The Hamilton Spectator

So, who are the NBA prospects to watch?

They’re good, but likely won’t be drafted really early

- STEVE MEGARGEE

Anyone watching the NCAA Tournament exclusivel­y to get a closer look at the top prospects in the upcoming National Basketball Associatio­n draft is in for a disappoint­ment.

Only one of the top five players in last year’s draft came directly from college, as the Charlotte Hornets took Alabama’s Brandon Miller with the second pick overall. There are similar forecasts for this year’s draft, with internatio­nal players such as Zaccharie Risacher and Alex Sarr atop most projection­s.

Even so, there are some players in the 68-team field who should hear their names called on draft night, even if they aren’t necessaril­y among the first handful of picks. Here’s a rundown of some of the most notable pro prospects seeking to make their impact on March Madness.

There’s one notable name missing from this list: Purdue centre Zach Edey.

In a previous era, Edey’s status as a seven-foot-four centre and likely two-time consensus national player of the year would make him a sure top-10 pick. But he’s a big man who stays right around the basket much more often than today’s NBA centres, as evidenced by the fact he has attempted just two three-point shots in his entire college career.

Edey has gotten better each year at Purdue and has the type of glittering resumé that will get him drafted at some point, but it’s likely the players on this list will get selected before him.

STEPHON CASTLE, UConn

Castle struggled with a knee injury early in his freshman season but came on strong late in the regular season while showcasing the upside that made him a top-10 recruit.

Castle had 21 points against St. John’s and Seton Hall and had a 20-point performanc­e against Providence. He averages 10.8 points per game and has been named Big East freshman of the week a record 11 times. Castle’s three-point shot needs work, but the six-foot-six guard has shown enough this season to merit a first-round selection if he opts to enter the draft. UConn has another potential first-round prospect in centre Donovan Clingan. Although Clingan has been the more productive player this season, Castle has the greater pro upside.

ROB DILLINGHAM, Kentucky

Dillingham’s speed and ability to provide instant offence should translate to the next level. The sixfoot-three freshman averages 15.4 points and has made nearly 45 per cent of his three-point attempts.

His 35-point performanc­e in a loss to Tennessee serves notice to his long-term potential. He had 27 points and seven assists in Kentucky’s SEC Tournament loss to Texas A&M.

In Dillingham and Reed Sheppard, Kentucky has a pair of freshmen who should get taken in the first round if they choose to enter the draft.

KYLE FILIPOWSKI, Duke

Filipowski was regarded as a likely first-round pick if he had chosen to enter last year’s draft, but the seven-footer instead decided to return for a sophomore season in which he has collected 17.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Filipowski has made himself a better prospect by improving his overall and threepoint shooting percentage­s over his freshman performanc­e.

He has also evolved into more of a playmaker by improving his assist totals and reducing his turnovers. Jared McCain is another Duke player who could get drafted in the first round.

DALTON KNECHT, Tennessee

Knecht has made the greatest impact of any college basketball transfer this season. After beginning his career at Northeaste­rn (Colorado) Junior College and playing two seasons at Northern Colorado, this sixfoot-six guard has compiled 21.1 points per game as a fifth-year senior at Tennessee. He scored 40 against Kentucky, 39 each against Auburn and Florida and 37 against North Carolina.

There will be questions about whether Knecht can defend at the NBA level. He also will be 23 at the time of the draft, making him older than most prospects. But his pure scoring ability should get him taken somewhere in the first round.

JA’KOBE WALTER, Baylor

This top-10 recruit is considered a quality NBA prospect because of his scoring ability. The six-foot-five guard has backed that up in his freshman season by scoring 14.2 points per game. Although Walter is shooting below 40 per cent, his profile suggests he can improve in that area.

If Walter enters the draft, he likely would become the second Baylor guard to get taken in the first round in as many years after the Utah Jazz selected Keyonte George with the 16th overall pick in 2023.

CODY WILLIAMS, Colorado

Williams, the younger brother of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jalen Williams, was a top-10 recruit when he signed with Colorado. The six-foot-eight forward hasn’t put up overwhelmi­ng statistics his freshman year at Colorado, but he’s making over 55 per cent of his shots and 40 per cent of his three-point attempts while playing exceptiona­l defence. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Williams is the first college player drafted this year.

 ?? FRANK FRANKLIN II THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? UConn’s Stephon Castle averages 10.8 points per game and has been named Big East freshman of the week a record 11 times.
FRANK FRANKLIN II THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO UConn’s Stephon Castle averages 10.8 points per game and has been named Big East freshman of the week a record 11 times.
 ?? ?? Rob Dillingham
Rob Dillingham
 ?? ?? Kyle Filipowski
Kyle Filipowski
 ?? ?? Dalton Knecht
Dalton Knecht

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