Come on in! The water’s fine.
That seems to be the message that underclassmen from college basketball teams across North Carolina received after considering early entry into the NBA Draft.
The NBA allows players to declare for the draft following the college season, go through the pre-draft evaluation process and retain the option to return to school if they don’t like what they hear from the professional teams. The deadline to withdraw from the draft and retain college eligibility passed on June 1.
Across the country, more than 250 underclassmen announced they were exploring their options with the draft. Once June 1 passed, only about 140 remained. Roughly 44% of the players decided to return to college for at least one more year.
In North Carolina, however, players were far more bullish on their readiness for the league. A total of 20 players from colleges in the state declared for the draft, and 14 of them, or 70%, decided to keep their names in the draft and give up their eligibility.
Does that mean the players are just more NBA-ready around here? Or are they more deluded about their pro prospects?
CBSSports released an NBA Draft Big Board listing the top 100 prospects most likely to be selected later this year. Of the 140 underclassmen who remained in the draft, half — 70 players — were listed on the Big Board. Of the 14 North Carolina underclassmen still in the draft, eight, or 57%, are on the board.
Here’s a look at who left, who returned, and what it means for the schools in this state looking to next season.
Any discussion of NBA early entry needs to start with Team One-and-Done. The Blue Devils regularly send most of their freshmen class to the draft and very few choose to withdraw once declaring. This year was no exception. Five Blue Devils declared and all five stayed in. Most made their intentions clear from the beginning. Junior Wendell Moore Jr., sophomore Mark Williams and freshmen Paolo Banchero and A.J. Griffin all said back in April that they were leaving Duke and headed to the NBA.
The jury was still out on Trevor Keels, who received mixed reviews in his evaluations. But Keels decided to stay in the draft as well. He’s No. 29 on the Big Board, so it’s a toss-up whether he gets selected in the first round.
Don’t cry for Duke, though. This is business as usual for the Blue Devils. They bring in the nation’s top recruiting class, have added a pair of transfers, and when Keels’ official departure opened up a scholarship, coach Jon Scheyer acted quickly, announcing that 2023 recruit Tyrese Proctor is reclassifying to the class of 2022 and will join the Blue Devils a year early to fill Keels’ shooting guard spot with another five-star.
While Duke received the headline-making bad news on early entry decision day, the Wolfpack got a pleasant surprise. Terquavion Smith announced he was returning to the Pack for another season.
Smith was considered a likely first-rounder and, by all reports, had a strong performance at the draft combine that boosted his stock.
He said he still has more work to do, however, and will return to State, where he scored 16.3 points per game last season and earned a spot on the ACC All-Rookie team.
The decision gives a boost to coach Kevin Keatts, who has navigated a tsunami of bad news with a 20-loss season being followed by a large number of transfers and recruit decommits. While the two other Wolfpack players in the draft — Jericole Hellems and Dereon Seabron, who is No. 66 on the CBS Big Board — kept their names in the NBA mix, Keatts gets back one important piece to build around.
He may get another. Cedric Henderson Jr. decided to withdraw his name from the draft after initially declaring, but it appears he won’t be returning to Campbell. He recently visited NC State, and the Pack would like to use its final available scholarship to bring him in as a grad transfer.
Like State, the Deacs will lose a bunch but return one. Jake LaRavia (No. 26 on the Big Board), Isaiah Mucius and Dallas Walton all stayed in the draft, but Wake gets back its third-leading scorer from last season as Daivien Williamson decided to return for his final season.
Return and transfer
Like Campbell, Charlotte and UNC each had one player declare, then withdraw. But neither player will be returning to their campus.
Jahmir Young has already announced that he’s transferring from Charlotte to play his last college season for Maryland. UNC shooting guard Kerwin Walton, who saw his playing time plummet this season, is reportedly choosing between Texas Tech, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Memphis and Clemson. Jamari Smith, who played last season for Queens University of Charlotte, is also in this boat. He withdrew from the draft and will play for Murray State next year.
Gone to the league
Three other schools had players stay in the draft. Davidson lost a pair of players in Luka Brajkovic and Hyunjung Lee, who is No. 73 on the Big Board. App State lost point guard Adrian Delph, and UNC Wilmington said goodbye to shooting guard Jaylen Sims. Other than Lee, a junior, the other players were all seniors who opted not to use their extra COVID year of eligibility.