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College basketball’s most influential remaining NBA draft decisions

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Now that R.J. Hampton has officially decided that he will not be attending college next season, here are the 16 most influential decisions left to be made.

1. WILL THEY STAY OR WILL THEY … TRANSFER?

The biggest name on this list is Kerry Blackshear Jr. The 6-foot-10, 250 pound Blackshear averaged 14.9 points, 7.5 boards and 2.4 assists for a Virginia Tech team that played at one of the slowest paces in college basketball last season. He’s a bully in the paint, he has the ability to step out on the perimeter and beat players off the dribble and he was a 33 percent three-point shooter this past season. He has not yet committed anywhere, but he has declared for the NBA draft. If he opts to return to school, he’ll likely end up being a preseason All-American, wherever he ends up.

The other interesting name here is Rayjon Tucker. He’s a grad transfer from Arkansas-Little Rock that has already committed to Memphis, but he is also a legitimate NBA prospect given his size (6-foot-5), ridiculous athleticism and ability to shoot (41% from three) and score (20.3 ppg). He is incredibly important to Memphis because, as much talent as Penny Hardaway has amassed, he does not have any experience on his roster to speak of. Tucker won’t be the best prospect on that Memphis team, but even with James Wiseman in the fold, there’s an argument to be made that he could end up being the team’s best player next season.

There are also a few other grad transfers that need to be monitored. For starters, former USC point guard Derryck Thornton Jr. — who was, at one time, a five-star prospect and a Duke player — is visiting Gonzaga this week and could fill the hole they have at the lead guard spot, while UNLV big man Shakur Juiston will be an impact player wherever he ends up.

2. DEVON DOTSON and QUENTIN GRIMES, Kansas

With the news that Hampton will not be enrolling at Kansas, Bill Self’s season may not hinge on whether or not he gets last year’s two five-star freshmen back. Neither seem likely to be first round picks this year, and without the competition for lead guard minutes that Hampton would have provided, Dotson seems the more likely of the two to return. Grimes never found his footing with the Jayhawks last season, and there has been some speculation that if he withdraws from the draft he could also end up transferring out of the program.

3. ANTHONY COWAN JR., Maryland

The Terps have a chance to be a preseason top ten team next season. Their sophomore class is absolutely loaded, and the return of Jalen Smith will give them one of the most talented big men in the Big Ten. But Cowan is the straw that stirs their drink, and if he keeps his name in the draft, Mark Turgeon will have a roster full of talent that is missing their leader and star point guard.

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4. MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

The Pirates return essentially everyone from a team that made the NCAA tournament last season, and they have a chance to compete with Villanova and Xavier for a Big East title next season if they get Powell — who averaged 23.1 points and is one of the most explosive scorers in the country — back.

5. JORDAN NWORA and STEVE ENOCH, Louisville

Nwora is a bigger deal here than Enoch. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team, and perhaps top five. He plays a very important role in Chris Mack’s offense.

6. E.J. MONTGOMERY and NICK RICHARDS, Kentucky

John Calipari not only brought in Bucknell grad transfer Nate Sestina to help shore up his frontcourt, but most believe that Kentucky is the leader to land Blackshear if he does opt to return to college. That should tell you how comfortable he feels about his frontcourt, and if he loses Montgomery and/or Richards — neither or whom are expected to be a first or even an early second round pick — then the Wildcats will be looking at having a small and thin front line.

7. JARED HARPER, Auburn

Auburn already has lost Chuma Okeke, who will be keeping his name in the NBA draft, and there seems to be a very real chance that they lose Harper as well. He was impressive at the G League Elite Camp and earned himself an invite to the NBA combine. Like Cowan, he is the head of the snake for the Tigers, and would arguably be the best point guard in the SEC if he opted to return to school.

8. MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

Diakite is not going to be a name that pops for a lot of people, but he is such an important piece for Virginia next season. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

9. KALEB WESSON, Ohio State

The Buckeyes look like they are going to end up being a top 20 team next season, but that is assuming that Wesson makes the decision to return to Columbus. He’s the anchor that Chris Holtmann would run his offense around, and the 6-foot-9, 270 pound sophomore has a chance to be a first-team All-Big Ten player next year.

10. JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

Bone will be one of the best point guards in college basketball if he opts to return to school, and with Grant Williams following Admiral Schofield out the door, the Vols need all the experience that they can get. That said, with Lamonte Turner in the fold, there is some backcourt experience for Rick Barnes to rely on if Bone opts to make the jump.

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11. KILLIAN TILLIE, Gonzaga

The Zags desperately need Tillie back. Not only have they lost Josh Perkins to graduation, but Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Zach Norvell Jr. are all keeping their names in the draft. If Tillie returns, he will be a focal point offensively and likely the best player on a Gonzaga team that should start the season in the top 15.

12. PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon

The Ducks are going to take a major hit with Kenny Wooten and Louis King staying in the draft. It could end up being full-on rebuilding mode in Eugene if Payton Pritchard follows them out the door.

13. NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

The Aggies are likely going to be one of the best teams in the country outside of the top seven leagues whether or not the 6-foot-11 Queta returns for his sophomore season, but if they want to build on last year’s Mountain West title and tournament trip, it will certainly help getting their defensive anchor back.

14. NIC CLAXTON, Georgia

Claxton is quietly one of the more talented players in the SEC, and if he opts to return for his sophomore season, he’ll join top five recruit Anthony Edwards in giving Tom Crean one of the better 1-2 punches in the SEC.

15. REGGIE PERRY, Mississippi State

Perry was a five-star freshman this past season that showed flashes of being really, really promising. If he returns to Starkville, he’ll he an anchor for Ben Howland and give the Bulldogs a real shot at remaining a top 25 team.

16. AMIR COFFEY, Minnesota

The Golden Gophers lose Jordan Murphy, but with a talented freshman class returning and Marcus Carr getting eligible, Minnesota has a chance to sneak up on some people next season if Coffey — a 6-foot-6 wing that was forced to play plenty of minutes at the point as a junior — comes back.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)