It felt like the pandemic pushed back NBA Draft dates in perpetuity (as if this remotely matters), but August 3rd was finally the deadline for players to come back to school if they wish to play in 2020-21. Players can still come back to school and then declare for the draft by August 17th, but now we know who is coming back and who is leaving for the NBA.
Of Colorado Buffaloes importance, star point guard McKinley Wright IV is returning to school. We all expected this, but it’s still excellent news. The dynamic playmaker has been named All-Pac-12 all three years at CU, and he may very well be the best player in the conference this coming year. If the Buffs contend for the conference title — as they should — it would be with Wright carrying the team on both ends of the floor.
It should help Colorado’s chances that Tyrell Terry will not be coming back to Stanford. Had the sharp-shooting point guard returned, the Cardinal would have been the favorite to win the conference. They should be good regardless — Tristan da Silva, Daejon Davis and five-star freshman Ziaire Williams is a great start — but they will be missing an elite point guard who was posed to star in 20/21.
Now that Terry is gone, the UCLA Bruins might be the favorite in the conference. Break out star Chris Smith announced that he is returning to an up-and-coming squad. The promising wing provided the defensive-minded Bruins with all the points they needed to eek out win after win during their surprise Pac-12 run. With Tyger Campbell, Jaime Jacquez and Jake Kyman already in tow, Mick Cronin might have himself a contender.
The Arizona State Sun Devils are another team to watch, as they return all of Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge, their three best players on a team that was a lock for the 2020 NCAA Tournament. Martin’s decision came down to the wire, but now that he’s coming back, he will be the focal point of a high-scoring ASU squad. Verge was never really a threat to leave for the NBA, but it’s good news for them nonetheless. UPDATE: I thought Romello White was returning to ASU, but he transferred to Ole Miss.
The Oregon Ducks weren’t waiting on anyone to declare or stay, as Will Richardson, N’Faly Dante and Chris Duarte (plus others) all made the decision to return fairly early in the process. The team will be without star point guard Payton Pritchard, who graduated, so it remains to be seen how Dana Altman replaces the guy who carried Oregon for so long.
(Nothing new is happening with the Arizona Wildcats. We have know for a long time that Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji are all leaving for the NBA. They have the 5th-ranked 2020 recruiting class, buoyed by five international recruits, who are not subject to FBI investigations.)
Going down the line, it should help Utah and Oregon State that Timmy Allen and Ethan Thompson, respectively, have returned to school. These teams aren’t going to be good, but they won’t be automatic wins.
On the flip side, the Washington State Cougars looked like an emerging threat at the end of 2020, but C.J. Elleby has decided to keep his name in the NBA Draft. The Cougars are still on the rise — they have their best ever recruiting class coming in — but they needed Elleby to carry the load if they were going to be competitive.
Also of Pac-12 interest, the Gonzaga Bulldogs may be the national title front-runners now that Corey Kispert and (former Buffs target) Joel Ajayi have announced their return to Spokane. The Zags are also bringing in elite recruit Jalen Suggs, as well as rising sophomores Drew Timme and Anton Watson.
Some other keys names returning to school: Luka Garza (Iowa), Jared Butler (Baylor), Ayo Donsunmu and Kofi Cockburn (Illinois), Aaron Henry (Michigan State), Isaiah Joe (Arkansas), A.J. Brown (Northern Iowa), and Isaiah Livers (Michigan).