The 12 most influential stay-or-go NBA draft decisions

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The NBA’s predraft process is going to be very different this season.

There is no guarantee that there will be a combine. No one knows if teams are going to be able to fly prospects in for workouts or for interviews. Hell, we don’t even know when (or if) the NBA is going to finish the season.

As of today, the draft is scheduled for June 25th. It seems fairly likely that will end up getting pushed back for the simple fact that the draft order cannot be determined until the season itself is complete.

That puts prospects that are testing the waters into a difficult spot. They are not going to be able to earn themselves a bump in the eyes of NBA GMs with impressive showings at the combine or in workouts. They are going to have to rely on the tape that they put together during the season itself and quite a bit of misinformation that is going to be floating around throughout the process.

Will it be worth it to go pro without knowing exactly what the league is going to look like next season? Will there be players that decide to return to school and try to play their way into being a higher pick next year? How much will the 2020 recruiting class — which is much more talented than this year’s class — factor into these decisions?

There are a lot of players that have quite a bit of soul-searching to do over the course of the next three months.

These 12 will have the biggest impact on the 2020-21 college basketball season.

These are the most influential NBA draft early entry decisions.

(One programming note: We only considered players that we think have real decisions. Dayton would be awesome if Obi Toppin comes back to school. Obi Toppin isn’t coming back to school.)

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1. MALACHI FLYNN, San Diego State

The Aztecs went 30-2 last season, and while they lost Yanni Wetzel and K.J. Feagin, they are on track to return enough talent that they should be considered the favorite to win the Mountain West regardless of what happens with Flynn. Matt Mitchell is coming back. Jordan Schakel is coming back. Nathan Mensah, who started over Wetzel before getting hurt, is coming back.

Flynn is the guy that’s up in the air. A redshirt junior that transferred into the program from Washington State, Flynn — who is projected as a second round pick — was the engine of SDSU’s high-powered offense. Brian Dutcher schemed him into ball screen after ball screen after ball screen, and he was one of the best players in the country at executing those actions. His situation reminds me a little bit of the spot that Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss was in after the 2017 season. He, too, was a redshirt junior coming off of an All-American season that was not guaranteed to be drafted, let alone drafted in the first round. But he opted to leave school, was the 55th pick in the draft and spent a couple of years playing at a very high level overseas before getting his shot with the Jazz this season. Flynn could end up following a similar path.

If he returns, the Aztecs will be a top ten team. If he opts to go pro, San Diego State will plummet out of the top 25.

2. LUKA GARZA, Iowa

This one should be obvious. Garza is coming off of a season where he averaged 23.8 points and 9.8 boards for a top 25 team, was named a first-team All-American and put himself alongside Dayton’s Obi Toppin in the race for National Player of the Year.

But he’s also in a unique spot where he doesn’t really project as a great pro because of his lack of athleticism and mobility. How often is a player that is that unquestionably good returns for another year in the collegiate ranks? Cassius Winston did it. Doug McDermott did it. It’s a big deal having him on the floor, to say nothing of the impact that he has on everyone else on that Iowa roster. The only reason he’s not No. 1 on this list is that Iowa has enough of a supporting cast that, without Garza, I still think they’re a tournament team.

With him?

They can win the Big Ten and a national title.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

3. JEREMIAH ROBINSON-EARL, Villanova

Robinson-Earl is not the biggest name on Villanova that has a decision to make — that would be Saddiq Bey, who would be a preseason first-team All-American if he opted to come back to school — but I think his decision is much more influential on Villanova’s season than that of Bey.

The Wildcats have so many good guards. They are going to be absolutely loaded on the perimeter next year. Collin Gillespie is perennially underrated. Justin Moore was the most underappreciated freshman in America. Bryan Antoine should finally be healthy and ready to contribute. Caleb Daniels is going to be very, very good for Villanova. Brandon Slater. Cole Swider. Jeramine Samuels can even play the three is need be.

What they don’t have is much up front behind Robinson-Earl, who averaged 10.5 points and 9.4 boards while shooting 32.5 percent from three last season. Projected as a second round pick, Robinson-Earl is the kind of player that might be hurt by not being able to have workouts and get in front of NBA execs thanks to the coronavirus shutdown around the country.

If he does opt to leave, the Wildcats will be forced to play with either Dhamir Cosby-Rountree or Eric Dixon at the five. With Robinson-Earl I think Villanova is the favorite to win the national title. Without him, I think they’re more of a top 6-8 team in the country.

4. XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State

Michigan State is going to take a hit next season because they are losing Cassius Winston, but the Spartans will still have a chance to win the Big Ten title if they bring back Xavier Tillman. For my money, Tillman was an All-American this past season. He’s the anchor of Michigan State’s defense, a leader in the program and an underrated weapon offensively because of his ability to pass the ball. He’s the piece that brings everything else together for this roster.

And there are going to be some weapons there. Rocket Watts will be a year older, as will Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham. Joey Hauser will be eligible to play, and there’s a chance that Josh Langford will be back for his final season. But none of that really matters if Tillman isn’t there.

I think that he is a first round pick, especially in a year like this, and with a wife and two children already, I would not be surprised in the least to see him keep his name in the draft — he announced his intention to declare for the draft this week.

(AP Photo/Wade Payne)

5. IMMANUEL QUICKLEY, Kentucky

The Wildcats are going to have an absolutely loaded freshman class in 2020-21. Terrence Clarke and B.J. Boston are the biggest names, but Devin Askew should have an impact at the point and the likes of Isaiah Jackson and Lance Ware will push whoever is left in the frontcourt by the time things are settled in Lexington.

But what the Wildcats seem likely to lack is going to be any kind of veteran presence in their backcourt. I’m expecting Tyrese Maxey to declare and sign with an agent right away. Things should be more up in the air for both Nick Richards and Ashton Hagans, but I do think both will be drafted high enough that staying in the draft is the right decision. Quickley is more of a question mark. I think he’s legitimately 50-50 right now. He was the SEC Player of the Year as a spot-up shooter this season, and if he returns I would not be surprised to see him take over the point guard role.

That said, there’s still a chance that he is drafted anyway this year. If he leaves, Kentucky is a back-end top ten team in my mind. If he’s back, however, they’re a top five team and a very real title contender.

6. JALEN SUGGS, Gonzaga

Suggs is in a different situation than everyone else on this list. He’s an incoming freshman, but there has been some scuttle that he could end up going to Australia for his one-and-done season instead of playing college basketball. As a dynamic lead guard that can create for himself, he is precisely the piece that the Zags are going to need next season.

Now, he’s not the only guy weighing professional options. Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi and Filip Petrusev all will have a decision to make. Oddly enough, the guy most likely to leave — Petrusev — is probably the guy that Gonzaga can most afford to lose. With a backcourt of Suggs, Kispert and Ayayi, the Zags will be a top three team in the preseason regardless of who starts at the four and the five.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

7. JARED BUTLER, Baylor

I currently have the Bears sitting as the No. 3 team in my preseason top 25, and that’s assuming that Butler is coming back to school. That, however, is not a guarantee. Butler showed enough as a scorer this past season that he could end up getting picked in the second round of the draft, and that has been enough to make worse players opt to leave school.

The big issue with Baylor this past season is that they went through stretches where they just couldn’t score. Butler is, by far, their best scorer. Without him, how long will those scoring droughts last?

8. AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois

At this point, I don’t think that Ayo Dosunmu is coming back to school even after the season that he had. That doesn’t mean that he is a lock to be a top 45 pick. He’s a 6-foot-5 slasher that isn’t great creating for others and actually saw his three-point shooting dip as a sophomore. He is, however, a terrific talent for Illinois, and if he does end up coming back to school, the Illini will work their way back into my preseason top 25 somewhere.

9. WENDELL MOORE, Duke

This one is pretty simple. Assuming that Vernon Carey Jr. and Cassius Stanley follow Tre Jones to the NBA, Duke could end up starting four freshmen next season. Wendell Moore could end up being the veteran on this roster, if he opts to return to school. After a rough start to his freshman season, he came on strong towards the end of the years, and his slashing skill-set should fit really well next to Jalen Johnson and D.J. Steward. With him back, I think Duke is a borderline top ten team.

Without him, they are very, very young. Or playing Joey Baker.

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

10. YVES PONS, Tennessee

Pons is definitely not a guy that is going to make any preseason All-American lists if he opts to return to school, but he may just be the best defensive player in all of college basketball. At 6-foot-6 and easily the best athlete in the sport, Pons can quite literally guard anyone from a point guard to a center. And he can make a step-in three. His presence will allow the Vols to play all kinds of small-ball lineups, which is exactly what they need to do with the number of talented guards on their roster.

He is a borderline first round pick in my mind, although I would expect him to go in the second round if he leave. With Pons back, I have Tennessee at No. 14, and that may be too low.

11. JAY SCRUBB, Louisville

Scrubb is a shooter than can handle the ball at 6-foot-6, and given that he performed well at the Nike Basketball Academy over the summer, there will be some legitimate interest in him as a prospect. How much interest is a question that might have been answered better if he had a chance to workout and interview with NBA teams. He is a JuCo transfer that is scheduled to enroll at Louisville this summer. As of now, if NBA teams are basing decisions off of a camp from last summer and tape of JuCo games, that may push him towards playing a season in the ACC, and with Scrubb on the roster, I think the Cards are a top 25 team once again.

12. TRENDON WATFORD, LSU

The Tigers are already losing Skylar Mays to graduation, and it would not be surprising to see Javonte Smart and Emmitt Williams at the very least test the waters, but with five-star Cam Thomas headlining a solid crop of newcomers, Will Wade should have a pretty solid team. Watford, a bucket-getting combo-forward, could end up being their best player if he comes back to school.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.