NBA Draft returnees, transfers boost elite

Jun 5, 2019 3:00 AM

March has some competition in the madness department in college basketball these days: from April and — especially — May.

The NCAA has made it easier for players who declare for the NBA Draft to return to school — the deadline to withdraw was May 29. There are some late blue-chip recruits still available after the national title game, and the increasingly important Transfer Portal, including the NCAA’s eased rules on transfer eligibility, have made college basketball’s “second season” a free agency scramble.

College players testing their NBA Draft possibilities were permitted to hire agents to assist in the process without forfeiting their potential eligibility.

All of this has made media outlets’ “way-too-early” Top 25’s, released each year soon after the horn sounds in the national championship game, even more of a crap shoot.

Now that most of the dust has settled, let’s look at some teams who likely boosted their chances at 2019-20 glory during April and May Madness.

Michigan State

With the return of senior point guard Cassius Winston, a leading player of the year candidate for next season, the Spartans are likely to be the consensus preseason No. 1 come October. Winston, along with his parents, put together of list of pros and cons of leaving school early, The Athletic reported last month. One thing the three agreed on: Winston’s decision would be final; there would be no “testing the waters,” the publication said.

Winston will be joined by 6-foot-5 junior Josh Langford, who missed the second half of last season with a foot injury, and returning sophomores Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry.

Spartans coach Tom Izzo even got a leg up for 2020-21 with the signing of former Marquette freshman Joey Hauser. The 6-foot-9 forward will be ineligible this season.

Louisville

Cardinals coach Chris Mack had three key wins in May, the biggest being 6-foot-7 forward Jordan Nwora’s decision to withdraw from the draft. Nwora, who started last season as the sixth man, earned a starting spot and averaged 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

His return, coupled with that of center Stephen Enoch, who also withdrew from the draft, and Mack’s signing of Saint Joseph’s grad transfer Fresh Kimble (15.6 points, 2.8 assists as a junior) make Louisville a legitimate ACC title contender.

Memphis

Penny Hardaway already made a recruiting splash when he signed No. 1 overall prospect James Wiseman. He bolstered his No. 1 recruiting class by landing 6-foot-2 guard Boogie Ellis, who originally committed to Duke.

Despite losing out on Little Rock graduate transfer and 20-points-per-game scorer Rayjon Tucker, who committed to Memphis before deciding to stay in the draft, the Tigers could be a Top 10 team a season after going 22-14 and losing in the second round of the NIT.

Other winners

Gonzaga: While shooting guard Zach Norvell surprised some with his decision to remain in the draft, coach Mark Few got good news when forward Killian Tillie announced he was returning to Spokane, Wash., for his senior season. The 6-10 Frenchman will provide experience and leadership to go with the Zags’ best-ever recruiting class.

North Carolina: Roy Williams filled a dire need at point guard snagging the top prospect at the position, Cole Anthony, son of UNLV legend Greg Anthony.

Maryland: With senior guard Anthony Cowan and 6-10 sophomore Jalen Smith returning, the Terrapins lose just one starter from a team that was a bucket away from making the Sweet 16 in March. 

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