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NBA Mock Draft 3.0: Zion Williamson to go No. 1, R.J. Barrett No. 4

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Periodically throughout 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

At this point, the question isn’t whether or not Zion Williamson is going to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the question is just how far back you have to go to find a prospect that was better than him entering the NBA.

For me, you have to go all the way back to Anthony Davis, which is ironic, because one of the questions that whoever ends up with the No. 1 pick is going to have to ask themselves is if it would be worth it to give up the opportunity to draft Zion in exchange for a player like Davis.

That’s a different conversation for a different day, and while I do think it is important to note that Zion is not a perfect prospect — the jumper is a question mark, he has a habit of overpursuing defensively to make a play, at some point his balls-to-the-wall style of play combined with his playing weight will eventually take a toll on his body — it is his combination of ruthless efficiency on the offensive end of the floor (he’s shooting 68.3 percent from the floor; his offensive rating on KenPom is over 130 with a usage rate above 28 percent; his PER of 42.1 is a record for Division players in the Basketball Reference database, with second-best coming in at 36.9) and the things he lets you do defensively.

Because there has never been a player that is more perfectly suited to playing the five in a small-ball lineup than Zion Williamson with the exception of maybe Draymond Green.

It starts with just how good of a rim protector Zion is. He stands 6-foot-7 and his arms aren’t incredibly long, but he’s a freakish athlete (duh!) with a quick jump that has a knack for knowing when and where he needs to be. And it’s not just the simple fact that he is able to block shots — it’s that players know that he is capable of blocking shots. Like all great rim protectors, his presence in the paint has an effect on how aggressive opponent are going into the lane.

The third clip below is the perfect example. Louisville point guard Christian Cunningham is in the middle of the lane precisely where you need to be to beat a zone, and he is too scared of Zion to get a shot off, eventually turning the ball over:

Along those same lines, Zion can cover an unbelievable amount of ground in no time. In each of the clips you see below, the shooter is open when he decides he is going to shoot, and Zion erases the shot anyway. Humans are not supposed to be able to move like this, especially humans that are the size of Zion Williamson:

But to me, this last edit is the most important thing we need to discuss. Let me just get this out of the way first: Zion gets beaten off the dribble a lot more than he should based on how good his reputation is defensively. He needs to be more consistent defending on the ball in space, but he is also just 18 years old. College freshmen are not supposed to be finished products defensively. Based solely on everything that he is physically capable of doing, I fully expect this part of his game to come along in the long run.

And I say that because he shows flashes of being a terrific perimeter defender, sliding his feet and changing directions and using his bulk to edge off drivers without letting them turn a corner. When he can do things like this in flashes, it’s hard not to imagine that he’ll get more consistent in time:

We know how much trouble he is going to cause defenses playing in a league that is as spaced out as the NBA is. But it’s that promise that he has on the defensive end of the floor that sets him apart from past elite prospects.

The question I keep finding myself asking is what players in the NBA I wouldn’t give up for control over Zion Williamson for the next nine years, four of which would come at the discount price of a rookie contract.

There aren’t many.

2. CAM REDDISH, Duke

The last time that I posted a mock draft, I spent 700 words explaining why I think Reddish is the No. 2 prospect in this year’s draft. I think that, a month later, all of that still holds true. To me, his ceiling is what makes him so intriguing, but that does come with some risks. There are times where he appears to be almost indifferent. He definitely needs to tighten up his handle, and, frankly, he needs to be better than a 33 percent three-point shooter. His floor is certainly worrisome, and I do not believe that he is the type of prospect that every franchise should take with the No. 2 pick. Fit will matter here more than it does in other cases.

3. JA MORANT, Murray State

I’ve toyed with the idea of bumping Morant up to the No. 2 spot, but I am not quite ready to make that leap. What makes Morant so promising is that he possesses all the skills you want out of a point guard in a league where players of his ilk — Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Derrick Rose, etc. — have had a tremendous amount of success. He’s an electric athlete with more highlight-reel ability than anyone this side of Zion. He’s an excellent passer that can really read the floor and operates in ball-screens. He needs to become a better shooter (33.8 percent from three), his turnovers are an issue (5.67 t/o’s per 40) and he can be inconsistent defensively, but he has the potential to be a franchise point guard. If you’re an NBA team drafting in the top three, odds are pretty good you need a franchise changing talent. Morant could be it.

4. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

Barrett may be my blind spot in this year’s draft. On the one hand, his production has been absolutely insane. He’s currently averaging 23.3 points, 7.5 boards and 4.1 assists, and the last time that a player in a high-major program did that was during the 1992-93 season. His name was Anfernee Hardaway.

The issue I have is the eye-test, not the production that we’ve seen. Barrett is not an elite-level athlete the way that, say, Zion or Cam Reddish or even someone like De’Andre Hunter is, which is a concern because his game in the halfcourt is, essentially, straight-line drives going to his favored left hand. Mike Krzyzewski has done a fantastic job this season of scheming actions to get Barrett downhill going to his left, and at the college level, he can overpower players once he gets to the rim.

At just 202 pounds with a 6-foot-10 wingspan and, like I mentioned, without that elite athleticism, I can’t see his game working as well in the NBA as it does in college. His jumper definitely needs work — he’s shooting 33.3 percent from three, a number that drops to 31.3 percent when you remove the first 12 minutes at Virginia — and he’s not a real threat pulling-up at this point. The games against N.C. State and Syracuse were promising because of his willingness to pass the ball, but for the most part, those have been the exception to the first 27 games of his season.

Barrett is also young, so I fully expect him to continue to improve, and based on his competitiveness and the way he’s produced everywhere he’s played, I do think he’ll be around for a while.

I just think there is a ceiling to what he can be, and that ceiling does not include “franchise talent.” My guess is Barrett maxes out at four or five years somewhere in the vicinity of the best year of Shabazz Muhammad’s career — 13.5 points, 4.1 boards and 1.2 assists — and that is not enough for me to pass on the chance for Reddish or Morant to hit their ceiling.

5. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

For my money, the thing that makes Hunter so intriguing as a prospect is what he can do on the defensive end of the floor.

In just the last two weeks, Hunter has guarded all-american caliber players that play four different positions — Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker; Coby White, Cam Johnson and Luke Maye from North Carolina; and Jordan Nwora of Louisville.

He’s quick enough to be able to move his feet and stay in front of first round picks like Alexander-Walker and White and, as I broke down in the video below, he’s able to flip his hips and run alongside a driver while keep his torso square and staying on-balance if the dribbler stops. He can get over ball screens. He can chase shooters around off-ball screens and pin-downs — in the example I use in the video, he trails Johnson around five screens and still gets a contest on a jumper — and he is strong enough to hold his ground in the post while maintaining verticality:

Combine all of that with the fact that he averages an uber-efficient 15.2 points on the slowest team in college basketball while knocking down 47.4 percent of his threes and showing the ability to beat defenders off the dribble and score in the post. He took over in the second half of Virginia’s come-from-behind win at Louisville, scoring 26 points on 9-for-11 shooting, and that is hardly the first time that he has done that.

He is absolutely the perfect piece for the modern NBA, and while he’s not going to be the sexiest pick, whoever winds up with him will be adding an impact starter from day one.

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-6 (and might be closer to 6-foot-8) and has added some strength to his frame. He’s been terrific as a pick-and-roll option this year, and outside of a slump early in Big 12 play, he’s shot the ball well. I’m not sure he’s great shooting off the dribble, and I think his 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. ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana

As weird as this may sound, Romeo Langford is one of the greatest scorers to ever come out of the state of Indiana and where he gets picked in June will revolve entirely around whether or not the team drafting trusts whether or not they will be able to develop his jumper.

He has everything else. He’s a sturdy 6-foot-6 wing with a plus wingspan. He’s one of the best in the country when it comes to finishing around the rim. He’s proven to be a really good defensive weapon when he’s engaged — which, frankly, has not bee quite as often as one might hope.But he’s shooting 27.1 percent from three, and that’s after a recent four-game run where he knocked down 11-for-26 from deep.

If you believe that his touch around the basket and the 72.9 percent he shoots from the free throw line is a sign he can be a 35-37 percent three-point shooter down the road, he’s worth a top eight pick.

8. NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina

I took a long look at Little the last time that I released a mock draft, and what I wrote there mostly remains true. Little has not had a great freshman season, and while some of that blame falls on his shoulders, it’s also worth noting that his skillset translates much better to the modern NBA game than it does a North Carolina system that requires big men to be big and wings to be super-skilled.

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. He can really defend and he’s shown flashes of being a good scorer as a slasher, but he’s mostly a straight-line driver that has some limitations. He profiles as a high-floor, relatively low ceiling prospect in a position of need for many franchises.

10. DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt

Nothing new to add here. 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.

11. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

I’m not quite sure what to make of Alexander-Walker at this point. He’s been terrific this season, one of the most improved players in college hoops, and the skillset that he does have projects really well to the NBA — he can operate in ball-screens, he can really shoot it, he’s ambidextrous, he has the tools to defend at the one or the two. The concern, however, is that his numbers have fallen off a cliff with Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech’s point guard, out with an injury. In the six games Robinson has missed, Alexander-Walker is averaging 12.7 points and 3.3 assists while turning the ball over 4.1 times per game and shooting 33.3 percent from the floor and 32.3 percent from three. That’s well off the pace that he set while playing alongside one of the all-time greats to come out of the Virginia Tech program.

We dove deep into Alexander-Walker in a recent mock draft.

12. 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.

13. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga

I think there is an argument to be made that Brandon Clarke is a top five player in college basketball this season. One bit of evidence: The best PER that any Division I player has posted since the 2009-2019 season was 36.9, which was done by John Brown of High Point three years ago. Clarke is currently matching that number, and the only player that has ever put up a higher number playing more than 20 minutes in a season is Zion Williamson himself. For comparison’s sake, Anthony Davis put up a 35.1 PER, albeit against much stronger competition.

I am fully convinced that Clarke is going to end up being a terrific defensive player in the NBA. He is probably the best defensive player in college basketball this season, and I’m not entirely sure it’s all that close. The question with him offensively is whether or not you believe that jump shot is going to come around. I think that it will eventually, and he has proven that he is a hard-worker.

14. P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky

I was skeptical of P.J. Washington coming into the season. Hell, I was skeptical of P.J. Washington six weeks ago. But what he has done over the course of the last ten games — averaging 21.0 points and 7.9 boards while shooting 53 percent from three while carrying Kentucky to a tie for first place in the SEC — has been nothing short of outstanding. I do think his ceiling is somewhat limited, but to see him consistently banging home perimeter jumpers while being able to punish mismatches on both ends of the floor has me thinking that he has a ten-year NBA career ahead of him. He fits in the modern NBA far better than I realized.

15. ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova

I expect Paschall to drop well beyond this range, but I have a hard time envisioning a world where he doesn’t end up being a useful NBA rotation player and someone that can contribute to a playoff team. Today. 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. Betting on him with a top 20 pick means betting that his jumper can extend out to the NBA three-point line, and that’s a bet I’m willing to take.

16. 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 has an awkward release and is shooting just 31.3 percent from three in his career on only 67 attempts.

17. 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 — 24.6 percent from three — he has shown nice touch on floaters and pull-ups in the lane. But at this level, teams just fade guarding him out to the three-point line. It’s the biggest reason the floor is always so clogged for Duke on the offensive end. He has to be better:

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.

18. COBY WHITE, North Carolina

I’ve come around on White, but I’m not sure that I few him as a point guard the way some other do. He’s a 6-foot-5 combo-guard that just turned 19 this week, and what has be on the bandwagon is that he’s just such a ridiculous shot-maker. You’re not drafting White to be the cornerstone point guard you grow a franchise around, you’re drafting him because you hope that he one day turns into Jamal Crawford 2.0.

19. BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland

I’m not sure there is a player in the country that has improved a skill this season more than Bruno Fernando has improved his passing ability from his freshman year to his sophomore year. As a freshman, Fernando finish the season with 21 assists (and 53 turnovers). He’s nearly tripled that this season, averaging 2.0 assists per game while improving his assist rate from 6.9 to 15.0. Turnovers are still a bit of an issue — he’s not a natural passer and he can telegraph decisions a bit too much — and he’s has certainly not turned into Nikola Jokic, but at this point, Fernando is a player that Maryland can run offense through.

His passing ability also changes the way that teams are forced to defend him, because he is able to pass out of a double-team and reads when and where help will leave a teammate open:

20. KZ OKPALA, Stanford

Okpala fits the mold. He’s a 6-foot-9 wing with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a solid frame that can shoot from the perimeter and operate ball-screens. He’ll be a rotation player, possibly a starter, in the NBA for a long time. The one concern here is that Okpala has regressed significantly from beyond the arc. He’s now shooting 36.8 percent from three, making just five of his last 28 attempts, after starting the season 23-for-48 from deep. He shot 22.6 percent from three last year.

21. KEVIN PORTER JR., USC, and BOL BOL, Oregon

If I had to guess, I think both of these guys would end up getting picked higher than this. Both have ceilings that are massive. Bol Bol is a 7-foot-2 center with a 7-foot-8 wingspan with a feathery touch from three and the ability to be a difference-maker at the rim. He’s also weak, soft, a defensive liability despite the shot-blocking and he may not actually like basketball. Then he broke his foot.

Porter, on the other hand, has had a weird season. After exploding on the seen with a six-game stretch in November that showcased just how lethal he is as a scorer, he got hurt, disappeared for six weeks with a thigh bruise and turned the whispers of off-court issues into a cacophony of alarm bells. Then he was suspended. To date, he’s played nine games in 2019, averaging 7.7 points and posting 16 assists while turning the ball over 20 times. He is shooting 12-for-24 (50%) from three, which was a worry, and anyone that saw him perform at Hoop Summit knows his ceiling is as the best scorer in this draft, but his floor is out of the league in two years.

How much risk are you willing to assume?

22. JONTAY PORTER, Missouri

Porter’s draft stock has remained high despite the fact that he is dealing with a devastating knee injury that was suffered in October. Like his brother and Harry Giles before him, how high he goes is likely going to be determined by the doctors that take a look at his knee. When healthy, Porter is (was?) an offensively-gifted 6-foot-11 lefty with three point range and an underrated ability to pass the ball. I don’t know what he’ll be defensively — unlike his brother, he had athletic limitations before the injury — but he sure would fit the modern NBA on at least one end of the floor. One other note: Jontay is younger than Reddish. That’s worth keeping in mind.

23. TY JEROME, Virginia

Jerome is a guy that I’m willing to go all in on as an NBA prospect. I’m not saying that I think this guy will be an all-star or anything like that, but he has all the makings of a ten-year NBA veteran that will find himself a role at the next level. He’s a big-time shooter that can create for himself on-the-ball despite a lack of athleticism and really understands how to use screens and move into space moving off the ball. He’s 6-foot-5, and while he doesn’t have even average NBA tools, he’s a heady player that works well as a cog in the best defense in the college ranks. He’s also tough as hell and he’s an absolute killer when it comes to making tough shots in big moments. He may not be Patrick Beverly, but I don’t see him being a liability. He needs to find the right fit — stinking him on Philly alongside Ben Simmons to give them some shooting and secondary play-making makes sense to me — but if there’s a job for the likes of Jalen Brunson and Fred VanVleet in the NBA, there is a job for Jerome somewhere.

24. DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas

Gafford is a tough prospect to get a feel for. On the one hand, he is on paper exactly what NBA teams are looking for out of a center. He’s tall, he’s long, he’s athletic and he can act as a rim-running vertical spacer as well as a rim protector. On the other hand, he’s not really someone that projects as a good perimeter shooter and he has heavy feet that likely limits what he can be as a switchable five at the next level.

25. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

On the one hand, I think that Williams’ lack of elite physical tools gets him something of a bad wrap. I think back to this stat from Sam Vecenie of The Athletic: 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. Williams doesn’t quite reach that threshold anymore — 19.0 points, 7.6 boards, 3.3 assists, 56.9 FG% — but that belabors the point. People that produce the way he produces in college tend to be able to produce in the NBA.

The flip side is that Williams profiles more as a Caleb Swanigan than he does anyone else in that group. He’s not as tall as West or Duncan. He’s not as perimeter-oriented as Jared Dudley or Evan Turner. He sure as hell ain’t Ben Simmons. Tennessee is at LSU on Saturday and plays host to Kentucky the following Saturday. I want to see Williams in those two games before I make any sweeping changes to my current take.

26. 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 39 percent from three the last three seasons (345 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.

27. ASHTON HAGANS, Kentucky

Hagans, like Tre Jones, is an absolute game-changer on the defensive end of the floor that is very much a work in progress offensively. The difference here is that Jones, in spite of his limitations as a shooter, has a turnover rate that is half that of Hagans and has shown to be more comfortable running a team. He’s also six months younger than the Kentucky point guard. I do like Hagans quite a bit, but I do find myself wondering just how far away he is from being a total zero on the offensive end in the NBA.

28. JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State

After a weird start to the season, McDaniels has settled in as the best player in the Mountain West that does not currently call Reno home. At 6-foot-10, he has a ton of skill and has proven to be a productive rebounder and a better defender than you would think out of a player that is a gangly 195 pounds. For me, everything here centers around the jump shot. I don’t think he’ll ever be mobile, fluid or explosive enough to be a three in the NBA and barring the kind of weight gain that I’ve made since leaving college, I can’t see him being a five, even the small-ball variety. He’s certainly worth a late first round pick if you’re betting you can improve on that 33.3 percent three-point shooting.

It’s also worth mentioning: McDaniels currently has a legal issue hanging over his head that, if true, is pretty disturbing and the kind of thing that could make him fall on draft night.

29-30. SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s, and MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

I love both of these guys as late first or early second round picks. Ponds has proven to be a much more efficient shooter and unselfish playmaker this season, and I can absolutely see him thriving as a back-up point guard that torches second teams around the NBA. Howard is a full-fledged scorer at 5-foot-11 that is one of the best shooters in the college game, but he struggles with length and athleticism and doesn’t have a clear-cut position defensively. He’s also younger than Trae Young, and it’s not smart to bet against guys that can shoot it the way he can shoot it.

Jay Wright on double-duty with Villanova, USA Basketball

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Jay Wright immediately accepted a chance to be an assistant coach with USA Basketball for this year’s World Cup.

And then he checked his calendar.

Villanova students are headed back to school this week — while the Villanova men’s basketball coach will be halfway around the world for the next month or so. It has been, and will continue being, a major schedule challenge for Wright as he’s tasked with both helping USA Basketball win a gold medal while his players are on campus getting ready to start their seasons.

“It was a snap ‘yes.’ That’s the problem,” Wright said. “And then after you think about it, you’re like, ‘wow.’ Only then do you realize what you’re missing at home.”

To be clear, Wright said this is a problem only half-seriously.

Logistical matters weren’t going to keep him from being part of the staff of assistants that include Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Atlanta’s Lloyd Pierce — all working under USA Basketball head men’s coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.

“This is basketball heaven,” Wright said.

It’s not uncommon for college coaches like Wright to be part of the USA Basketball mix, which can collide with college calendars. At the most recent World Cup in 2014, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was the head coach and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim was one of the assistants — and that tournament ended in mid-September.

But at this tournament, which starts Aug. 31 in China with the Americans playing their first game against the Czech Republic a day later, Wright is the only college coach on the U.S. roster. Popovich, Kerr and Pierce all have some time before their ‘real’ teams start practice. Wright doesn’t have that luxury.

“He’s kind of doing double-duty right now,” Popovich said. “He’s keeping touch with his kids, and obviously doing a great job with the USA team. But he hasn’t forgotten about his Villanova guys.”

To make this work, Wright rearranged Villanova’s summer schedule, everything from player workouts to coaching meetings. He was able to do his usual gamut of recruiting, but his usual start-of-semester matters like meeting with parents and having newcomers get acclimated now will fall on his staff of assistants until he returns.

“You don’t say no to this,” Wright said.

The Americans needed a 17-hour flight from Los Angeles before arriving in Melbourne, Australia, where they resumed practice on Monday. They’ll play three games in Australia, the first of those coming on Thursday, before heading to China next week.

“Longest flight I’ve been on, but I’m happy to be here,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum said.

Popovich believes in a style of coaching where everyone gets a chance to argue all parts of the game — a participatory approach, like he uses in San Antonio. Wright is primarily helping with the U.S. defensive schemes, but he also gets his opportunity to offer suggestions for the offensive plans. And he’s usually one of the last coaches still working on the floor after practice, running groups through shooting drills.

“We’re meeting in the morning, watching film, meeting with the team, practicing, going back, watching film, then watching film with the team,” Wright said. “And then we all go to dinner, but all we talk about at dinner is basketball.”

Wright guided Villanova to national championships in 2016 and 2018. Over the last four seasons, only Gonzaga has won more games than the Villanova — the Bulldogs have 130 wins, the Wildcats 129. And he has plenty of USA Basketball experience, like a gold medal as coach at the 2005 World University Games and a select team coach before the 2010 World Cup and 2016 Olympic runs by the senior national team.

Despite his experience, Wright notes that being around coaches like Popovich, Kerr and Pierce for umpteen hours a day has been a basketball education.

“It’s such an incredible opportunity,” Wright said. “We’re only a couple weeks in and I’ve already learned so much that I can bring back to our team. It’s incredible. Honestly, I feel like I’ve grown in two weeks as a coach, as a leader, more than I have in the last 10 years.”

Pounding Nails: Mick Cronin’s plan to recast UCLA from blue-blood to blue collar

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Four months into his tenure, the players that he inherited as the new UCLA head coach have yet to experience a vintage Mick Cronin blowup.

They’ve seen them, mind you.

They pull up the YouTube videos on their phones. It’s something that the staff and the players laugh about it. But watching Mt. Cronin erupt on Ted Valentine, J.P. Macura or whoever Rob is is very different than experiencing first-hand the wrath of a man who once missed a season because he, quite literally, blew a gasket.

“I can tell it’s there,” Chris Smith, a junior wing and one of the elder statesmen on this UCLA roster. “We’ve seen snippets of it in practice.”

“He will get fiery,” added freshman Jaime Jaquez, “but he’s being patient.”

And there’s a reason for that.

(Which I’ll get to.)

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After 13 seasons as the head coach at Cincinnati, after rebuilding the Bearcats from the ground up, Cronin left the city where he was born to become the tenth man in the last 44 years tasked with getting UCLA basketball back to where it was under John Wooden. The hire did not come with a ton of fanfare; in fact, Cronin was, at best, UCLA’s fourth choice. They wanted Jamie Dixon, but they couldn’t negotiate their way around his buyout. The same can be said for Rick Barnes, who publicly stated that he would be the head coach of the Bruins right now if the program had ponied up enough. UCLA chased John Calipari, and while it’s obvious that Coach Cal was using them to get a raise out of Kentucky, the Bruins believed there was a real chance they could get a deal done.

The fact that Cronin was not UCLA’s first choice had nothing to do with the level of success he achieved with the Bearcats. There are six programs in college basketball that have been to the NCAA tournament the past nine seasons. Cincinnati is one of them. Michigan State, Gonzaga, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas are the other five. Cronin is the only coach on that list that isn’t either in the Hall of Fame today or a lead pipe lock to be inducted in the very near future.

“A program like UCLA, winning is expected,” redshirt senior Prince Ali said. “He’s bringing that pedigree.”

Out of context, that level of consistency is remarkable.

In context, it’s even more impressive.

(I promise, I’m getting to the point.)

Remember, when Cronin took the Cincinnati job, it was at the height of the Big East’s powers in hoops. When he was hired, he had just two players on the roster, one of which was Connor Barwin, a walk-on recruited from the football team and a future NFL player. In his third season, the Big East had three No. 1 seeds in the tournament and a Final Four appearance. The first year Cincinnati reached the Big Dance, they were one of 11 schools from the conference to get a bid.

Making Cincinnati matter in a conference that was that strong was no easy task.

And that success was borne out of the one thing that, as it stands, is nowhere to be found in Westwood.

(We’ve arrived.)

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Cronin developed a specific brand for his Cincinnati program. They were tough. They were physical. They were going to grind you down defensively. They were going to win the battle of the boards. They were going to play that open stance defense.

More importantly, the players on the roster knew what to expect. They had been recruited by the Cincinnati staff. Those relationships would often last six years, from the time Cronin could start recruiting them as juniors in high school through their senior season in college. They went to Cincinnati because they wanted to be coached the way Cronin coaches, because they thought they could thrive playing the way Cronin’s teams play. They picked Cincinnati for a reason.

More importantly, they knew everything that was expected of them. There was a familiarity built off of roster continuity that allowed the program, in a sense, to run itself.

Now? In LA?

“Everyone is new,” Cronin told me last week. “New to me and me to them.”

Cronin knows there is going to be a learning curve with this group. The players have to figure out what they are being asked to do. They have to learn an entirely new terminology. They have to learn Cronin’s teaching style while he has to figure out the best way to get through to them. As he put it, “listening is overrated. It’s listen, learn and apply. The way [my players] learn and apply is going to determine our rate of improvement,” and it’s his job to figure out the best way for them to learn, and the easiest way for them to apply.

And then there is the elephant in the room. The players have to be reprogrammed to play a style that hasn’t been prevalent in Pauley Pavilion for at least a decade.

Cronin wouldn’t comment on what UCLA was before he arrived – “I cannot speak to anything that’s happened here prior because I wasn’t here.” – but I certainly can.

During his nine year NCAA tournament run, the Bearcats were, on average, ranked 15th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. The only season in which they ranked outside the top 22 in defensive efficiency was last year, when they “only” ranked 28th. UCLA, on the other hand, has ranked outside the top 100 in KenPom’s defensive ratings for three of the last four years. They haven’t finished in the top 30 since 2008, when Ben Howland was still getting the Bruins to Final Fours.

Put another way, Cronin is not only the new coach walking in the door, he’s the guy asking a roster full of players to play a way they’ve never been asked to play before.

That takes time.

And if he comes at them screaming like a madman every time they make a mistake, he’ll lose them.

He knows that.

“Being a college basketball coach is like being a starting pitcher,” Cronin said. “You have to change pitches. You’re pitching the whole game. You can’t throw fastballs every day.”

“You can’t get after people if they don’t believe or trust what you’re doing is real,” said assistant coach Darren Savino, who has been with Cronin for a decade, and that as much as anything else has been the focus of the first four months of the Cronin Era.

Cronin has taken a fairly unusual approach. There haven’t been team trips to the bowling alley. He hasn’t taken UCLA on any wilderness retreats or hired any Navy SEALS to come in and grind his players to a pulp with 5:30 a.m. workouts.

“I believe guys need to have a life and when it’s time to work, you work,” Cronin said. “I’m not into the corny stuff.”

I asked him to elaborate on that.

Prince Ali (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

“Showing up to your kid’s game is not being a parent. Taking your guys bowling is not being a coach or developing bonds,” he said. “After practice, the guys all go around saying ‘good work today,’ but during practice they make faces when a guy makes a mistake or doesn’t throw them the ball. Anyone can walk around saying good job, but what about when we’re competing?

“College basketball is 80 percent culture and how hard you compete. Do you care for each other? How do you interact? As a coach, you have to make it mandatory to play unselfish, play for each other and treat each other right.

“I can get after you as a coach. You don’t need to get on his ass because I will do that. You need to lift him up. My line is simple: ‘Your job is to worry about the team and helping each other. My job is to worry about you.'”

“I’ve felt the switch in culture. Everyone knows the whole idea is intensity and passion,” Smith said. “I’ve felt his presence in the gym, in practice. We’re going 100 percent in every drill. I can already see what the difference is going to be.”

“It’s great so far because there’s no stat sheet yet,” Cronin added with a chuckle.

UCLA lost their three leading scorers from last season in Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes and Moses Brown, but there is more than enough talent on this roster for Cronin to get to the 10th straight NCAA tournament. Ali was a top 30 prospect nationally coming out of high school. There are three four-star recruits returning on the wing – Smith, Jules Bernard and David Singleton – and two coming back to school in the frontcourt. Jaquez is a local kid and a freshman that made his debut playing for the Mexican national team this summer, and both Tyger Campbell and Shareef O’Neal will be able to play this year after missing their freshman seasons.

Put another way, the problem with the UCLA program the last few years hasn’t been talent. In fact, the Bruins are deep enough that Cronin is actually concerned about making sure he finds enough minutes for everyone that deserves minutes.

The problem last season was simple, really. There was a lack of desire to play defense, there were too many guys playing for their draft stock instead of their teammates and there was a coaching staff that didn’t – or couldn’t – hold players accountable; Steve Alford was fired on Dec. 31st, and interim head coach Murry Bartow was nothing more than a substitute teacher.

Changing that mindset, slowly but surely, has been Cronin’s mission, and he knows that the process is far from complete.

“When you start to build a house, it’s a bunch of boards and nail,” he said. “You have to start pounding nails. You can’t look at it as a bunch of wood and a bunch of nails. You have to get up every day and start pounding nails, and eventually, you have a house.”

College Basketball 2019-2020 Preseason Top 25

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There is so much that is going to happen between now and the time that next season starts that it almost seems foolish to publish a preseason top 25 today.

But we’re doing it anyway!

A couple of notes: Who is going to head to the NBA is very much in the air right now. There are still a number of freshmen that have yet to announce where they are playing their college ball. The transfer market has barely heated up. For decisions that are up in the air, you’ll see an asterisk next to their name. We’re making predictions on what certain players will do and ranking based off of them. 

So with all that said, here is the preseason top 25.

1. MICHIGAN STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, Nick Ward
  • WHO’S BACK: Cassius Winston, Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry, Kyle Ahrens, Gabe Brown, Foster Loyer, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Rocket Watts, Malik Hall, Julius Marble
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Aaron Henry, Xavier Tillman

2. KENTUCKY

  • WHO’S GONE: P.J. Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, Reid Travis
  • WHO’S BACK: E.J. Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickly, Nick Richards
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey, Keion Brooks, Johnny Juzang, Dontaie Allen, Nate Sestina
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyrese Maxey, Ashton Hagans, Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks, E.J. Montgomery

3. DUKE

  • WHO’S GONE: Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Marques Bolden
  • WHO’S BACK: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Jack White, Javin DeLaurier, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Cassius Stanley
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Wendell Moore, Matthew Hurt, Vernon Carey

4. KANSAS

  • WHO’S GONE: Lagerald Vick, Dedric Lawson, Quintin Grimes, K.J. Lawson, Charlie Moore
  • WHO’S BACK: Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, Silvio De Sousa, Mitch Lightfoot, David McCormack
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaiah Moss, Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna, Isaac McBride, Christian Braun
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Devon Dotson, Isaiah Moss, Ochai Agbaji, Silvio De Sousa, Udoka Azubuike

5. VILLANOVA

  • WHO’S GONE: Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Jahvon Quinerly
  • WHO’S BACK: Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider, Saddiq Bey, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Rountree, Brandon Slater
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Bryan Antoine, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Justin Moore, Eric Dixon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Collin Gillespie, Bryan Antoine, Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl

6. LOUISVILLE

  • WHO’S GONE: Christen Cunningham, Khwan Fore, Akoy Agau
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Ryan McMahon, Steve Enoch, Malik Williams, Darius Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Samuell Williamson, Jaelyn Withers, Josh Nickelberry, Fresh Kimble, David Johnson, Aidan Igiehom, Quinn Slazinski
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Fresh Kimble, Samuell Williamson, Dwayne Sutton, Jordan Nwora, Malik Williams

7. MARYLAND

  • WHO’S GONE: Bruno Fernando
  • WHO’S BACK: Anthony Cowan, Jalen Smith, Serrel Smith Jr., Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Darryl Morsell
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Chol Marial, Makhi Mitchell, Makhel Mitchell, Donta Scott
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Anthony Cowan, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins, Ricky Lindo, Jalen Smith

8. VIRGINIA

  • WHO’S GONE: De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Jack Salt
  • WHO’S BACK: Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, Kihei Clark
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Casey Morsell, Tomas Woldetensae, Kadin Shedrick, Justin McKoy
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff

9. TEXAS TECH

  • WHO’S GONE: Jarrett Culver, Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens, Brandone Francis, Norense Odiase, Khavon Moore
  • WHO’S BACK: Chris Beard, Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, Deshawn Corprew, Andrei Savrasov
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jahmius Ramsey, Chris Clarke, T.J. Holyfield, Kevin McCullar, Russel Tchewa, Terrence Shannon
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jahmius Ramsey, Davide Moretti, Deshawn Corprew, T.J. Holyfield, Chris Clarke

10. FLORIDA

  • WHO’S GONE: KeVaughn Allen, Jalen Hudson, Kevarrius Hayes, Keith Stone, DeAundre Ballard
  • WHO’S BACK: Noah Locke, Andrew Nembhard, Keyontae Johnson, Dontay Bassett, Isaiah Stokes
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kerry Blackshear Jr., Scottie Lewis, Tre Mann, Omar Payne, Jason Jitoboh
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Scottie Lewis, Keyontae Johnson, Kerry Blackshear Jr.

11. GONZAGA

  • WHO’S GONE: Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell, Geno Crandall, Jeremy Jones
  • WHO’S BACK: Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Corey Kispert
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Admon Gilder, Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo, Ryan Woolridge, Brock Ravet, Anton Watson, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zahkarov
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Ryan Woolridge, Admon Gilder, Corey Kispert, Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev

12. SETON HALL

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Nzei
  • WHO’S BACK: Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Tyrese Samuel
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quincy McKnight, Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Ikey Obiagu

13. NORTH CAROLINA

  • WHO’S GONE: Coby White, Nassir Little, Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, Kenny Williams, Seventh Woods
  • WHO’S BACK: Leaky Black, Garrison Brooks, Brandon Robinson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Cole Anthony, Armando Bacot, Jeremiah Francis, Anthony Harris, Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Cole Anthony, Leaky Black, Brandon Robinson, Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks

14. UTAH STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: Quinn Taylor
  • WHO’S BACK: Sam Merrill, Neemias Queta, Diogo Brito, Brock Miller, Abel Porter
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Alphonso Anderson, Liam McChesney, Sean Bairstow
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Diogo Brito, Abel Porter, Sam Merrill, Brock Miller, Neemias Queta

15. OREGON

  • WHO’S GONE: Paul White, Louis King, Ehab Amin, Kenny Wooten, Bol Bol, Victor Bailey
  • WHO’S BACK: Payton Pritchard, Will Richardson, Francis Okoro
  • WHO’S COMING IN: N’Faly Dante, C.J. Walker, Anthony Mathis, Shakur Juiston, Addison Patterson, Chris Duarte, Lok Wur, Chandler Lawson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Payton Pritchard, Chris Duarte, Anthony Mathis, C.J. Walker, Shakur Juiston

16. ARIZONA

  • WHO’S GONE: Justin Coleman, Ryan Luther, Brandon Randolph
  • WHO’S BACK: Dylan Smith, Chase Jeter, Brandon Williams, Alex Barcello, Ira Lee
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Max Hazzard, Terry Armstrong, Christian Koloko, Zeke Nnaji, Stone Gettings
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Max Hazzard, Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Ira Lee, Chase Jeter

17. SAINT MARY’S

  • WHO’S GONE: Jordan Hunter
  • WHO’S BACK: Jordan Ford, Malik Fitts, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Dan Fotu, Jock Perry
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Alex Ducas, Kyle Bowen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Jordan Ford, Tommy Kuhse, Tanner Krebs, Malik Fitts, Jock Perry

18. XAVIER

  • WHO’S GONE: Ryan Welage, Zach Hankins, Kyle Castlin, Elias Harden
  • WHO’S BACK: Quentin Goodin, Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Kyky Tandy, Dahmir Bishop, Zach Freemantle, Jason Carter, Daniel Ramsey, Dieonte Miles
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Jason Carter, Tyrique Jones

19. LSU

  • WHO’S GONE: Tremont Waters, Naz Reid, Kavell-Bigby Williams
  • WHO’S BACK: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams, Marlon Taylor, Darius Days
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Trendon Watford, James Bishop
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor, Trendon Watford, Emmitt Williams

20. BAYLOR

  • WHO’S GONE: King McClure, Makai Mason, Jake Lindsey
  • WHO’S BACK: Tristan Clark, Mario Kegler, Jared Butler, Devonte Bandoo, Mark Vital, Freddie Gillespie, Matthew Mayer
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jordan Turner, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, Mark Vital, Mario Kegler, Tristan Clark

21. MEMPHIS

  • WHO’S GONE: Jeremiah Martin, Kyvon Davenport, Mike Parks Jr., Raynere Thornton, Kareem Brewton, Antwann Jones Jr.
  • WHO’S BACK: Tyler Harris, Alex Lomax, Isaiah Maurice
  • WHO’S COMING IN: James Wiseman, D.J. Jeffries, Lester Quinones, Malcolm Dandridge, Damian Baugh, Lance Thomas, Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Tyler Harris, Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, Precious Achiuwa, James Wiseman

22. AUBURN

  • WHO’S GONE: Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, Malik Dunbar, Horace Spencer, Chuma Okeke
  • WHO’S BACK: Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore, Austin Wiley
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaac Okoro, Tyrell Jones, Jaylin Williams, Babatunde Akingbola, Allen Flanigan, Jamal Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: J’Von McCormick, Samir Doughty, Danjel Purifoy, Isaac Okoro, Anfernee McLemore

23. TENNESSEE

  • WHO’S GONE: Admiral Schofield, Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bone, Grant Williams, Derrick Walker Jr, D.J. Burns
  • WHO’S BACK: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Yves Pons., John Fulkerson, Jalen Johnson
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Josiah James, Drew Pember, Olivier Nkamoua, Davonte Gaines
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, Josiah James, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson

24. VCU

  • WHO’S GONE: Michael Gilmore
  • WHO’S BACK: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva, Vince Williams, Mike’L Simms, P.J. Byrd, Malik Crawford
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Jarren McAlister
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Marcus Evans, Isaac Vann, Vince Williams, Deriante Jenkins, Marcus Santos-Silva

25. OHIO STATE

  • WHO’S GONE: C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods
  • WHO’S BACK: Kaleb Wesson, Andre Wesson, Luther Muhammad, Duane Washington, Kyle Young, Justin Aherns, Musa Jallow, Jaedon LeDee
  • WHO’S COMING IN: D.J. Carton, Alonzo Gaffney, EJ Liddel, Ibrahima Diallo, CJ Walker
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: C.J. Walker, Duane Washington Jr., Luther Muhammad, Andre Wesson, Kaleb Wesson

JUST MISSED

DAVIDSON

  • WHO’S GONE: Nathan Ekwu, Dusan Kovacevic
  • WHO’S BACK: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luka Brajkovic, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Carter Collins, David Czerapowicz, Bates Jones
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Hyunjung Lee, David Kristensen
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Kellan Grady, Jon Axel Gudmundson, Luke Frampton, Kishawn Pritchett, Luka Brajkovic

CREIGHTON

  • WHO’S GONE: Sam Froling, Kaleb Joseph, Connor Cashaw
  • WHO’S BACK: Davion Mintz, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson, Damien Jefferson, Marcus Zegarowski
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Shereef Mitchell
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Davion Mintz, Marcus Zegarowski, Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Jacob Epperson

WASHINGTON

  • WHO’S GONE: Jaylen Nowell, Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp, Dominic Green
  • WHO’S BACK: Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Sam Timmins, Jamal Bey
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels, Quade Green, Marcus Tsohonis, RaeQuan Battle
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Quade Green, Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright, Jaden McDaniels, Isaiah Stewart

COLORADO

  • WHO’S GONE: Namon Wright
  • WHO’S BACK: McKinley Wright IV, Tyler Bey, D’shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert, Evan Battey, Shane Gatling, Daylen Kountz
  • WHO’S COMING IN: No one
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: McKinley Wright IV, Shane Gatling, Tyler Bey, D’Shawn Schwartz, Lucas Siewert

MARQUETTE

  • WHO’S GONE: Sam Hauser, Joey Hauser, Joseph Chartouny
  • WHO’S BACK: Markus Howard, Theo John, Sacar Anim, Ed Morrow, Jamal Cain
  • WHO’S COMING IN: Koby McEwen, Symir Torrence, Jayce Johnson
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Markus Howard, Koby McEwen, Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey, Theo John

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.