Evans Seven: Players who could fill void created by early entrees to draft
With the May 29 deadline for underclassmen to return to college approaching, it is becoming clear which players will be staying in the NBA Draft. In this week's Evans Seven, we'll look at players ranked Nos. 51-150 in the 2019 Rivals150 who have a chance to fill a hole as freshmen thanks to an early departure to the NBA.
While the praise toward each is rightfully deserved, the prospect that has flown under the radar is RaeQuan Battle. Entering his senior travel ball season with a very limited college recruitment as he did not hold a single high-major offer, Mike Hopkins saw enough in the spring, offering Battle and then quickly securing the talents of the four-star guard.
Battle was expected to be a nice hidden spark off of bench next year but with Jaylen Nowell surprisingly keeping his name in the NBA Draft, a major opportunity is available for Battle to shine much sooner than anticipated just months ago. Stewart is going to be a beast; Green will be a sturdy facilitator; however, it is Battle that may cause the greatest surprise.
Tarin Smith is gone and, even more importantly, so is Jalen Adams, UConn's top guard standout throughout his college stay. The hope is Alterique Gilbert will finally regain a clean bill of health, which is major due to his track record of injuries. But even if he can, the importance of James Bouknight cannot be understated.
A good-sized guard that can play on and off of the ball, Bouknight is the type that the great Huskies’ teams once had. He does need to refine certain aspects of his skill set, but the toughness, backcourt versatility and scoring prowess will be put to quick use for Dan Hurley’s attempted revitalization at UConn.
A major exodus of talent put Mike Young and his first-year coaching staff in a very difficult position last month. Virginia Tech saw Nickeil Alexander-Walker leave for the NBA, could see a similar fate with Kerry Blackshear, and the graduations of Ty Outlaw, Justin Robinson and Ahmed Hill.
Wabissa Bede may also transfer elsewhere, which leaves a giant void but also a tremendous opportunity in the backcourt for Jalen Cone. The Hokies will most likely take a step back and will struggle to make the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season, but Cone has the gusto and toughness to keep the program among the middle tier in the ACC next year.
Making the move into the 2019 class two weeks ago, Cone has never been short on confidence. He will have the ball early and often, regardless of if Bede returns. Alongside former four-star wing Landers Nolley, the duo could create for a heavy dose of offensive firepower along the perimeter.
The feeling for the past year or so was that last season would be the final one for Bruno Fernando in a Maryland jersey. Upon completing a strong sophomore campaign, Fernando eventually entered the NBA and will not return, which makes it even more prudent that Makhi Mitchell is primed and ready to contribute early on.
Yes, Maryland does return soon-to-be-breakout big man Jalen Smith but Mark Turgeon’s system is running at its best when he has multiple frontcourt standouts. There are questions surrounding Chol Marial and how quickly he can acclimate himself to the college game, which is why Mitchell is important to the Terps’ success next season. They have the returning backcourt, a star in the making with Smith and, if Mitchell can provide for production and energy where needed, then Maryland is worthy of the Final Four dark horse praise that is has received already.
Casey Morsell did not expect to have such an opportunity early on at Virginia. When he committed two years ago, the thought was that, at worst, the Cavaliers could lose Ty Jerome a year earlier than expected. Now we know that not only Jerome has left, but also Kyle Guy, leaving a gaping hole on the perimeter for the four-star guard to make an immediate imprint for the defending champs.
A 6-foot-3 guard blessed with extra length, the capacity to compete on each possession and, most of all, make shots, Morsell will be a fan favorite from day one in Charlottesville. Just like Jerome and Guy, he has his deficiencies entering the college game but he also exhibits the worker’s mentality that should help him become another slightly under-appreciated guard to shine.
Carsen Edwards, the face of the NCAA Tournament, has left Purdue for the NBA. Matt Painter was expecting Edwards to test the NBA waters heading into the season but he had to be thankful Brandon Newman signed in the fall. The 6-foot-4 guard has not been as heavily lauded compared to other four-star prospects but his game should fit seamlessly into what Painter expects from his guards. Known most for his intellect and shooting prowess, Newman will be put to quick use next season with Edwards and Ryan Cline gone.
Eric Hunter may have first dibs at the 2-guard spot next year but Newman’s all-encompassing skill set and shooting capabilities will force him onto the floor more often than originally expected and bolster Purdue’s chances of another run next March.
If Stanford is ever going to climb in the Pac-12 pecking order, it has to be now. While it will see KZ Okpala leave early for the NBA, the Cardinal return a bevy of producers from last season that should return even better after an offseason of development.
The issue remains as to who can take over the reins of the lead guard position. Cormac Ryan and Bryce Wills showed major upside last season, but even they might be best served in a scoring capacity, which makes Tyrell Terry vital to their chances next season. Not a daunting prospect from a physical standpoint, what Terry does is pick apart the opposing defense with precise passes. He can orchestrate a half-court offense, make shots and, most of all, make others better. Stanford has a very intriguing roster next season and should finally reap rewards thanks to the installment of a much-needed playmaking agent.