NBA early draft and early entries are stuck in limbo

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused shut down and delays all over society. The NBA has been shut down since March 11th and that has caused a delay for college basketball players that are early entrants to the 2020 NBA draft. Players have also been unable to do individual workouts to show teams what they can do and get an idea of where they stand in the eyes of pro scouts.

Given the uncertainty of so much, it would not be a surprise if fringe players with remaining eligibility return. According to the latest rumor, the NBA is tentatively circling July 31 on its calendar as a target date for the resumption of the 2019/20 season, with an ending date on October 12th. That would mean no summer league in 2020.

The NBA combine, which among other things tests a player's athletic skills and shooting skills, has been canceled. The NBA G League Elite Camp has also been cancelled. Without the opportunity to show your skills to the NBA, it becomes difficult to get selected in the two round NBA draft on June 25, or go as high as they could have. Here are four Southern California basketball players that fall into this category:

Milan Acquaah, California Baptist, 6-foot-3, Guard - Acquaah declared for the draft in 2019, before returning and entering again in 2020. The LA Cathedral graduate played at Washington State for a year before transferring to California Baptist University (CBU) in 2018. In the 2019-2020 season, Acquaah averaged 18.1 points, 5.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. Acquaah was the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Player of the Year in 2020 and a two-time First-Team All-WAC (2019, 2020) selection.

From the moment he arrived on campus at CBU in Riverside, Acquaah has been a special player. In his second game with CBU, Acquaah hit a mid-court jump shot at the buzzer to defeat Oral Roberts, 70-69. In his last home game of the season for CBU, Acquaah hit an 18-foot jump shot with one second left for an 88-87 victory over Seattle before a sell-out crowd in Riverside.

In between those game, Acquaah scored 36 points to lead CBU to an 82-76 upset win over New Mexico State, and in a game this season in Irvine, scored 26 points in a 68-60 upset win over UCI. Acquaah is considered a fringe NBA player and he needs an opportunity to prove that he is worthy of being on an NBA roster. Given the current pandemic, his best move would probably be to return to CBU.

Chris Smith, UCLA, 6-foot-9, Forward – Smith came to UCLA as a 3-star player out of Fort Worth, Texas. After two mediocre seasons with the Bruins, Smith had a breakout season under first year head coach Mick Cronin, leading the Bruins in scoring at 13.1 points per game. He was selected the Pac-12 Most Improved Player and a First-team All-Pac-12 selection.

During the 2019-2020 season, Smith scored a career-high 30 points, making 13 of 15 free throws, to lead the Bruins to a 72-68 victory over No. 20 Colorado. Against the Washington State Cougars, Smith scored 23 points and added 13 rebounds to help UCLA win in overtime, 86-83. In a road win at Seattle, Smith showed his total game, scoring 17 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and handing out 5 assists to beat Washington.

Smith's improved play helped UCLA to a 2nd place finish in the Pac-12 and a 19-12 record. He is considered a 2nd round draft prospect. Smith is an athletic prospect at forward but needs the opportunity to get in front of NBA scouts and show what he can do. If he waits a year and continues to improve, he could be a first round pick. If he comes out this season, he is probably a 2nd round pick or possibly goes undrafted. He should return to UCLA for his senior season.

Colbey Ross, Pepperdine, 6-foot-1, Guard – Ross came to Pepperdine from Eaglecrest high school in Aurora, Colorado. Ross won the Mr. Colorado Basketball award as the top boys' high school basketball player in the state of Colorado. A two-time All-WCC first team selection in 2019 & 2020, Ross averaged 20.5 points per game, 7.2 assists per game and 4.9 rebounds per game in 2020.

Ross is a streaky shooter and showed it several times this season. He scored 43 points in a loss to St. Mary's, hitting 7 of 13 three-point attempts and 38 points in a loss to USC, making 6 of 10 three-point attempts. Ross is considered a smart player who understands how to play the game, but only an average athlete.

He is the kind of player that needs the NBA combine to show the scouts and coaches that his speed and agility are NBA worthy. Ross is another player that should consider returning for his senior season. Without the NBA combine, he will not be fully evaluated and it will be difficult to get drafted.

Lamine Diane, Cal State Northridge, 6-foot-7, Forward - Diane, the son of a Senegal national team player, came to the United States in 2015 to play high school basketball at Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada. He is a two-time Big West Player of the Year. In two seasons at CSUN, Diane averaged 25.1 points per game, 10.8 points per game, 2.3 assists per game, 1.6 steals per game and 2.1 blocks per game.

Diane reminds people of fellow West African Pascal Siakam, who played for New Mexico State in the WAC. Siakam was WAC Player of the Year in 2016, a first round draft pick in 2016, an NBA champion in 2019 and an NBA All-Star in 2020. Like Siakam, Diane is an athletic player and a good rebounder who needs to work on his outside shot.

Diane is another player that needs to compete with NBA players in the combine and in games. But his ability to score and his athletic ability might get him into the NBA draft. He would be wise to stay put and not return to CSUN.


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