Zion Williamson had 35 points and couldn’t get a touch in overtime. He’s been called selfish because he took 30 shots, but that is missing the forest for the trees. Barrett had to take those shots. The Orange packed in their zone, did not even pretend to care if Jack White shot threes and sold out to stop Williamson by daring Duke to shoot.

The concern with Barrett as a prospect wasn’t that he took 30 shots and 17 threes, it’s that he missed 22 shots and 13 threes. If he wants to be a primary ball-handler in the NBA, it is not a good sign that the way to beat Duke is to dare Barrett to make jumpers.

4. JA MORANT, Murray State

He’s the best point guard prospect in this draft. He has the positional size, he’s an explosive athlete, he has the vision to be an excellent passer and playmaker at the NBA level and his handle is tight enough that he should be able to create off the bounce at the next level. He’s turnover prone and is up-and-down defensively, but this can be chalked up to the load he’s carrying for the Racers this season. The real concern is his jumper, but his stroke isn’t terrible and there is some hope he can become a threat from three with some work.

And while we’re here … wow:

5. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

I may be higher on Hunter than anyone else. He checks all the boxes for what NBA teams are looking for these days — he’s a well-built, athletic, 6-foot-7 wing that can guard up and guard down while being an uber-efficient offensive weapon that makes threes (44.4 percent) and can attack closeouts and get to the rim. He’s already 21 years old (a redshirt sophomore), but I do think he’s better than his numbers indicate. He’s the third option for Virginia offensively right now with Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy on the roster, which is also a sign that he’ll be willing to accept a role on a team where he’s not the No. 1 option. My guess is that he’ll fall to the back end of the top ten, if not the back end of the lottery, and whoever ends up with him will be getting a steal.

6. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

Culver is one of the highest floor prospects in this draft. I believe that any team taking him is more or less locked into getting a starting-caliber NBA wing. He’s listed at 6-foot-5 (and might be closer to 6-foot-7) and has added some strength to his frame. He’s been terrific as a pick-and-roll option this year and he can really shooting the ball from the perimeter. I’m not sure he’s great shooting off the dribble, and I think he’s ceiling defensively is lower than some will realize, which limits his upside. I don’t think he’s an all-star, but I do think he’s one of the safest picks in the draft. In a year with so much uncertainty, that has value.

If you’re curious, I went much deeper on Culver and why he’s so promising here.

7. NASSIR LITTLE, UNC

If Reddish isn’t the most difficult evaluation in this draft, Little is.

Here is a player that entered college basketball as, according to some rankings, the No. 2 prospect in the class and has yet to break into the starting lineup for a UNC team that has yet to hit their stride more than halfway into the season. On the season, Little is averaging 9.8 points and 4.4 boards, which is not as bad as it looks when you consider that he is only playing 19.8 minutes per game. His per-40 numbers are not all that bad when compared to other prospects in this range.

The bigger issue is that in nine games against Tier A or B competition, according to KenPom, Little is averaging just 6.8 points while shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor as his three-point shooting drops from 20.7 percent  to 12.5 percent.

The question that NBA teams are going to have to ask themselves is whether or not this is because of the player and prospect that Little is, or if this is a direct result of the situation in which Little finds himself in Chapel Hill.

Let’s start with the reason he’s not seeing the floor, because that part is easy: He’s stuck behind Cam Johnson (who is having an all-american season) and Luke Maye (who was a preseason all-american) on North Carolina’s forward depth chart. The way that Roy Williams wants to play is to have two bigs on the floor, two wings on the floor and a point guard, and since that essentially locks one of Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks or Brandon Huffman into the five-spot, Little has to fight with Maye and Johnson for minutes.

And since he hasn’t been great, that’s been a losing battle, especially in league play.

But this is where the questions about fit come into play.

For starters, while I am wholly unqualified to question the coaching methods of someone as successful as Roy Williams, I do think there is some room for criticism here in the way that he has used this roster. Their best five features a front line of Maye, Johnson and Little, and he has not gone to that lineup nearly enough. It’s becoming a problem.

The bigger picture issue, at least when it comes to projecting Little to the NBA, is that he really doesn’t fit anywhere in UNC’s system. In an ideal world, Williams has a frontcourt that looks like the one he rode to the 2017 national title — with Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks — and Little certainly is not that kind of a player. But he isn’t an ideal fit on a wing, either. He’s not a jump-shooter, he’s not a playmaker on the perimeter, he’s not Marcus Paige or Justin Jackson or Theo Pinson. He is a prototype NBA small-ball four — or big wing, or whatever terms you want to use to define it — and that player doesn’t really fit with what the Tar Heels want to do.

So are Little’s struggles a result of what he is as a prospect, or is it because he joined the roster of a wildly successful 68-year old Hall of Famer who wants to do things his way?

8. ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana

I’m torn on what to think of Romeo Langford as a prospect. The physical tools are there. He has the prototype frame for an NBA wing, and more than anything throughout the season, I’ve been impressed with the toughness he displays on the defensive end of the floor. Archie Miller has used him as a stopper, putting him on an opponent’s best scorer, whether they are a big wing or a point guard. At 6-foot-6 with a sturdy frame, there’s even some potential for Langford to play the four in small lineups.

Offensively, he’s terrific at getting to the foul line and is an unbelievable finisher around the rim, but the concern for me is his shooting ability, which is pretty surprising when discussing one of the greatest scorers to ever come out of the state of Indiana. He’s shooting 23.8 percent from three this season and he has some weird wrist action on his release that leads me to believe that he will one day need to retool his shooting stroke. But with everything else that he brings to the table, it might be the smart move to bet on him figuring that out in time.

9. KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky

Johnson is a tough, competitive wing that is a plus athlete with the physical tools he needs to play the wing in the league. He’s a capable three-point shooter, although he tends to be streaky on that end. He can really defend and he’s shown flashes of being a good scorer as a slasher. He profiles as a high-floor, relatively low ceiling prospect in that regard, something of a Miles Bridges without as many windmills.

10. KEVIN PORTER JR., USC

Red flags are starting to pop up for Porter. It took him six weeks to return from a mysterious thigh bruise, long enough that it had people speculating that an agent had gotten in his ear and told him to shut it down for the rest of the season. He returned to play 25 minutes against Oregon State, but managed to get himself suspended indefinitely three days later. Add all of that to concerns that NBA teams already had about him, and it makes the pick risky.

Personally, I think his ceiling is enormous. If he gets his jumper worked out, there is a very real chance that he could end up being the best scorer to come out of this draft class. But if he doesn’t get drafted into an organization that can provide him with structure and veteran leadership, this could end up going the wrong way.

11. DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt

I really feel for Garland. After a promising start to his freshman campaign, he saw any hope of trying to play his way into the being the first point guard drafted go up in smoke after tearing the meniscus in his left knee and undergoing season-ending surgery. That’s tough. But Garland was impressive in flashes — particularly in the first half of Vandy’s win at USC — and not only should he be healthy by the time NBA teams can start bringing players in for workouts, meniscus tears are not considered to be career-altering injuries.

12. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

Alexander-Walker’s development has been fun to watch. After entering last season with some one-and-done buzz, it took him a year to acclimate to the college level. This year, he’s been asked to play much more of a lead guard role, teaming with Justin Robinson to form arguably the best backcourt in the ACC. His assists are up, he’s running ball-screens more than he ever has before and he’s still a knockdown three-point shooter. With positional size and plus-length, he’s a guy that profiles as a defensively versatile wing that can be a creator in the NBA. He’s a perfect fit for the way the league is heading.

We dove deep into Alexander-Walker in the last mock draft.

13. DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas

Gafford has all the tools you want out of a rim-running, rim-protecting, vertical-spacing five in the modern NBA. He’s 6-foot-10, he has a ridiculous wingspan, he’s super-athletic. Put all that together, and what you get is a player averaging 17.0 points, 9.3 boards and 2.1 blocks for Arkansas this season. His production is way up from last season, but the concern is that he does not look fully engaged. His motor doesn’t always run, he’s gets pushed around on duck-ins and battling for position and despite his athleticism, he’s not as good as you would hope defending on the perimeter — he’s stiff, not limber. Playing armchair psychologist, he looks like he regrets the decision he made to return to Arkansas for another season.

I’m still buying on the potential Gafford provides in the same way that I bought on the potential Robert Williams had last season.

14. TRE JONES, Duke

Let’s just get this out of the way now: Tre Jones needs to become a better shooter for this pick to payoff value. I think he will. He’s a worker, he has NBA bloodlines and he’ll put in the time in the gym to get it done. And while he’s not shooting it great right now — 28.6 percent from three, 58.3 percent from the foul line — he has shown nice touch on floaters and pull-ups in the lane.

The rest of his game is what intrigues me so much. It starts with his on-ball defense, which is a game-changer for Duke this year. I’m not sure there is a better defender in all of college basketball, and Jones has the strength and athleticism to be able to do the same at the next level. His leadership qualities are exactly what you would expect from Tyus Jones’ brother — all the point guard cliches, he has them — and he’s proven that he doesn’t need the spotlight; if he can fit alongside the Big Three at Duke, he can fit in an NBA locker room.

15. ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova

I’m still in on Paschall becoming a capable role player in the NBA, but that’s because I’m buying that he can extend his shooting stroke out to the NBA three-point line. Everything else makes sense: He’s a chiseled 6-foot-8, he’s an explosive athlete, he can defend on the perimeter and, playing in that Villanova offense, he’s proven he can accept a role and be a guy that attacks closeouts. I’m not sure he’s an NBA starter, but Jay Wright has a significant track record of sending players to the NBA ready to contribute immediately. His ceiling is nowhere near some of the players I have ranked behind him, but I do believe there is real value for a team drafting late in the first round knowing they can get a 22-year old that will be able to contribute right away.

16. JAXSON HAYES, Texas

There is no player in the country that has improved their draft stock more than Hayes, who did not even start a high school basketball game until his senior season. He’s very, very raw, but he has the size, the build, the length and the athleticism that you want out of an NBA five — his dad was an NFL tight end, and Hayes is built like someone that would have followed that path, but he didn’t stop growing until he hit 6-foot-11. He’s mobile, he had sensational hands and he’s been unstoppable at times as a roller in ball-screen actions.

And he’s raw, which means that he has a long way to go but that he can be developed however an NBA team sees fit. Sometimes a blank canvas is better than a player that already has bad habits ingrained.

17. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

The ideal for Hachimura is to be what O.G. Anunoby is — a versatile defender with three-point range that can finish above the rim and guard anyone from wings to centers. The problem is that Hachimura has the physical tools to be a really good defender but that it hasn’t all come together for him on that end just yet, and while he’s proven to be a good midrange shooter, he was an awkward release and is shooting just 28.7 percent from three in his career.

18. BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland

Fernando has been a force through the early portion of Big Ten play. He’s physically dominant and has taken over games with his ability to crash the glass and finish in the paint. He’s a good post scorer and can pass out of double-teams. He’s not the most mobile or dextrous perimeter defender, but he’s not the worst, either.

19. BOL BOL, Oregon

There are myriad red flags with Bol Bol — Is his tough enough to handle the NBA game? What position is he guarding at the next level? Does he actually love basketball? — and that was before he became the latest in a long line of seven-footers with foot problems. His ceiling is massive. Players with his shooting and shot-blocking ability don’t come along that often. But if I’m an NBA general manager, I let someone else take the risk.

20. ASHTON HAGANS, Kentucky

In the five games since Hagans burst onto the scene with eight steals in a win over North Carolina, he’s averaged 15.8 points, 4.4 assists and 3.6 steals while shooting 55.6 percent from the floor. Like Jones, he’s far more advanced defensively than he is offensively, but he’s a total game-changer on the defensive end and, frankly, I think that his shooting touch is closer than people might think.

There’s an added layer here — Hagans is uber-competitive. He’s jawing with someone every game. He put up a career-high 23 points at Georgia, his home-state school where he was previously committed, after the fans in the arena spent the day all over him. You have to love that in a player.

21. TY JEROME, Virginia

Jerome is a 6-foot-5 guard that has the shooting ability to play off the ball — he thrives running off of screens in Virginia’s blocker-mover offense the same way that Malcolm Brogdon did — but can handle the ball and has the leadership qualities of a point guard. He’s not an elite athlete, but he’s stronger than he gets credit for and has a crafty way of creating separation and getting into the lane. Plus, playing in Virginia’s system likely means that there’s little chance he’ll be a liability defensively against NBA backups, which is the role he projects to play. Like Jalen Brunson, or Fred VanVleet, or T.J. McConnell before him, Jerome has ten-year NBA backup written all over him.

22. KZ OKPALA, Stanford

Okpala fits the mold. He’s a 6-foot-8 wing with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a solid frame that can shoot from the perimeter and operate ball-screens. He’s shooting 47.9 percent from three this year, up from 23.8 percent last season, although he’s only taken 48 threes this year. He’ll be a rotation player, possibly a starter, in the NBA for a long time.

23. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

This stat from Sam Vecenie of The Athletic says it all: Since 1992, there are just six high major players that have averaged at least 18 points, eight boards and three assists while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor, and all six (Tim Duncan, David West, Jared Dudley, Evan Turner, Ben Simmons and Caleb Swanigan) ended up being first round picks. Five of the six have, or will have, long and successful NBA careers. He’s smart, he’s tough, his length allows him to play bigger than he is and he’s a better shooter than his numbers indicate. He’s a pro.

24. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga

Is Clarke the best athlete in this draft? Is he the best frontcourt defender in all of college basketball? He might be both. He’s a rim-protector and a vertical spacer that is switchable enough to guard on the perimeter. He isn’t much of a threat offensively beyond finishing around the rim, but neither is Jordan Bell.

25. ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD, Tennessee

You know what you’re getting with Schofield if you are an NBA team. He’s a 6-foot-5 wing that’s built like a wrestler, that has a 7-foot wingspan, that is shooting 41.2 percent from three the last three seasons (294 attempts) and that is a virtual lock to be a plus defender in the NBA. He’s a perfect 3-and-D role player with defensive versatility that will be adored in an NBA locker room for the way that he plays the game and carries himself professionally. He will make a playoff team better in the late first round.

26. JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Poole is a streaky shooter, but this year, the nights where he gots 5-for-6 from three have far outweighed the 1-for-8 nights. He’s shooting 44.8 percent from beyond the arc while shooting more than five per game, and perhaps most impressive is that many of those threes come off the dribble. His jab series is lethal, as is his step-back jumper going left:

He’s averaging 2.2 assists per game this season, and at 6-foot-5, he has the size to play the two in the NBA. The question with Poole is going to be whether or not he can guard in the NBA, and after spending two years playing with this Michigan program, I tend to believe that he’ll be fine, not quite an average defender but not a full-blown liability, either. That should be enough for him to become the next Nick Young.

27. SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s

Ponds is among the biggest risers for me in this draft class. The 6-foot-2 junior is averaging 20.6 points, 6.0 assists, 4.7 boards and 2.7 steals while shooting 40 percent from three this season. His efficiency is through the roof this year, but more impressive has been the fact that he’s made it a point to get his teammates involved.

“He is passing a lot more than he ever has, especially early, to get his teammates going,” one Big East coach told me. That said, Ponds has absolutely taken over games, but it tends to be when his team needs him to the most. St. John’s has played six games this season that were single-digit games. They are 5-1 in those games, and Ponds scored at least 32 points in four of those five wins — 37 points and six assists at Georgetown, 37 points vs. Georgia Tech, 35 points and seven assists vs. VCU, 32 points and five assists vs. Cal. That doesn’t include the 26 points and five dimes he had in the win over Marquette, their biggest win of the season.

It’s that willingness to be a passer — A newfound trust in his teammates? — that has changed things for the Johnnies this season. “We were more concerned with his paint touches, [keeping] the floor tight,” said another coach that scouted St. John’s last season.

You can’t play that way against them this season, and the result hasn’t just been a more efficient season for Ponds, it has meant that the Johnnies now look like the best team in the Big East. I’m in on him at the next level.

28. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

I’m also in on Howard in the NBA because he is such an incredible shooter. Prior to playing just three minutes on Tuesday night do to back issues, he was averaging 25.8 points and shooting 44.4 percent from three on 9.4 attempts per game. He’s only 5-foot-11, which is a concern defensively, and his limited wingspan makes me wonder if he’ll be able to get his shot off against NBA defenders. That said, he’s an unbelievable tough-shot maker that has proven the ability to create space with step-backs and dribble moves. He’ll probably get picked in the second round, but that will be good value for whoever hoovers him up.

29. LUGUENTZ DORT, Arizona State

Dort is a powerful, athletic combo-guard that shot up draft boards early in the year before coming back down to earth in recent weeks. His inefficiency is the concern, and while he’s a star defender, he’s nowhere near the creator that his best comparison — Marcus Smart — is now or was in college. The question that NBA teams are going to have to ask when deciding about drafting Dort is whether his inefficiency stems from who he is as a player, or if it is simply the result of playing on a team that doesn’t have many other offensive options.

30. P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky

When Reid Travis committed to Kentucky, P.J. Washington liked a tweet of mine where I said Travis is a better player than Washington. I wonder if he’ll like this mock draft, where I’ll admit I got that wrong. Washington looks to be much-improved this year. He’s stream-lined his body, he’s moving better on the perimeter, his rebounding numbers are up and he’s shooting 37 percent from three and 68.7 percent from the line. We all miss sometimes.

SEVEN PLAYERS I WISH I COULD HAVE INCLUDED IN THE TOP 30

CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan: Matthews might be the best wing defender in this draft. The way he moves on the floor it looks like he’s gliding. Effortless. If he shot 40 percent from three and/or 75 percent from the line instead of 32.7 percent and 62.7 percent, respectively, he’d probably be a top 20 pick.

JONTAY PORTER, Missouri: The talent is there, the health, at this point, is not. At 6-foot-11, he’s much more skilled offensively than people realize, but this is a pick that needs to be made by doctors.

QUENTIN GRIMES, Kansas: I’m still in on the potential of Grimes in the longterm, but I’m starting to think he’s more of a two or three year college player than one-and-done. What does he do at an NBA level right now? He shoots 30.3 percent from three, he has fewer assists than he does turnovers and he hasn’t been anything special defensively.

IGGY BRAZDEIKIS, Michigan: I’m not quite sure where Brazdeikis plays in the NBA. He’s not quite a wing and he’s not quite a four, but he does shoot 38.5 percent from three, he’s tough as nails and he’s more athletic than you think. It is worth noting that he’s older than a typical freshman — he’s eight months older than Jaren Jackson.

COBY WHITE, North Carolina: White might have played his way into being a one-and-done freshman. He’s proven to be a microwave scorer, he’s got good positional size and he doesn’t turn 19 until February 16th. I get it, but there are a handful of point guards that I rate over him, personally.

CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: Edwards was a monster in a win at Wisconsin, scoring 36 points in overtime, but that came just days after an abysmal, 3-for-16 performance against Michigan State. We know what Edwards is at this point: A backup point guard that will put up points against NBA backups. Can you say microwave?

JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State: The intrigue with McDaniels is that he’s 6-foot-10 with perimeter skills. The problem with McDaniels is that his jumper is still inconsistent at best (28.1 percent from three this season) and he weighs just 195 points. If he can make threes and he can’t defend fives, then where will he make an impact in an NBA game?

Ex-Michigan State star Mateen Cleaves acquitted in sex assault case

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FLINT, Mich. — A jury acquitted former Michigan State basketball star Mateen Cleaves Tuesday on charges alleging he sexually assaulted a woman in a motel room four years ago.

The verdict announced in a Genesee County courtroom in Cleaves’ hometown of Flint came after a nearly-two week trial that included the testimony of the Mount Morris woman, who told jurors that she had wanted to leave the motel room but Cleaves continued to force himself on her.

Evidence against Cleaves included a video that prosecutors contended showed the woman pulling away from Cleaves. Prosecutors argued she tried twice to escape from the motel room.

Cleaves did not testify. One of his attorneys, Frank Manley, said Cleaves had consensual sex with the woman who was in the motel room “of her own free will” after a charity golf tournament and visit to a bar. Cleaves’ attorneys told jurors that the woman lied about what happened because she felt guilty about cheating on her boyfriend.

The 41-year-old Cleaves was acquitted on all charges, including unlawful imprisonment and assault with intent to commit criminal sexual penetration. He had faced a maximum of 15 years in prison had he been convicted.

Cleaves has long denied the allegations, saying in a March 2016 tweet that he was “innocent and the allegations are without merit.”

The trial itself came after a long legal battle that started in late 2016 when a district judge dismissed the charges, saying that there were a number of factors that suggested “something else was going on” between Cleaves and the woman.

But in 2017, the charges were reinstated after the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal that contended the judge had abused her “discretion of power” in dismissing the charges. Then last year, the Michigan Supreme Court refused to review that decision, clearing the way for the trial.

Cleaves is a revered figure in Michigan, an integral part of a Michigan State team that won the national championship in 2000 before his six-year NBA career.

And on Tuesday, sitting in a courtroom was another reminder of that team: Coach Tom Izzo. Izzo told The Detroit News that he did not know the details about the allegations against his former star player but wanted to be in the courtroom to support Cleaves as he would “any of my guys.”

Mick Cronin lands first five-star recruit at UCLA

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Less than 24 hours after cutting his list to five schools, five-star point guard Daishen Nix committed to UCLA.

Nix is a 6-foot-5 point guard from Alaska that’s currently playing his high school ball in Las Vegas. He’s known for his court vision and elite basketball IQ with a developing jumper and a feel for the game that cannot be taught. He ranks as a top 15 prospect, according to 247 Sports.

He was Mick Cronin’s top target at the point guard spot, and Cronin landed him. That’s notable, because one of the concerns that people had about UCLA’s decision to hire Cronin was whether or not a coach known for his toughness, his intensity and his team’s propensity for being defense first would adjust to playing at California’s flagship program, where tempo is a must and defense has been, for the last half-decade, optional.

And while it remains to be seen how the team and program will adjust to his coaching style – I will have a story coming on that later this week – at the very least, Cronin has proven that he can dip his toe in the west coast recruiting waters and get a player that he prioritized.

Who are the best basketball prospects that have yet to play in the NBA?

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Over the course of the next two weeks, Pro Basketball Talk will be rolling out a project that we have been working on for the last month: Ranking the top 50 players five years from now.

Players ranked 46-50 were unveiled today.

You can find that list here.

In the meantime, since it is relevant, here at College Basketball Talk we are going to take a look at the guys that, in 2024, may actually deserve a spot on a top 50 players list that you may not know about just yet.

So without further ado, here are the ten best prospects that have yet to play a game in the professional ranks.

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1. Emoni Bates, Class of 2022

Bates is the shoe-in at No. 1 on this list. Over the years I’ve gotten to know quite a few of the scouts that do recruiting rankings and cover the sport at the high school level. These guys have been in the business for a long time – some for decades – and every single one of them rave about Bates in a way that you don’t often see players get talked about. One called him the best freshman he’s ever scouted. One called him as good as any prospect that he’s scouted in more than 20 years in the business. One called him the best prospect in high school hoops, which is exactly where I have him on this list. Personally, I think that he’s the closest thing that we’ve seen to Kevin Durant since Kevin Durant.

I wrote a story on Bates from Peach Jam back in July, and one of the things that I made sure to note in that story is the danger that comes with this level of hype at this age. Many of the things that are being said about Bates were said about Renardo Sidney at the same age, and we know how that turned out. Part of the reason I’m a little less-hesitant to make such proclamations with Bates is that he has an alpha mentality and competitive streak that you don’t see all that often. So not only does he have the physical tools as a super-skilled, 6-foot-9 scorer with range out to the NBA three-point line, but once he gets on the court, he’s an a–hole in all of the best ways.

2. Cade Cunningham, Class of 2020

Cunningham is tailor-made for modern basketball. He’s a 6-foot-7, 220 pound point forward. He’s a tough, physical and athletic wing that, two years ago, made the transition to playing the point full time. He has the savvy, the maturity and the polish of an NBA veteran. He doesn’t have the highlight reel athleticism of guys like Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, but he has the kind of functional athleticism that will allow him to split the defense, avoid the charge, absorb the contact and finish in traffic. He was the MVP of the EYBL circuit this past season, and if he continues to improve his shooting stroke, there’s a very real chance that he gets picked with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft.

I think the best way to phrase it is this: He will likely be the first player to ever get compared to Luka Doncic, and I’m not sure how much more complimentary you can get.

James Wiseman (Elsa/Getty Images)

3. James Wiseman, Memphis

4. Evan Mobley, Class of 2020

I’m listing these two together because they really are quite similar prospects. Both stand 7-foot. Both have the kind of length, mobility and athleticism that should allow them to thrive at the five in the modern NBA. Both of them are capable defenders with the potential to be very, very good with some added strength and a bit of motivation. And both of them are skilled enough where they have the potential of one day doing all four things modern fives are asked to do – protect the rim, switch ball-screens, space the floor to the three-point line, be a lob target as a roll-man in ball-screens.

Now, there are some differences. Wiseman, at this point, is probably more physically developed – he is a year older – while Mobley, at 6-foot-11 and 200 pounds, is going to have to make the absolute most of the meal plan USC gets him on. Mobley, on the other hand, seems to be more accepting of the fact that he’s destined to be a five in the NBA while Wiseman, in the words of one NBA draftnik, “thinks he’s Giannis when in reality he’s a lot closer to Myles Turner.”

There is nothing wrong with being Myles Turner. He just turned 23 years old and he is coming off of a season where he averaged 13.3 points, 7.2 boards and an NBA-best 2.7 blocks while shooting 38.8 percent from three. He’s really good. But he also knows what he is and what he isn’t, and he isn’t Giannis.

5. Jonathan Kuminga, Class of 2021

Kuminga is a super-explosive, 6-foot-8 wing that is just now starting to figure out how good he has the chance to be. He has all the physical tools that you want out of a wing – height, length, athleticism, versatility – and he has shown that he is willing and able to defend multiple positions. The big thing with him in the long-term is going to be how well his jumpshot develops, and if that comes along, his upside is as high as anyone on this list. I do think it’s worth noting that at Peach Jam, he was in the same group as Terrence Clarke and Patrick Baldwin Jr. and justified his spot on this list.

6. Jalen Green, Class of 2020

Green has all the makings of a future top five pick. At 6-foot-5, he’s a naturally gifted scorer that makes the game look easy. He’s at his best when he’s slashing to the bucket, where he can finish above the rim and also has a shiftiness about him in the lane. He’s a capable ball-handler and passer, but he’s going to make his money as a bucket-getter. If his jumper catches up to the rest of his game, look out.

7. Anthony Edwards, Georgia

Edwards is a big time scorer and athlete that has the ideal physical tools for a combo-guard. He’s a sturdy 6-foot-5 with length and explosive athleticism. His game is well-rounded. He’s a good shooter that can also operate in ball-screens, create for his teammates and shoot off the dribble. In theory, he’s an ideal fit for a sport that is becoming more and more reliant on scorers that can create in isolation with shooters spacing the court. Part of the reason he stayed home to play for Georgia is that Tom Crean coached both Victor Oladipo and Dwyane Wade in college, and those two are what Edwards has the potential to be at the next level.

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8. Cole Anthony, North Carolina

Anthony is going to get a lot of hype heading into the 2020 draft. Beyond the simple fact that he is the son of UNLV legend and NBA journeyman Greg Anthony, Cole Anthony is headed to North Carolina, where Roy Williams is going to slot him into the same role that he used Coby White in last year. He is going to get a lot of shots, he’s going to score a lot of points and he’s going to have a lot of highlight reel plays in the process. My big question with Cole longterm is that I’m not convinced that he is big enough to play off the ball, I’m not sure he is a natural point guard and I don’t know if he is quite good enough to be allowed to play the way he has throughout his career at the NBA level. There is definitely some potential here, but I think the fit at the NBA level makes more sense with Green and Edwards than it does with Anthony.

RISING SON: Cole Anthony remains grounded while following his father’s footsteps

9. Terrence Clarke, Class of 2021

Clarke is a wiry-strong, 6-foot-6 off-guard from Boston that has the potential to be the No. 1 pick in whatever draft he ends up in. (There’s a chance he can reclassify into 2020.) He’s an explosive athlete that can finish in traffic while also displaying a high-level feel for the game. He’s an improving shooter that can create off the bounce in isolation, and his court vision and passing gives him the upside of having some positional versatility down the road.

10. Patrick Baldwin Jr., Class of 2021

As one coach at a top ten program told me this summer, Patrick Baldwin Jr. “is the best shooting big man I’ve ever scouted.” Still just heading into his junior year in high school, Baldwin recently went through a growth spurt that saw him sprout up to 6-foot-10. He needs to add some strength and weight to his frame (what 16 year old doesn’t?) but that size and shooting ability is not something that we see all that often. The big question for Baldwin is how well the rest of his game develops. Is he simply a pick-and-pop five, or will he continue to develop a floor game and the physical tools that will allow him to be a plus-defender in the NBA?

THREE THAT JUST MISSED THIS LIST

Jaden McDaniels, Washington: McDaniels’ upside is as high as anyone on this list save for Bates and Cunningham. At 6-foot-10, he’s a skilled wing with a perimeter game and a developing shooting stroke. It’s not hard to watch him play and see what he can be if he continues to put in the work, but he has a ways to go to get there. He’s still just 190 pounds and, at this point, more of a prospect that a producer.

Paolo Banchero, Class of 2021: Banchero is a tough prospect to gauge the ceiling of. He’s already 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds with a frame that should easily be able to hold more muscle, but without the kind of physical tools that will set him apart from the field. I think it’s also fair to say that his best skill at this point is how well-rounded he is. Put another way, he’s one of those guys that can do everything well – he can shoot it, he can pass, he can beat bigger defenders facing up, he can hold his own defending the paint, etc. – with an exceedingly high basketball IQ. Put another way, outside of continuing to stretch out his shooting range, I’m not sure just how much better he’s going to end up getting.

Jalen Johnson, Class of 2020: Johnson’s biggest strength at this point is probably his basketball IQ and passing ability at this size. He’s a 6-foot-9 lefty with a complete skillset and the kind of floor vision at this size that will make you think Ben Simmons lost his Aussie accent. Already committed to Duke, Johnson will likely continue to generate buzz as his defense and perimeter stroke improve.

Michael Avennati makes court filing alleging Nike cleared payments to Zion Williamson, Romeo Langford

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Lawyers for Michael Avennati filed a court motion on Wednesday alleging that Nike approved under-the-table payments to Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford while they were still in high school.

The alleged offers, which were for $35,000 to Zion and $20,000 to Langford, were found in “text messages, emails and other documents fro 2016-17” and prove “Nike executives had arranged for and concealed payments, often in cash, to amateur basketball players and their families and ‘handlers,'” the motion, which was filed in U.S. District Court in New York, alleged.

Specifically, the motion alleges that:

  • EYBL manager Jamal James texted EYBL director Carlton DeBose and Nike’s recruiting coordinator John Stovall asking if they would be “willing to do … whatever may be needed for the Zion/Romeo situations as well as the money we’re now going to do for the [redacted because he is still a minor] kid in Michigan.” Stovall responded “Langford – 20 Zion – 35 [unnamed minor] – 15”. Stovall added that it was a bad idea for the offer to be put into print.
  • DeBose said in a text message with an unnamed Kentucky assistach coach that the shoe company was “funneling payments to high school players through at least 10 different EYBL coaches.”
  • An EYBL coach told Nike executives he was concerned about the money being paid to players and their families because it won’t end well for Nike and innocent coaches “will be deemed guilty by association.”
  • DeBose told Nico Harrison, Nike’s VP of North America basketball operations, that he’s “willing to bet that 38 of the 40 teams in the EYBL had to pay a moderate to considerable ransom to families just to play in the EYBL.” He also said the arrangements are “being viewed as a contract” by the players and their families.
  • Another Nike executive, Rachel Baker, allegedly said she was worried about carrying cash through an airport.

All the quotes listed above are from the motion itself. It refers to emails and text messages, but they are not attached. The motion can be read in its entirety here.

The motion does not make clear whether or not the money was actually delivered. Both Zion and Langford played their final season of AAU basketball on the Adidas circuit. Langford’s father was the coach of the AAU program that his son played for.

“Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion,” Nike said in a statement. “Nike will continue its cooperation with the government’s investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case.”

Avenatti was arrested in March and charged with attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike by threatening to expose the way that the shoe company and its grassroots basketball league, the EYBL, funnel money to the elite high school players and their families. He threatened to hold a press conference at the start of the NCAA tournament announcing these allegations of misconduct.

Adding to the drama is the fact that Avennati represented Gary Franklin, who was the coach of the California Supreme at one point in time. Deandre Ayton, Bol Bol, Aaron Holiday, De’Anthony Melton, Solomon Hill and Brandon McCoy were among the players that spent time on his roster. The motion to dismiss also contains allegations that Franklin was directed by DeBose to make payments to people associated with Ayton, Bol and McCoy, and that he submitted false invoices to Nike to disguise the payments as expenses for the 501(c3) he operated.

Arkansas dismisses forward Gabe Osabuohien

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas has dismissed forward Gabe Osabuohien from the men’s basketball program.

Coach Eric Musselman announced the move Thursday without disclosing the reason.

“We have set a level of expectations for our student-athletes on and off the court,” Musselman said. “After discussions with Gabe, it was decided that it would be best to part ways. We thank him for his time at Arkansas and wish him well.”

The 6-foot-8 Osabuohien was born in Toronto but played at Little Rock’s Southwest Christian Academy. He played in 54 games with eight starts in two seasons with Arkansas. He scored 128 points (2.4 per game) and had 136 rebounds (2.5).