NBA Draft deadline winners and losers: Kentucky, Louisville rejoice while Penny, Kansas lose big pieces
We sift through the fallout after the deadline for players to withdraw from the NBA Draft
The NBA Draft's early withdrawal deadline for underclassmen came and went Wednesday night. There were some twists and turns -- like KU getting both Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson back, and KU announcing minutes later that Grimes was transferring. But, mostly, players that were expected to stay in the draft stayed while players expected to return to college returned.
Surprises were few and far between across the board, but there was massive intrigue centered around several on-the-fence players for projected top-25 teams, the majority of which ultimately chose to return to college. For the product of college basketball, no team benefited more to that end than Louisville, which gladly welcomed with open arms the return of Jordan Nwora. Nwora last season averaged 17.0 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Cardinals, and figures to be a centerpiece for a preseason top 10 Cardinals team entering 2019.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Penny Hardaway's Memphis Tigers got their first gut punch in months when Rayjon Tucker, a Little Rock graduate transfer who recently announced his commitment to the program, decided ultimately to stay in the draft. Tucker projected to be a quality scoring option for a projected preseason top 10 Memphis team next season. Now all Hardaway and his staff have to build around is the No. 1 recruiting class, which is centered around the No. 1 overall recruit, built by a coaching staff that has the best momentum in the sport right now.
On second thought, Penny Hardaway and Co. are living quite large right now all things considered.
To recap everything that went down Wednesday and the hours, days and weeks leading up to the draft's withdrawal deadline, we've determined who the biggest winners and losers of the draft process are. It's your time to shine, Big Blue Nation.
Kentucky's frontcourt rotation for next season shored itself all the way up when Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery both announced their intentions to withdraw from the draft and return for next season. That duo joins Bucknell grad transfer Nate Sestina as a projected three-man rotation that, at the very least, gives UK quality depth. And perhaps the best news of all Wednesday is (thus far) not related to UK: Virginia Tech big man Kerry Blackshear is coming back to school, and the Wildcats are considered to be one of the frontrunners to land his services. Alongside Montgomery, Richards and Sestina, Blackshear could be the fourth and final piece for Kentucky's frontcourt in 2019.
Loser: Penny's hype train
Everything has gone right for Penny Hardaway in Memphis over the last few months. He landed James Wiseman, the No. 1 overall recruit. He landed another five-star in Precious Achiuwa. Oh, and he's also pulled every relevant recruit out of the Memphis area -- and at times, beyond -- to come to play for the Tigers. Rayjon Tucker's decision to stay in the NBA Draft, though somewhat expected, is a minor hit to the hype train that's been rolling at full steam for months now. Talent won't be an issue next season but without Tucker, experience is a concern.
Veteran point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. was expected to return to College Park, but it's never a certainty until it's officially officially. And now it is. With his return, Maryland should be a preseason top 10 team even without projected first-rounder Bruno Fernando. As big as Cowan Jr.'s return is, it may only be the second most important retainment of the offseason for Mark Turgeon, who talked former five-star prospect Jalen Smith into returning for his sophomore season. Things are looking up for the Terps.
Winner: Seton Hall
It's official: Seton Hall is my preseason favorite to win the Big East after Myles Powell, the team's leading scorer, announced his return. That leaves the Pirates with a core that includes everyone but Michael Nzai from last year's 20-win club. Factor in the additions of Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu and a pair of talented high school recruits, and Seton Hall is a borderline preseason top 10 team.
Loser: Tennessee coach Rick Barnes
We've all seen the last scene of the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," no? Will Smith in a room on his own, in a house with no furniture. Just a man and his thoughts (and a squealing Carlton.) That's how I imagine Rick Barnes feels right now as he takes stock of his roster (minus, you know, Carlton.) Not only did he lose Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield to the draft, two potential first round picks, but junior guard Jordan Bone announced he's following their lead, too. As , those three departures account for 48.8 points per game Barnes must now replace.
Winner: College basketball
Anthony Cowan Jr., Cassius Winston, Jordan Nwora, Tre Jones, Nick Richards, EJ Montgomery, Mamadi Diakite, Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Myles Powell. That's the list of exceptional players -- all on teams currently ranked inside the -- who announced they're coming back to school next season. In other words: the best teams in college basketball next season enhanced their product by getting quality pieces back. That's a huge win for the sport. Sorry, NBA.
There's no other way to put this: Louisville is far and away the biggest winner from deadline day. Jordan Nwora likely wouldn't have been a first round pick, but by announcing his return, he guaranteed himself to be one of the faces of college basketball next season for a team that should challenge for the ACC.
The return of stellar point guard Devon Dotson was huge; I think he has a chance to be the best player in the Big 12 next season. But insult to injury after a rocky week was Quentin Grimes' return to school and subsequent transfer, leaving KU to fill another spot on the roster. Grimes' transfer news isn't a surprise -- nor is it a major blow. But days after missing on five-star RJ Hampton, who announced he's going overseas, it's a stinger. The Jayhawks can move into the winners column if they land former Michigan signee Jalen Wilson, who they seem to be in good shape with.
Winner: LSU coach Will Wade
After reports this spring that LSU coach Will Wade made a "strong ass offer" to a potential recruit -- and Tremont Waters and Naz Reid, two guys who could be drafted. But he brings back Emmitt Williams, Skylar Mays, Javonte Smart and Marlon Taylor to complement incoming five-star frosh Trendon Watford. Wade, amidst uncertainty, keeps on keeping on.-- it's wild to imagine that in late May we're talking about him as a current coach and not a former coach. But Wade keeps enduring, and somehow, winning. At the draft deadline he lost
Loser: NC State
Getting Markell Johnson back into the fold, the second-leading scorer from a 24-win team a season ago, was big. But losing Jalen Lecque to the draft is bigger. Lecque bypassed college altogether for a chance to be drafted somewhere in the early second round. If he'd have gone to NC State, he could've been a big piece for a Wolfpack team primed to get back to the NCAA Tournament in Kevin Keatts' third season.
Tom Crean has done wonders turning UGA around, and he's got plenty to build around next season with five-star freshman Anthony Edwards, four-star freshman Christian Brown and three other top-100 recruits. But losing Nic Claxton, a late-rising forward who wowed at the NBA Combine, is a significant blow. The Bulldogs ran their offense through him last season, and he would have been a stat monster alongside Edwards as a roll man in that system.
Speaking of Crean, his former employer, as expected, enjoyed a nice deadline. Archie Miller got back Al Durham, Devonte Green and Justin Smith after the trio tested the waters, leaving only one player -- Romeo Langford -- as an NBA departure. Miller's core group of players could be enough to get him over the hump and into the NCAAs for the first time as the Hoosiers coach next season.
Mike White is going to be tasked with replacing a lot from last season's team, but don't be surprised if he overperforms expectations. He got back stellar guard Andrew Nembhard at the draft deadline, who alongside five-star incoming freshmean Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann should be an absolute joy to watch. This team is going to be fun -- and really talented.
Loser: The WCC
Gonzaga has won at least a share of the WCC regular season title seven seasons in a row. And with both Killian Tillie and Filip Petrusev returning, you can pretty well take it to the bank that streak will continue next year. Even after losing Zach Norvell, Brandon Clarke, Rui Hachimura, Josh Perkins, Jeremy Jones and Geno Crandall, Mark Few returns a stellar veteran core and an exciting batch of youngsters that should win the league. Again. Those who pray for parity in the WCC will have to wait at least another year.
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