When the NBA’s draft’s early entry eligibility deadline passed at midnight on Sunday, it didn’t provide the same clarity it used to before testing the waters again became an option.
Dozens of prominent programs are still awaiting decisions from prospects who have declared for the draft without hiring an agent, leaving open the possibility they could return to school.
But while the landscape for the 2017-18 college basketball season will remain somewhat murky until closer to the NBA draft’s May 24 early entrant withdrawal deadline, the past few weeks have at least provided a few answers. Here’s a look at five programs already depleted the most by underclassmen turning pro:
1. Kentucky: John Calipari’s remarkable ability to reload on the fly may be tested like it seldom has before next season. Kentucky is losing eight of its top nine scorers with Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Bam Adebayo, Isaiah Briscoe and Isaac Humphries all declaring for the draft and Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder set to graduate. Freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel, who averaged a modest 4.6 points and 4.8 rebounds last season, is the only rotation player returning. Kentucky will lean heavily on a star-studded freshman class next season as it does after every mass exodus each spring, but next year’s incoming class could be down a man. Hamidou Diallo, a five-star guard who enrolled at Kentucky in January, is testing the waters despite having never played a game for the Wildcats.
2. Oregon: The price of reaching the Final Four for the first time in 78 years has turned out to be high for the Ducks. They’re losing the three pillars of that team as Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell have all entered the NBA draft even though none are certain to go in the first round and several may go unselected altogether. Throw in the graduation of Dylan Ennis and Chris Boucher and the transfer of point guard Casey Benson, and Oregon is losing six of its top seven scorers. Oregon coach Dana Altman has pledged not to lower expectations next season, but whether that’s possible will depend on which late signees he can land. Altman is hoping to add New Mexico graduate transfer Elijah Brown and five-star big man Brandon McCoy to a top 10 class that already includes heralded wing Troy Brown.
3. UCLA: When UCLA lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 last month, it was already clear the Bruins were never going to look the same again. Lonzo Ball had already announced his intent to turn pro after one season, fellow freshmen T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbogu were expected to join him and seniors Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton had also played their final college games. The surprise came when sophomore guard Aaron Holiday and junior center Thomas Welsh also declared for the draft without hiring an agent. Neither are projected first-round picks and both can return to school, but now there’s a chance UCLA could lose its top seven scorers. If both return, UCLA will have some veteran standouts to pair with its decorated freshman class. If both leave, it’s tough to see a team consisting of Gyorgy Goloman and a bunch of freshman contending in the Pac-12.
4. South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ chances of building off the momentum of their unlikely Final Four run took a hit this month when sophomore P.J. Dozier entered the NBA draft and hired an agent. Dozier would have been the centerpiece of next year’s team after averaging 13.9 points and 2.8 assists, but he opted to leave school despite a real possibility that he could go unselected in this June’s draft. The departure of Dozier, coupled with the graduation of star Sindarius Thornwell and key role players Duane Notice and Justin McKie, leaves South Carolina’s backcourt in tatters. The trio of returning combo guard Rakym Felder, transfer Kory Holden and incoming freshman David Beatty will be responsible for making up for much of what the Gamecocks lost.
5. Gonzaga: The hallmark of Gonzaga’s program under Mark Few has been its consistency, but the Zags will face a daunting challenge next season. They’ll try to remain nationally relevant despite the departure of many of the pillars of the program’s first-ever Final Four team. Zach Collins became the program’s first one-and-done, Nigel Williams-Goss also turned pro and Przemek Karnowski and Jordan Mathews both graduated. That quartet includes Gonzaga’s leading scorer, its two best rim protectors and its premier 3-point specialist. Next year’s Zags probably won’t contend for a national title again, but they also shouldn’t fall too far. This is still a preseason top 20 team with four of last year’s top eight players returning, a strong group of incoming players and the possibility of a graduate transfer or two coming aboard.
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