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NBA Mock Draft 5.0: What changes now that the lottery order is set?

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The NBA Draft Lottery came and went last night with the New Orleans Pelicans finding a way to win the Zion Williamson sweepstakes in one of the greatest trolls in the history of professional sports.

The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks both found a way to climb into the top four of this year’s draft, but all of the conspiracy theorists were proven wrong as the Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies wound up with the top two picks in this year’s draft.

Now that we have the actual draft order completely worked out, we can fully dive into picks based on fit.

So without further ado, here is the NBC Sports Mock Draft 5.0:

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1. NEW ORLEANS: Zion Williamson, Duke

There really is no argument to make for taking anyone other than Zion with the No. 1 overall pick this year, regardless of who ends up winning the lottery.

Let’s start with this: He averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 boards, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks while shooting 68 percent from the field this season. That hasn’t happened since at least the 1992-93 season, and that’s the cut off because that is as far back as Basketball Reference’s database will go. His PER of 40.8 obliterated the previous record of 36.9, which was set by a guy that played at High Point, not a player in the ACC. Perhaps the most important thing to note here is that Zion ended up shooting 33.8 percent from three. That was on just 71 attempts, but he got better from distance throughout the season.

Strictly as a player, I think he’s the best prospect to enter the NBA since Anthony Davis largely due to the fact that I think the NBA game — with the space the deeper three-point line and teammates that can actually make shots creates — will make Zion nearly impossible to guard off the dribble.

But you’re not just drafting the player. You’re drafting the brand. He’ll sell tickets. He’ll sell jerseys. He’ll boost the organization’s social media following. There’s a generation of humans all over the globe that will become a fan of the team that drafts him simply because of his presence the same way that you see kids in New Jersey wearing PSG kits because Neymar and Kylian Mbappe on in the squad.

You don’t pass on that if you’re not trying to get fired.

2. MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Murray State

Morant’s dynamic athleticism combined with his lethal passing ability is what makes him such an intriguing player in this day and age in the NBA. He’ll be able to get up and down the floor as fast as anyone. He can make pinpoint passes off the dribble with either hand. He really reads the floor well. He understands how defenses are going to be playing him. The IQ is there.

The question with Morant, what will determine whether or not he hits his ceiling is two-fold: For starters, he needs to add some strength to his frame. His explosiveness is out of this world, but finishing over defenders in the OVC is different than trying to finish over players in the NBA. He also needs to become a better shooter. He showed some flashes of being able to step behind a screen and make a defender pay for going under it, but he’s not quite doing that at an NBA level yet.

Morant has a chance to end up being one of the top five point guards in the league when it is all said and done. He has that kind of upside, and with Mike Conley heading towards the twilight of his career, this is A) a perfect fit for the organization, and B) a great pairing alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. That is about as good as it gets when it comes to a place to start building a contender.

3. NEW YORK: R.J. Barrett, Duke

I’ve come around on R.J. Barrett as a prospect even though I still think there are some real flaws in his game. I do think he’s a bit too left-hand dominant. His shot selection bordered on selfish, although he did start to make better reads and better passes down the stretch of the season. The jumper was not great this year, and I do wonder if he has the athleticism to be able to play the position he’s going to want to play in the NBA.

But he was also the first high major player to average better than 22 points, seven boards and four assists in 27 years. He did it as a freshman in the ACC. Anfernee Hardaway did it as a sophomore in the GMWC.

The production is there. So is the mindset, and more than anything, that’s what has me back on the Barrett bandwagon. After speaking with people close to the Duke program and close to Barrett, I’m willing to make the bet on the human being finding a way to figure it out. He’ll put in the work. He’ll fix what’s wrong in his game. He’s wired the way that players like Kawhi Leonard and Kobe Bryant are. I’m not saying that he is going to end up being as good as those two, but I do think that he’ll make the absolute most out of his potential.

And remember, back in October, everyone thought that this year’s draft was going to end up being the R.J. Barrett Sweepstakes. All he did between then and now was have one of the most productive seasons in recent memory. Not getting Zion is a bummer, but Barrett is a pretty good consolation prize.

4. LA LAKERS: Darius Garland, Vanderbilt

This all depends on whether or not the Lakers actually decide whether or not to hold on to this pick. If they do, Garland makes the most sense. They are a team that is in need of shot-making and shot-creation, and that’s what Garland does best. He is a very, very good shooter with deep range and the ability to create and makes shots in 1-on-1 situations. There’s some risk here, given that he is coming off of a knee injury, but the fact that the Lakers already have a number of big wings on their roster — Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, even Lonzo Ball — and that Garland is represented by Klutch Sports, this makes sense.

But again, it all depends on whether or not the Lakers can put together a package that would be enough to entice the Pelicans to give up Anthony Davis, and if they do, you would have to imagine the pick would be included.

5. CLEVELAND: De’Andre Hunter, Virginia

I am the leader of the De’Andre Hunter bandwagon, and anyone that watched the final 25 minutes of the national title game should be able to fully understand why. For my money, Hunter is the best one-on-one defender in this draft. Tony Bennett would use him to guard an opponent’s best player, regardless of position. In one game against North Carolina, Hunter went from defending Coby White on the perimeter to chasing Cam Johnson around screens to hanging with Luke Maye in the post. He’s just an absolute monster on that end.

I also think that he is a much better offensive weapon than he has shown, because I don’t think he quite realizes how good he is. Yes, he needs to continue to develop his handle and his ability to change directions, but I think that he has the physical tools to make all of that happens. He’s a knockdown shooter already, and with the space created by playing in the NBA game, he should be able to take advantage of his straight-line driving ability more than he could playing for Virginia.

His 3-and-D potential gives him such a high-floor, and the ceiling is there to be more. Putting him into an organization where he can be developed by John Beilein just seems like the absolute perfect fit.

6. PHOENIX: Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

I’ve been on the Culver bandwagon for a long time. He has terrific size, he played two seasons in a college program that prioritizes defense above all else and he’s a much-improved passer that, at 6-foot-7, can operate ball-screens. He also just covers so much ground. He’s not super-explosive, but his strides are so long that he’s by you after one dribble.

This risk here is the perimeter shooting. He had a dreadful month of January shooting the ball, but Tech’s entire team did. I’m also concerned that his lack of burst will be a bigger issue in the NBA than it was in college, but I think that is worth the risk at No. 5 when, presumably, the other options are going to be guys coming off of knee injuries or the third-best player at Duke.

Coby White would be interesting here, given that Phoenix is in need of a point guard, but I think Culver has the higher ceiling. I also think that he would be a better fit alongside Devon Booker than White would be. Booker has developed into a high-volume scorer, but he is also a guy that can play as a lead guard and primary ball-handler. Culver makes more sense next to him than White does. That said, if Garland is still available at this point, I think that the Suns would gobble him up without thinking twice about it.

7. CHICAGO: Coby White, North Carolina

Coby White did not enter college basketball as the best freshman at North Carolina, but he certainly left his mark on this college hoops season. There really isn’t any other way to say it: Coby White is Buckets, Personified. He’s 6-foot-5 and unbelievably quick in transition, with the ability to stop on a dime and bury pull-ups out to the three-point line. He will score a lot of points in the NBA, and if he can continue to develop the play-making part of his game, there’s a chance that he could end up being an above-average starter in the league.

The Bulls need to find a long-term answer at the point guard spot, and White would be their best chance to do so at this point in this draft.

8. ATLANTA: Cam Reddish, Duke

Reddish is the most frustrating player in the country for me. From a talent perspective, I’m not sure that there is anyone outside of Zion that has more than him. He’s a 6-foot-8 multi-positional wing that can operate in ball-screens, can make threes and spent his youth playing as the lead guard both in high school and in AAU. He should be much better than he was this year, but between being on the floor with two ball-dominant players on a team that had little-to-no shooting other than him, some of his struggles are contextual.

I’ll still bet on his talent. Players with his skill level, his size and his athleticism don’t show up all that often. Drafting a 6-foot-8 player that shot 35.6 percent from inside the arc this high is never going to make anyone comfortable, but with Trae Young on the floor to carry the load offensively, Reddish should have some time to grow into his ceiling without too much pressure.

9. WASHINGTON: P.J. Washington, Kentucky

The Wizards sent both Kelly Oubre and Otto Porter Jr. packing this season, meaning that they need to find a way to fill a hole in their frontcourt. There are a number of players that can do so in this range in the draft, but I think Washington makes the most sense.

He was one of the most improved players in college basketball this past season, but he was frustratingly inconsistent. He had a six-week stretch where he was the best player in the country not named Zion Williamson, and spent the rest of the season making Kentucky fans wonder just where that superhuman had gone to. I think Washington is better playing in a complimentary role — he seems to thrive as a catch-and-shoot spacer and a post scorer than he does a guy you put into isolations — and I can see him having the kind of career that another Kentucky grad, Patrick Patterson, has had.

With his toughness, defensive versatility and ability to stretch the floor, he seems like a pretty ideal fit next to John Wall, Bradley Beal and Dwight Howard.

10. ATLANTA: Jaxson Hayes, Texas

Hayes has the potential to end up being the prototype center that NBA teams are currently looking for. He’s 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, the mobility and athleticism to defend out on the perimeter and instincts that allow him to be an effective rim protector as well as a rim-running lob target and vertical spacer. He’s a project, and a pick for the longterm, but the improvement that he’s made as he’s continued to grow combined with the fact that he’s not even 19 years old yet — and even younger in basketball years — makes me really intrigued.

After seeing what Atlanta has been able to do with John Collins, it would make a lot of sense for them to draft a guy like Hayes. Just think about how good he can be catching lobs from Trae Young for the next four years.

11. MINNESOTA: Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

Zion Williamson set the record for the best PER in college basketball history this season, but the 37.2 PER that Clarke posted this season would have set the record as well. He might be the best athlete in this draft, and for my money, he was one of the five-best players in all of college basketball this past season. He’s an elite defensive weapon that averaged 3.2 blocks and 1.2 steals, and at 6-foot-8, he’s big enough to guard up and mobile enough to guard down at the next level. There is some upside with this pick given that Clarke is still very much a work in progress as a shooter, but he’ll be 23 before he ever plays in an NBA game and is more or less a finished product.

I wouldn’t be shocked to see him drop in the draft simply because I think he’s the kind of player that is better suited to finding a role on a good team than he is the kind of roll-the-dice upside pick the organizations that are perennially in lottery purgatory look for, but there may not be five guys from this draft that are more NBA-ready that Clarke is right now.

That makes him a pretty ideal fit for a Minnesota team that is not all that far away. Slotting him next to Karl Towns in a frontcourt is exactly the kind of situation that Clarke should be best in.

12. CHARLOTTE: Sekou Doumbouya, France

Doumbouya is a high-upside, athletic forward originally from Guinea that is still a few years away from being ready to contribute to an NBA team. But given the state of flux that Charlotte’s roster is currently in — they might lose Kemba, and there really isn’t all that much else to get excited about — they need to take a swing on someone with high-upside.

13. MIAMI: Bol Bol, Oregon

I understand the potential with Bol Bol. He’s 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-8 wingspan, he’s an elite shooter and he’s an elite shot-blocker. But he also has more red flags than Canada. There are very legitimate concerns about his work ethic and whether or not he actually loves basketball. There are very legitimate concerns about his strength and physicality, and whether or not he is actually a defensive liability despite his shot-blocking prowess — Serious question: Who can he guard in the NBA? And all of that was true before he suffered a foot injury this season.

My general advice would be to let someone else deal with that stress, but I think that Miami might be the right organizations for him to slot into. There’s a culture there, one that demands you work hard and you defend, and he will be held accountable for not doing his job. I think that’s what he needs to reach his admittedly-very high ceiling.

14. BOSTON: Romeo Langford, Indiana

The big question with Langford is whether or not you truly believe his dreadful shooting this past season — he finished his freshman year making just 27.2 percent of his threes — was a result of the thumb injury that he underwent surgery to fix. If you do, he’ll likely get picked higher than this because of his size, his length, his ability to defend and just how good he is at finishing around the rim. I’m not 100 percent convinced the shooting struggles were solely the injury.

Langford just feels like the kind of kid that Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge will like, and with the potential for Kyrie and Terry Rozier to move on, I would not be shocked to see him end up here.

And like the Lakers, this pick all depends on whether or not the Celtics can put together a package that is strong enough to land Anthony Davis.

15. DETROIT: Kevin Porter Jr., USC

There is a lot of risk involved with drafting Porter, who is an extremely talented scorer that is a decent bet to end up averaging 20 points at some point in his NBA career. I think where he gets picked will depend on how the interviewing process goes. He has some things that he needs to be able to answer for from his one season at USC — a mysterious leg injury kept him out for nearly half the season, and he was suspended while on a road trip to Oregon — but he is talented enough that someone is going to take a chance on him. He has the upside to be a top five player in this class, and if he ends up in an organization that will provide him with stability and a dose of professionalism, he could thrive.

I am not sure if Detroit would be the ideal fit for Porter, but they certainly do need a boost of perimeter shooting, and I don’t doubt that Porter will be able to find a way to score at the next level.

16. ORLANDO: Tyler Herro, Kentucky

Herro does a lot of things that you want NBA guards to be able to do. He’s a really good shooter (better than the numbers he put up this season), he can play in the pick-and-roll, he can run off of screens and get shots up and he will play hard. He’s also a better defender than he probably gets credit for. You’re not drafting him to be an all-star, you’re drafting him to do a specific job, and he should be able to do that job well. Orlando badly needs someone that can fill that role.

17. BROOKLYN: Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga

Hachimura is super-toolsy, and that is the kind of thing that is going to intrigue NBA teams. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and carries 240 pounds really, really well. He’s an explosive leaper with an impressive first step, which comes in handy because he is not a great shooter yet. He’s also not a great defender yet, although he did get better on that end of the floor as the season went on. He’s more raw that you want to see from a 21-year old, but considering the language barrier he worked through and the fact that he was never really challenged before he got to Gonzaga, it’s understandable.

Brooklyn is an organization with a ton of intriguing perimeter weapons —  D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris — and a couple of interesting fives that could use a combo-forward in the big wing mold. Hachimura is that guy, and he fits the culture of an organization that prides themselves on work ethic, character and player development. This is a place where he can reach his ceiling.

18. INDIANA: Nassir Little, North Carolina

The Pacers need scoring more than anything else, but I think that passing on Little this late in the draft would be foolish. He’s a former top five recruit that fits, in theory, with the modern NBA perfectly.

I still think Little has a chance to be a really good pro because of the gifts that God gave him. He’s athletic and strong while standing 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He is the epitome of the versatility that NBA teams are looking for on the wing. Now all he has to do to learn to shoot and improve his feel for the game. There’s a reason that he looked his best in situations where the game got scattered.

19. SAN ANTONIO: Grant Williams, Tennessee

I love Grant Williams. He’s only 6-foot-6, but he has the strength and the length to guard up. He’s a very good rebounder and a super-smart passer that allowed Tennessee to run their offense through him. He’s also effective in the post and the kind of guy that is going to step up and make big plays in big moments. But I think the most important thing to note here is that his role needs context: He was not really allowed or encouraged to shoot at Tennessee, and I do believe he is going to be better in that area at the next level. I think you’re getting a 10-year pro with the potential to be a starter in the mid-to-late first round, and that is great value in my mind.

He’s precisely the kind of player that would be ideal to get into Gregg Popovich’s organization.

20. BOSTON: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech

I’m still on the Nickeil Alexander-Walker bandwagon. He’s big enough and long enough to guard both backcourt spots, he shot 38.3 percent from three this past season — a number that went down when, midway through the year, he had to slide over and play the point fulltime thanks to Justin Robinson’s mysterious injury — and he is a creative passer that can operate a ball-screen. I think he’s good enough to be a starter in the NBA one day not too far in the future, and with the questions in Boston’s backcourt, he is exactly the kind of player that they need to add.

21. OKLAHOMA CITY: Cam Johnson, North Carolina

Johnson is here because of his ability to shoot at 6-foot-8. His handle is not great, he doesn’t have a great frame and I do wonder who he is going to be able to guard in the NBA. But when you make upwards of 46 percent of your threes while shooting six per game, you are a guy that is going to be able to find someone to pay you NBA dollars. Ask Svi Mykhailiuk.

If Oklahoma City needs anything, it is shooting.

22. BOSTON: Keldon Johnson, Kentucky

Keldon Johnson is one of those guys that is good at a lot of things, but may not necessarily has one NBA skill. He’s not an elite athlete. His shooting dropped off in SEC play. He’s a straight-line driver and will give effort defensively but may not necessarily have the physical tools to shut-down NBA wings. If he can get quicker and become a more consistent shooter from three, there is a chance that he can be a useful role player in the league, but there are definitely some improvements that need to be made.

But he’s tough, he’ll defend and he can make shots. Boston loves guys like that.

23. UTAH: Bruno Fernando, Maryland

Fernando is a big, physical and athletic five-man that has shown that he has more skill than we previously thought. He’s a much better passer this year than he was in the past, and he should be able to provide some rim protection at the NBA level. I don’t know that there is much of a ceiling here, but I do think that he can be a useful role player at the NBA level, especially if he ends up in an organization that will help develop him on the defensive side of the ball.

If Utah ends up losing Derrick Favors, Fernando is the kind of player that can fill that void.

24. PHILADELPHIA: Ty Jerome, Virginia

I think Jerome is a point guard in the Fred VanVleet/Jalen Brunson mold, meaning that what he lacks in high-end athleticism he makes up for in savvy, basketball IQ, leadership and shot-making. He’ll spend a decade as an elite backup point guard in the NBA.

I also think he would be the ideal fit for Philly. He can do all the things that they lost when they traded away Landry Shamet. He can really shoot it from three, he can run off of screens all day long, he can play as a primary ball-hander when needed and he can guard either backcourt spot well enough. It just makes too much sense.

25. PORTLAND: KZ Okpala, Stanford

I get why people really, really like Okpala. He’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and the ability to not only knockdown shots from the perimeter but create off the bounce as well. That’s the kind of think you look for in a first round pick. But it’s also worth noting that he dropped off a cliff in the final month of the season. There’s potential there, I’m just not convinced he can come in an impact an NBA game immediately. I don’t think that would be a negative for Portland, because they seem to have an affinity for drafting guys that need a couple of years of seasoning before they are ready to impact a game.

26. CLEVELAND: Goga Bitadze, Montenegro

Bitadze is a 6-foot-11 19-year old that put up impressive scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking numbers for a player his age at the level he competed at in Europe. What makes him an interesting fit in Cleveland is that his perimeter shot is starting to blossom, and anyone that remembers the success that John Beilein had with Kevin Pittsnoggle and Mo Wagner will love the idea of sliding him a center that can shoot it.

27. BROOKLYN: Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State

Horton-Tucker is something of a roll of the dice, but he’s a risk worth taking late in the first round because he’s such an intriguing mix of physical tools, skills and youth. At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Horton-Tucker should be able to slide between guarding twos and fours. He needs to get more consistent with his shooting stroke, but he can make jumpers off of the dribble. And he doesn’t turn 19 until November 25th, meaning that he is six months younger than Cole Anthony. He’s a dart throw and a few years away from contributing, but he’s unique enough that I think he can be effective and Brooklyn appears to be the kind of organization that is going to be able to get the best out of the players they bring into the mix.

28. GOLDEN STATE: Dylan Windler, Belmont

I think Windler is super-interesting as a role player in the modern NBA. He can really, really shoot it, and while that’s more or less where his bread is going to be buttered, I do believe that he is better at doing the little things that he gets credit for. He can rebound, he can jump passing lanes, he makes the right reads. He was a superstar for Belmont in the OVC, but at his heart he’s built to be a complimentary. I can see him latching on for a number of years as a role player coming off the bench for a playoff team, and the Warriors have had a lot of success finding college guys that can fill a specific role for them in the late-first and second round.

29. SAN ANTONIO: Eric Paschall, Villanova

Like many Villanova products before him, Paschall seems like he’ll fit seamlessly onto the roster of a playoff and contribute. He’s spent the last four years in a system that preaches positionless offense and switchability on defense, and with his size, athleticism and ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, he’s exactly what NBA teams are currently looking for. He’s almost 23 years old, so he’s more or less a finished product, but he’s good enough right now to play in an NBA rotation. The Spurs have long been a place where guys like this can start their career.

30. MILWAUKEE: Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State

Kabengele has the size, the length, the shot-making ability and the pedigree — he is related to Dikembe Mutumbo — to play as a small-ball center in the NBA. He does foul a bit too much, but I think he’s better at moving on the perimeter than he gets credit for. He was super-productive at Florida State despite being asked by Leonard Hamilton to come off the bench. He’s a sleeper for me in this draft, and Milwaukee will be lucky to land him here.

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.