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Winners and losers of the 2019 NBA Draft

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The 2019 NBA Draft is now in the rear-view mirror, but that only means it’s time to make snap judgements about decisions that we won’t know the true evaluation of for years.

Let’s break down who left Barclays Center on Thursday night as winners, and who left it as losers.

 

WINNERS

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES – Ever since the lottery results came in, we knew the Grizzlies were going to get Ja Morant, but just because it was expected doesn’t it make it significant for Memphis. Morant is not only an explosive athlete and polished scorer, but he’s a playmaker and distributor that can be a cornerstone as the Grizz look to rebuild.

Morant wasn’t the only prize for Memphis, though, as the Grizzlies snatched Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke at No. 21. There may be some questions about Clarke’s height and its impact on how we’ll navigate the next level, but the former Bulldog was an absolute two-way terror last season and was at times considered a potential lottery pick.

This is a huge haul for the Grizzlies.

NORTH CAROLINA – Coby White went seventh overall to the Bulls, and he’ll be the point guard of the future in Chicago, but that’s not what lands the Tar Heels on this list. White was always expected to go in the lottery, but his teammate Cameron Johnson wasn’t.

The 6-foot-9 sharpshooter did, however, landing at No. 11  with the Phoenix Suns, giving Roy Williams’ program another lottery pick when there was apparently some fear that Johnson might slide into the second round.

Instead, North Carolina got two players into the lottery and we got this awesome reaction from White.

Nassir Little fell to 25th – making for a long green room night – but still, there players in the first round will work.

DENVER NUGGETS – The Nuggets entered the night without a draft pick, and left it with a prospect that many considered one of the 10-best not long ago.

Denver was the beneficiary of the slide of Bol Bol, a green room invite who fell all the way into the middle of the second round, where the Nuggets traded in to take him at 44.

It’s a gamble, yes, but a low-cost one for Denver, who nursed Michael Porter, Jr. through all last season and obviously are comfortable taking on a project, both on the floor and on the training table. The Nuggets are an up-and-comer (as much as last year’s No. 2 seed can be), and taking a flyer on a major talent, even one with red flags and a broken navicular bone, is the type of lottery ticket that can pay off huge if it hits.

 

LOSERS

DUKE – You’d think the Blue Devils would be in the above category given they had the No. 1 pick, two players taken in the top-three and three in the lottery, but, honestly, it seems to serve mostly as a reminder of how Duke fell short of a Final Four spot despite that overwhelming talent, not to mention Tre Jones, who will be one of the top returners in college basketball next season.

Duke needed to survive scares in the second round to UCF and the Sweet 16 to Virginia Tech before Michigan State – who didn’t have any players selected Thursday – knocked them off to punch its ticket to Minneapolis. Yes, the Blue Devils fought injury – namely Zion Williamson’s blown sneaker – and the weight of expectation, but they had a generational college player in Williamson and just a stunning amount of talent over the roster. Mike Krzyzewski has deservedly drawn heat for not playing Williamson more at center, and it’s fair to wonder if this team never truly unlocked its true potential.

The Blue Devils were so much fun to watch when they were playing their best basketball, but, aside from Zion’s mastery, they’ll probably be remembered for what they didn’t achieve. The draft was a reminder of that reality.

BOSTON CELTICS – Danny Ainge had been stockpiling picks for years with the idea to flip them into a superstar only to see that plan fall apart as Anthony Davis landed in Los Angeles with LeBron James.

So instead of a superstar, the Celtics added Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters to their roster. Langford seems like something of a risky pick, a bet that a thumb injury is to blame for his 27-percent 3-point shooting, and the other three are excellent college players but maybe question marks in the NBA.

The Celtics may have added a rotation player or two, but their night was more of a reminder that they’ll have to pivot to an uncertain and youthful future with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford likely leaving and experienced reinforcements not likely coming.

BIG TEN AND BIG 12 – Both leagues had just two players taken in the first round, with the Big Ten nearly getting shutout of the lottery with Langford the final pick of the lottery at No. 14. Both lagged significantly behind the ACC (10) and SEC (6) while the Ohio Valley Conference had two picks as well. For two leagues that were among the strongest all season, the Big Ten and Big 12 had a rough draft night. The Pac-12 only had two players go, too, but, honestly, it would just be piling on to mention that.

BYU guard Nick Emery announces retirement from basketball

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — BYU guard Nick Emery said Tuesday he is retiring from basketball following a college career that began with high expectations but that ended with him at the center of an NCAA investigation.

Emery used social media to announce he is stepping away with a year of eligibility still remaining.

“My time here has been rocky at times, but the good times definitely outweighed the bad,” Emery wrote in an Instagram post also shared to his Twitter account. “I’ve learned so many life lessons and this journey has been so rewarding. I am at a point in life where I am happy with what I’ve accomplished with basketball and I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life with my wife and son.”

The school confirmed the retirement.

“We are excited for Nick as he begins this next stage of his life,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said in a news release. “He has great things ahead.”

Emery made a splash right away at BYU, averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game during his first season and setting a BYU freshman record with 97 3-pointers. He helped the Cougars reach the semifinals of the 2016 NIT.

After playing for two years, he withdrew from school for the 2017-18 season, citing personal reasons. The 6-foot-2 guard returned to the program in 2018 and he began his third and final season serving a nine-game suspension following the NCAA investigation.

The NCAA last year placed the men’s basketball program on probation for two years and said it must vacate 47 wins from Emery’s freshman and sophomore seasons.

The NCAA said Emery received more than $12,000 in benefits from four boosters, including travel to concerts and an amusement park and the use of a new car. The NCAA also accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties of reducing one scholarship, disassociation of one of its boosters and a $5,000 fine. The NCAA didn’t identify Emery by name but the university said the case involved him.

Emery averaged 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his three seasons with the Cougars.

With grad transfer Jake Toolson joining BYU from Utah Valley for the upcoming season, Emery’s role with the Cougars would likely have been greatly reduced this fall. Toolson earned WAC Player of the Year honors as a junior after averaging 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Utah Valley.

NCAA punishes DePaul for basketball recruiting violation

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CHICAGO (AP) — The NCAA suspended DePaul men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao for the first three games of the regular season Tuesday, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The NCAA also put the Big East program on three years of probation, issued a $5,000 fine and said an undetermined number of games will be vacated because DePaul put an ineligible player on the floor. An unidentified former associate head coach is also facing a three-year show cause order for his role in the violations.

According to an NCAA infractions committee decision, in the Spring of 2016, the associate head coach arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a prospect to help ensure the player did the work necessary to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. That arrangement violated recruiting rules. At the time, Rick Carter was DePaul’s associate head coach and Baba Diallo was the program’s assistant director of basketball operations.

“The head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance because three men’s basketball staff members knew about the arrangement but did not report the violation or question whether it was allowable,” the NCAA said. “Even more troubling to the committee was the director of basketball operations stated he knew the contact was a violation but did not report it because he did not want to be disloyal, cause tension, get in the way of the associate head coach or otherwise hurt his career. … According to the committee, a culture of silence pervaded the program.”

Leitao was hired in 2015 and has pushed to return the Blue Demons to respectability in his second stint as head coach at DePaul. After a pair of nine-win seasons under Leitao, DePaul went 11-20 two years ago before going 19-17 and reaching the College Basketball Invitational championship last season, falling to South Florida in three games.

Leitao is also a former head coach at Virginia and his assistant stops include Connecticut, Missouri and Tulsa.

“The head coach did not monitor his staff when he did not actively look for red flags or ask questions about the assistant director of basketball operations’ two-week absence,” the NCAA said. “The committee recognized the head coach’s efforts to require staff attendance at compliance meetings and communicate with compliance officials, but it said he needed to do more.”

DePaul said it would not challenge the decision, but called it “disappointing.”

“This infraction was an isolated incident directed and then concealed by a former staff member that resulted in, at most, a limited recruiting advantage relative to one former student-athlete,” the university said. “Since our self-report in January 2018, DePaul has cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff to proactively pursue the resolution of this matter and has reviewed and further strengthened related protocol and practice. … Coach Leitao is a man of character and integrity, who has the support of the administration in leading our men’s basketball program.”

DePaul was among several schools mentioned at a recent federal trial involving corruption in college basketball.

Brian Bowen Sr., father of a top recruit, testified in October that DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman paid him $2,000 a month to send his son to an Indiana high school where Heirman coached at the time. The school responded by saying it had done its due diligence on the matter and had previously investigated the allegations.

Zion Williamson signs with Jordan Brand

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Zion Williamson may not be the next Michael Jordan, but he will be the next NBA player to don the Jumpman logo.

On Tuesday afternoon, Zion announced that he has signed with Jordan Brand, ending speculation about where the Duke product and biggest brand to enter the NBA in years, if not ever, will sign his endorsement deal.

Where Zion ended up signing was never the most interesting part of this process – although the fact that he ended up under the Swoosh’s umbrella after a Nike shoe blew out on him and nearly cost him his left knee. What we all want to know, and what is yet to be reported, are the terms of this deal.

Outside of LeBron and Jordan, I’m not sure there is a more marketable player in the NBA right now. Think about it like this: When I say Zion, even non-basketball know exactly who I’m talking about. There are only a handful of basketball players that is true for, and the only active ones are LeBron and Steph with KD and Kyrie potentially thrown in that mix.

That’s elite company, and none of those guys have the social media following or ability to go viral with the next generation of basketball fans like Zion does. He already has a global following, one which is only going to grow as he becomes more mainstream.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning this piece on how going to college made Zion a literal fortune. We’ll see if Nike’s investment in the 18-year old pays off.

Utah State star injures knee playing in FIBA U-20 event, reportedly not an ACL tear

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Update (11:58 ET) According to a report from SPORT TV Portugal, Neemias Queta sprained and dislocated his knee, but it doesn’t appear to be an ACL tear.

The star center for Utah State suffered a knee injury while playing for Portugal’s U-20 team in the FIBA European Championships over the weekend.

Queta landed awkwardly while trying to grab a rebound and immediately reached for his left knee. He had to be carried off the floor without putting any weight on the leg, although he was eventually able to walk through handshake lines – with an icepack on his knee – after the game.

Queta did not return for Sunday’s final, and he had his knee wrapped while using a cane while watching from the bench. Portugal won the B Division championship despite his absence.

This would be a massive loss for the Aggies, who are a top 15 team in the NBC Sports preseason rankings and the clear-cut favorite to win the Mountain West. The 6-foot-11 Queta averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 boards and 2.4 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three as a freshman.

According to reports out of Portugal, Queta is due to undergo an MRI Tuesday.

 

Ex-Tar Heel Woods comfortable back home in South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Seventh Woods can’t take a few steps around town these days without someone telling him it is good he came home. The former North Carolina player is happy with his latest choice, too.

“It’s been great,” Woods said Friday. “Family’s here, friends here. I’ve been getting along well with the players and the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2 Woods expected to be a collegiate force when he finished Hammond School in Columbia and picked the Tar Heels over Georgetown and South Carolina in 2016.

Instead, Woods was a backup during his time with the Tar Heels. He was part of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament title team in 2017 but never averaged more than 11 minutes or three points a game during his three seasons in Chapel Hill . Woods missed 17 games with a broken foot during his sophomore season and averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 assists last season as backup to freshman Coby White.

In April, Woods posted on social media that it was time for a change. Woods will sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules and return to the court in 2020-21.

“I can focus on me getting into a groove,” Woods said. “Learning a new system and we didn’t want to rush anything.”

Woods, who turns 21 next month, gained attention during his middle school years for his ability to dunk and dominate opponents off the dribble at Hammond. He was a YouTube, basketball mixtape regular in the early 2010s, when ability like his was largely experienced in person watching youth games.

The buzz about Woods intensified the pressure for him to stay put and revive South Carolina. Woods felt differently.

“I just wanted to do what was best for me,” Woods said. “Going away was best for me at the time.”

Woods felt comfortable with the Tar Heels and believed it would be the best place for him to grow as a player and person.

“Only positives, all positive,” Woods said of his three years at North Carolina.

When Woods met with Martin to discuss is basketball future, the coach emphasized him taking some time away from games.

“Every time he dribbled, the crowd was sold out and every critic was out there criticizing everything he did wrong,” Martin said. “I have no idea how that young man has been able to keep the class he lives with under those circumstances.”

Woods looked at Gonzaga and Michigan before picking the Gamecocks this time. The relationship he built with Martin was rekindled the past few months and Woods was grateful to his new coach for this latest chance.

“I felt it was perfect timing just being able to come back home,” Woods said. “To come back to a coach who allowed me to come back home. That was big for me.”

Woods says he’ll spend his time improving his strength, consistency and outside shooting. He’ll be part of practices and knows that will help him develop chemistry with his future teammates.

His aspirations, as they were during middle school, are to play basketball professionally after college. He’s looking forward to a productive time off the court to recharge and improve.

“I feel like sitting out a year will be great for me and I’m going to try and use it to my advantage to make the most out of my senior year,” he said.