A Boatload Of Talent Just Returned To College Basketball

The number of draftable players who chose to return to school isn’t surprising, given the NIL rules allowing players to earn significant money in college, but it does drastically reduce the talent level of the 2024 second round. I’ve been of the opinion that, although this is a weak draft year in terms of tier 1 talents at the top of the draft, it does have good depth. That depth took a big hit over the past week as many second round talents opted out and returned to school.

The result is that now the mid to late second round of the 2024 draft is more full of project prospects and players whose NBA potential is questionable. There will still be diamonds in the rough but overall the talent pool is greatly diminished.

With that said, I do love the decisions made by these prospects to go get the NIL money and keep working on their games at the college level.

Alex Karaban going back to UConn is going to be fascinating to watch. How will his game change or improve next year? Will he take some next steps in terms of improving his athleticism and being a more featured offensive player? How will he mesh with star freshman Liam McNeeley? However it plays out, his return gives UConn another loaded team that can challenge for the national title again next season.

Jamir Watkins would like have been a late second round pick this year but instead returns to school and is in the transfer portal. He’ll be a rock solid addition to some program and have a chance to solidify his draft stock heading into the 2025 draft.

Jaxson Robinson waited until the 11th hour and didn’t announce his decision until the next day but now he joins the Kentucky Wildcats under his coach Mark Pope. He’s a huge addition to the team and will have a big spotlight on him next year. It’ll be interesting to see if he can add some more dimensions to his offensive game, besides the great 3pt shooting, get stronger and improve his defense. If some of these things happen he’ll be a draftable guy in 2025.

Nique Clifford is heading back to Colorado State and will do well from another year of development and being a more featured player. He’s a glue-guy/all around talent who needs to become a knockdown shooter to fill the 3&D role at the NBA level.

Mark Sears and Jarin Stevenson returning to Alabama helps make them one of the best teams in the country. I like the decision from both players. Sears can be a college superstar and is wise to take advantage of that. Stevenson has good NBA potential but another year of development will do him well. He could be a first rounder in 2025.

Hunter Sallis gained a lot of draft momentum this year but it fizzled out a bit at the combine, where his athletic testing was disappointing. He’s in line for another big season next year for an interesting and talented Wake Forest team.

Payton Sandfort has a clear NBA skill but it’s not clear if he would have been drafted this year and would have likely spent most of his time in the G League. Instead he’s back to Iowa for another season and should a star.

Caleb Love returns to Arizona, giving the Cats a loaded backcourt with youth and veteran talent. His draft stock has plateaued over the past two seasons and he’ll have to add more to his game and become a more efficient scorer to make it in the league.

Coleman Hawkins is a really fun college player and I’m glad to see him back in school. He’s in the portal and will be a hot commodity as a veteran big man who brings great versatility on the court. I’m not sure how much he’ll improve his draft stock but another year in school won’t hurt.

The development of Garway Dual is going to be really interesting to watch next season. His athletic tools are special and his upside is tantalizing but he’s got a lot of growth ahead of him before being NBA ready. He’s in the portal and has yet to choose a new program.

Ugonna Onyenso is out of this year’s draft and in the transfer portal. While he’s never going to be a featured offensive player it would be nice to see him continue to add to his offensive game to go along with his standout defense. I can’t wait to see where he lands.

Trevon Brazile is another player looking for a new home. He’ll give one lucky program a high level forward who impacts both ends. He’s got unique athletic tools and just needs to get stronger and hone his offensive talents to make it in the league.

Xaivian Lee returns to Princeton and has a chance to work his way into the second round next year. He’s a super fun player to watch and will look to take some next steps in year two for the Tigers.

Eric Dixon returning to Villanova is a move I didn’t see coming. Who would have thought that he’d be back while teammate Mark Armstrong stays in the draft. If Dixon can continue his improvements as a shooter and increase his shooting volume and percentages he’ll be an interesting prospect for next year.

Next year’s draft is incredibly deep, so some of these players will be on the outside looking in, when it comes to getting drafted next year. But still it’s beneficial to be in school for another year, refunding their games and getting that sweet NIL cheddar.

A few players who made last minute decisions to stay in the draft include Jaylen Wells, KJ Simpson, Cam Christie and Johnny Furphy.

And one interesting development is the NCAA denying the request from N’Faly Dante for an extra year of eligibility. This is really a shame, as he deserved another year, IMO, and would have benefiting from another year of college-level development.

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