Tonight is the NBA Draft and the Kansas Jayhawk who could be picked the highest never even played a game for KU.
Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman will be anxiously awaiting to see when or if their names will be called, but the Jayhawk who could go the highest might just be the mysterious Billy Preston, who never played a regular-season game for KU because of alleged eligibility questions.
The goal of any player, of course, is to be picked in the first round as those players receive a guaranteed contract. Second-rounders have to make the team in order to receive a salary.
Graham will go down as one of the all-time KU greats and his number will someday be raised in the Allen Field House rafters. He was one of college basketball’s best players this past season, an ironman who willed the Jayhawks to victory after victory with his mental toughness and big-play ability.
But I don’t see his game translating all that well to the next level. He’s not overly big and could suffer in the rough-tumble physicality of the NBA. I think he’s a fringe first-rounder, maybe in the late 20s, as teams like that he’s a winner and always plays hard. I think he can be to some team what Fred VanVleet has been to the Toronto Raptors. The former Wichita State Shocker has been a pleasant surprise and has turned out to be a steal.
As for Svi, teams always need shooters. While he’s not nearly on the same level of, say, a Kyler Korver for Cleveland, he has tremendous form and can get hot at times. He doesn’t put the ball on the floor very well and would have to play for a team that uses a lot of screens. Svi probably will get picked in the late 50s.
Newman is an interesting case. When he was coming out of high school, many were projecting him for NBA stardom. He was one of the Top 5 players in the country as a senior in high school and surprised everybody by picking Mississippi State. He floundered there, packed up and went to KU where he redshirted a year and then this past year had a checkered season until late when he was one of the best players in the NCAA Tournament. He does have the ability to get to the rim, but his outside shot is so-so and he doesn’t have a great handle. Like Svi, he could go late in the second round, but it would be no surprise if he goes undrafted.
Finally there’s Preston. Talk about a player difficult to project, Preston was shelved when there was talk that the vehicle he was driving (and wrecked) may have been acquired through shady circumstances and KU waited and waited for the NCAA to decide. When it drug its feet, Preston got itchy feet, left school and went overseas, where he didn’t last long. He certainly looks the NBA part, about 6-9 and sleek, with the ability to play multiple positions. But nobody has seen him for nearly 2 years and his time overseas didn’t reveal anything. He’s the prototype 4 player in the NBA and I think somebody will take a flyer on him. He was a McDonald’s All-American and many believe had he played this year, KU might have won it all, he had that much potential.
The draft is an inexact science and nothing more than a crapshoot once you get past the first 10 or so picks. KU fans probably won’t be paying much attention tonight until the second round, unless somebody pulls a stunner and picks Preston late in the first. Golden State maybe?