Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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One Year After Duke Won NCAAs With One-and-Dones, Elite Eight Now Features Veteran Teams
PHILADELPHIA –A year ago, Duke came out of the ACC to win the NCAA championship with three one-and-done players.
Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones were all taken in the first round of the NBA Draft.
But as the ACC rolls into this year’s Elite Eight with a record-tying four teams, there isn’t a single projected one-and-done guy on North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia or Syracuse.
In fact, all of the players from those teams projected to go in the NBA Draft are juniors or seniors. Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson, projected at No. 11, is a junior while North Carolina’s Brice Johnson (No. 33), Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon (No. 37) and Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije (No. 54) are all seniors.
“I’m really thankful to be in the position I am,” Jackson said one day after propelling the Irish into the Elite Eight thanks to two huge steals late in his team’s 61-56 victory over Wisconsin on Friday. “I’m a junior now. We’ve got some older guys. So I’ve been with this group for a while, and we’ve just kind of grown together. And we just try to get better every single year, try to get better every single game, every single practice. So it’s been a joy to just continually just get better and have fun doing it.”
The hallmark of all the teams left in the Big Dance — not just the ACC outfits — seems to be experience. On the left side of the bracket, Villanova, Kansas and Oklahoma are all experienced teams led by upperclassmen like Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova), Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis (Kansas) and Buddy Hield (Oklahoma). Only Oregon, where a sophomore (Dillon Brooks) and a freshman (Tyler Dorsey) are two of the three leading scorers, is fueled by younger players.
By contrast, projected No. 1 pick Brandon Ingram (Duke) lost in the Sweet 16, while projected No. 2 pick Ben Simmons didn’t qualify for the Big Dance with LSU. Jaylen Brown, the projected No. 4 pick, lost in the first round with Cal. Kentucky, which has two projected one-and-dones in Jamal Murray (No. 7) and Skal Labissiere (No. 10), lost in the second round to Indiana.
Asked if he would’ve preferred to be a one-and-done like those guys, North Carolina sophomore Justin Jackson said he and his teammates came back to school because they really enjoy the experience.
“That’s a dream of every basketball player that starts playing, to be in the NBA,” Justin Jackson told SNY.tv. “I don’t know necessarily a one-and-done but at the end of the day we all made decisions to come back because we knew we’d be able to do some big things and obviously it turned out to be really good decisions.
“For us we love North Carolina, the University in general, so I think that definitely plays a huge part. I’m not saying that the guys didn’t like Duke but sometimes you can’t do much better than you’ve already done and Duke had a great season last year . Those guys definitely deserved to be where they’re at now. For us, we just loved being here, we knew we’d be able to do some big things so we’re trying to continue that.”
North Carolina senior guard Marcus Paige said he spoke with former North Carolina one-and-done Marvin Williams, the No. 2 pick in the 2005 Draft, who told him he wished he had stayed in Chapel Hill longer.
“Obviously, there is some cool things that come with it [being one-and-done] but I think I would’ve missed out on a lot,” Paige said. “Talking to guys like Marvin Williams who was a one-and-done, he said if he could’ve came back and did it again he would’ve stayed to enjoy his time in Chapel Hill more and I’m glad I’ve been able to experience what I have.”
Johnson, a senior forward who went for 20 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks in North Carolina’s impressive 101-86 win over Notre Dame here on Friday, said he doesn’t mind that he wasn’t a one-and-done. He’s now projected at No. 33 by Draft Express.
“With the NBA it’s not about making it, it’s about lasting in the NBA,” Johnson said. “You don’t wanna just make it. I know it’s everybody’s dream to just make it, it’s one of my dreams to make it to the NBA but I want to be able to say I lasted in the NBA and had a very good career, like 8 or 9 years, not just go in there with that first contract. I want to be able to make it to the second one. I want to be be able to develop my game and make it to that second contract and be able keep moving forward in the NBA.”
And by staying in college, Johnson has helped his draft stock improve.
“I’ve definitely helped myself,” he said. “I just gotta keep playing well and just keep moving up.”
A year from now, of course, we could be back to one-and-dones dominating March Madness.
Duke, which was bounced by Oregon in the Sweet 16, brings in a recruiting class led by forwards Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, the top two projected picks in 2017 by DraftExpress.com. Duke’s class is ranked No. 2 nationally by Scout.com.
Kentucky, which fell to Indiana in the Sweet 16, has No. 1- ranked recruiting class that features the projected No. 4 (guard De’Aaron Fox), No. 9 (forward Bam Adebayo) and No. 15 pick (Malik Monk), along with bigs Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.
Both Duke and Kentucky remain the hunt for 6-10 DeSoto (TX) big man Marques Bolden, who seems close to announcing.
Michigan State, Arizona and Kansas, meantime, all have talented classes and remain in the mix for 6-7 wing Josh Jackson, the projected No. 3 player in the NBA Draft.
Thon Maker, the versatile 7-footer from Athlete Institute (Ontario), is considering Kansas, Arizona State, Indiana, Notre Dame and St. John’s. He ranks as the No. 27 pick on Draft Express in 2017.
So a year from now, we could be once again talking about the pros and cons of one-and-dones, but for now it’s all about veteran-laden teams closing in on the Final Four.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.