If you would have told forward Jaron Blossomgame before he arrived at Clemson that he’d eventually have a chance to make school history one day, he probably wouldn’t have believed it.
Blossomgame recently became one of seven players in Clemson basketball history to record at least 1,400 points and 700 rebounds in a career. By doing so, he joined the likes of Trevor Booker, Dale Davis and Horace Grant among others to accomplish that feat.
Prior to joining the Clemson basketball program, Blossomgame suffered a gruesome leg injury that forced him to redshirt during his freshman year. It’s the same injury that Indiana Pacers forward Paul George and former Louisville guard Kevin Ware suffered. The compound fracture that Blossomgame suffered would end up sidelining him for the next eight months.
As he was nearing the end of his rehab, he found out that he would actually need a second surgery after it was discovered that his leg didn’t heal properly. He underwent the second surgery in June of that year and wouldn’t return to the court until September. By this time, he was already behind the curve after not being able to practice with his teammates over the summer and was at a clear disadvantage heading into his first collegiate season.
After suffering such a horrific injury, most would consider just having the ability to play basketball again a blessing. However, Blossomgame is very confident in his abilities and wasn’t satisfied with just returning to the court. He averaged 4.9 points and five rebounds in 33 games during his freshman year, but he knew he could do more.
“Personally, a lot of people told me I had a good year my freshman year,” Blossomgame told Basketball Insiders. “I’m a very confident person. I believe in myself, but I didn’t believe I had a good freshman year. It just drove me to work even harder and be able to believe in myself and go out there and do what I can because I know I’m a capable a lot more.”
Athletes across all levels of play are some of the most confident people you’ll meet. In order to perform at a high level, these players must have confidence in themselves to reach that level of play to be great at what they do. At just 23 years old, Blossomgame has some of the strongest confidence you’ll find in a college player.
He brings up things like a person’s drive or using his athleticism to outwork his opponents. So, when he notices NBA scouts or team executives sitting in the stands evaluating his game, he doesn’t let it faze him.
Being sidelined for nearly a year gave Blossomgame a newfound appreciation for the game. Having to sit out for so long allowed him to see what life would be like without the game. When he resumed basketball activities, he had a new level of respect and knew he had to take full advantage of his opportunity at Clemson. It’s why if you see Blossomgame on game day, he’s a completely different person.
“I’m not laughing around [on game day], I’m very serious from start to finish,” Blossomgame said. “I’m a very serious person on game day. I believe in my abilities. I believe we’re going to win. I believe I’m going to play well every night. I’m just a confident person. I believe in all of the preparation we put in here at Clemson.”
As it turns out, Blossomgame was spot-on with his assessment that he was capable of playing better than he did during his freshman year. In each of his next two seasons at Clemson, he posted improvements in several key statistical areas. His scoring climbed to 13.1 points per game and his rebounding numbers jumped up to 8.2 per game during his sophomore campaign.
It was his junior year that he really established himself as one of the country’s top players. He was named the ACC’s Most Improved Player after averaging 18.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 blocks per game last season. Perhaps the biggest improvement came in his shooting.
“I think my shooting numbers alone were pretty impressive,” Blossomgame said. “I shot 44 percent from three, 79 percent from the free-throw line and I averaged 18 points. As a sophomore, I only averaged 13 points a game and shot 29 percent from three. That jump offensively, being able to stretch the floor as the four man in Clemson’s offense surprised a lot of people. It showed all the work I put in during the offseason.”
In addition to earning the Most Improved Player award, Blossomgame was also a member of the All-ACC First Team that featured some impressive names. He joined Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Brice Johnson (North Carolina), Anthony Barber (N.C. State) and Grayson Allen (Duke) as First Team members.
Following his junior season, Blossomgame took advantage of a new rule that allowed underclassmen to enter their name for NBA Draft consideration and still maintain their college eligibility. Players last year had 10 days following the NBA Combine to withdraw their names and keep their college eligibility. Blossomgame entered his name into the pool of players but ultimately decided to return for his senior season at Clemson.
With the feedback from the Combine fresh in his mind, Blossomgame went to work this past summer. While some players take parts of the summer off, he worked on all facets of his game. He took part in the Nike Skills Academy and Adidas Nations in Los Angeles where he emerged as one of the top performers among some of the nation’s top prospects. After participating in those two camps and the Combine, Blossomgame will be well prepared for the draft process this year.
“The Combine was really fun for me last year,” Blossomgame said. “I was a little nervous going into it but I interviewed well with the teams I interviewed for. I had a strong showing in the five-on-five. It was a really positive experience for me. This year I’m just going to take it day by day. I’m looking forward to the Combine again, the interview process, the drills on the court and all the testing stuff that goes into it. I think having that last year, being able to go to the Combine working out for teams will definitely help me moving forward.”
Blossomgame has picked up this season right where he left off last year. He’s averaging 18.4 points, six rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.2 blocks in 17 games. His 18.4 points rank sixth in the ACC and he was named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list, which is the award given to the nation’s best basketball players.
Blossomgame has been primarily used at power forward this season at Clemson. Standing at 6’7, 225 pounds, he says he’ll be able to play more on the perimeter at the next level. He’s proven to be a physical player that has excellent strength and athleticism. His 41-inch vertical jump at the Combine was the eighth-highest among all participants.
Both of those skills were on display this past weekend against No. 19 Virginia. On one sequence, Blossomgame blocked a shot on one end and then came down and got great positioning on the defender in the post. The shot into the post was a bit off but he was able to out-muscle two players to get the ball, gather his feet and convert the layup.
“I think I have a unique game,” Blossomgame said. “I can play both ends of the floor. I think I’m very versatile and I pose a mismatch on offense being able to be my height and use my quickness and speed to take bigger guys off of the dribble. We switch ball screens on defense 1-4 so I think I’m a very versatile player.
“I’m very athletic and I’m very strong for my position. I got good size and my body will definitely translate [to the NBA]. I think my rebounding will be able to translate also. I’m a pretty good rebounder for my size and position and being a good defender and also being able to be versatile enough on offense to play the three and four.”
Blossomgame is currently playing some of his best basketball of the season. He’s turned in four consecutive games scoring at least 20 points and is shooting 47 percent from the floor during that stretch. Perhaps even more impressive during this current stretch is three out of those four games were against ranked opponents in North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia. He seems to always be at his best when facing the best teams in the conference.
“I believe I’m one of the best players in college basketball,” Blossomgame said. “Nobody can tell me any different. My preparation, my work ethic and my drive to be successful in this sport has really given me a lot of confidence of being able to go out there and produce at the highest level. It’s something that I’ve achieved and very proud of myself for working hard for it.”
As he attempts to lead his Tigers through the ACC this season, it seems very likely he’ll have a place in the NBA next season. In DraftExpress’ latest mock draft, Blossomgame is projected to be taken at No. 26. Of course, those rankings will continue to change over the course of the next several months.
With so many stacked teams in the ACC, Blossomgame will have plenty of opportunities to improve his draft stock as the season progresses. Given his track record against some of the best teams in the conference, don’t be surprised to hear his name mentioned along with the other top prospects in the country.
NBA Daily: Five Of The Draft Combine’s Biggest Underdogs
The NBA Draft Combine stands as many potential draftees’ best chance to impress franchises, but there are plenty of second-round stories worth following this week as well.
Every spring, college basketball’s top athletes are invited to the NBA Draft Combine to exhibit their wide-reaching skill sets. Not only does this afford front offices the opportunity to measure, interview and watch scrimmages, but it gives potential draftees a better idea of where they may be selected. While much of the attention has fallen squarely on the likes of Michael Porter Jr., Mohamed Bamba and other likely high lottery picks, their draft status is not in question.
Both experts and fans alike could put together a decent look at composing a lottery mock draft at this point — but there’s still some major intrigue in those second-round fringe players. Late-round picks won’t always net a team the next Isaiah Thomas or Manu Ginobili, but rotation-worthy assets are certainly out there each and every year. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five deep cut underdogs that will compete at this week’s NBA Draft Combine.
Theo Pinson, North Carolina
The Tarheels’ hard-working senior originally missed the cut but received a better-late-than-never invite early this week, according to Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania. Pinson, who started 13 games for the eventual national champions in 2016-17, is fresh off his best-ever collegiate season. Racking up 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists on 47.3 percent from the floor, Pinson was a huge reason why UNC entered tournament play as a No. 2 seed back in March.
Pinson uses his athleticism and strong physical tools to hound the opposition and his 6-foot-6 frame and 6-foot-11 wingspan made him a defensive stopper at times. Although he may project as a potential 3-and-D player, Pinson only shot 22.6 percent from three-point range in 2017-18 — so that’ll need work. But even if Pinson were to go undrafted, exhibiting his NBA-ready skills during workouts this week could land him a summer league fling at the very least.
While the 22-year-old should have been included on the first list, Pinson will get his chance to prove himself outside of private workouts after all. For some, that’s all it takes.
Ray Spalding, Louisville
That massive sigh of relief you just heard comes from Louisville’s Ray Spalding, who has also collected a late invite. Very early last month, Spalding announced he’d be hiring an agent — thus making him ineligible to return for his senior year no matter what — so this fortunate turn may end up being a game-changer for the 6-foot-10 forward. Again, like Pinson, Spalding’s athleticism and defensive potential could pave the road for a second-round flier.
Over three years, Spalding improved in each successive season with the Cardinals but he truly outdid himself in 2017-18. The 21-year-old doubled his previous scoring output, led the team in rebounds and shot 54.3 percent from the floor over 34 starts for Louisville. While his steady tally of 12.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.7 blocks per game may not make him a can’t-miss prospect, he has earned his spot in Chicago this week.
Should Spalding impress front offices, his stock could rise between now and draft night in June.
Billy Preston, International
Coming out of high school, Billy Preston was widely regarded as one of Kansas’ top prospects — but he ended up never playing in a regular season game. Following a series of small vehicle-related issues, head coach Bill Self began holding Preston out of games as the program investigated how and why he got his car. After a few months without an answer — and a total of zero minutes played for Preston — he signed with KK Igokea, a professional club in Bosnia. There, things didn’t get much better and Preston played in only three ABA League games before returning home.
Preston is a former McDonald’s All-American that finished his high school career at the famous Oak Hill Academy (Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, etc) by averaging 15.3 points and 9.2 rebounds. As far as prospects go, Preston absolutely has first-round talent and ESPN ranked him as the 18th-best player in his class. But after sitting out for the better part of a year, what will NBA franchises see in him? Nobody knows where Preston will end up and predictions range from the second-round to undrafted right now.
This invite, however, stands as a remarkable opportunity for Preston to showcase the innate potential that’s been hidden for so long.
Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dayton
Without question, we all know why Kostas Antetokounmpo was invited to the NBA Draft Combine — and that’s perfectly OK, too. After his brother — Giannis, of course — slipped to No. 15 overall in 2013 before turning into a perennial MVP candidate overnight, the rest of his family is obviously going to get attention. The oldest Antetokounmpo brother, Thanasis, went to the Knicks at No. 51 overall in 2014 and flamed out in America after just one season, so Kostas would be another late selection in all likelihood.
Antetokounmpo, 20, averaged a paltry 5.2 points and 2.9 rebounds over just 15 minutes a game for a disappointing Dayton squad. Naturally, Antetokounmpo is built like both of his siblings — he’s tall, athletic and owns a massive wingspan of his own. But even if Antetokounmpo’s eventual ceiling slots him in somewhere between Giannis and Thanasis, that would be worth a second round roll of the dice, undoubtedly.
The sample size is unfortunately small, but he did manage to shoot 65 percent on two-pointers in 2017-18 and that’s a worthwhile start. Still, Antetokounmpo would have to really impress at the NBA Draft Combine to have a chance of sticking around past the draft-eligible deadline on May 30. The best guess here is that this high-upside prospect will end up back at Dayton this fall — but who could fault front offices for wanting to watch this royal NBA bloodline up close?
Brian Bowen, South Carolina
Similarly to Preston, the case of Brian Bowen may be ripe for a second-round home run swing as well. The former McDonald’s All-American had originally enrolled at Louisville before finding himself at the center of the Rick Pitino scandal in September. Although Bowen was cleared a few months later, Louisville announced that Bowen would not play or practice for the team in 2017-18. Shortly thereafter, Bowen enrolled with the South Carolina Gamecocks, where he’s still waiting to be reinstated by the NCAA.
As of today, he’s still not learned of his future eligibility, so unsurprisingly, Bowen intends to test the waters despite never playing a collegiate game. To outsiders, his invite may come as a surprise but Bowen is definitely talented. He averaged 22 points per game as a high school senior and was ranked as ESPN’s 14th-best prospect. At 6-foot-7, Bowen presently projects as a second-round pick — but with his standing for the 2018-19 still in the hands of the NCAA, he’ll likely have to make a tough decision before the deadline.
Obviously, Bowen, 19, will do whatever is best for a career currently on hold — but a killer combine showing could make that choice a whole lot easier.
If you tune into the NBA Draft Combine this week, it’ll be difficult to look away from the pool’s best and brightest, but don’t forget to keep an eye on the underdogs. Between four-year seniors and freshman that haven’t played in a single game, there are plenty of compelling stories to watch as the workouts unfold over the next month.
NBA Daily: Five Tournament-Tested Prospects Worth Watching
With the NCAA Tournament in the rearview mirror, here are five tournament-tested prospects worth keeping an eye on.
After nearly a month of relentless basketball, the NCAA Tournament is finally in our rearview mirrors — which means all the focus has turned to the upcoming draft process. While many of this class’ top prospects have already been identified, everything outside the lottery largely remains a mystery at this time. However, many on-the-bubble candidates stepped up during their respective tournament runs. From leading the way in the tournament final to sparking an unexpected run to the Elite Eight and everything in between, these players have all made themselves interesting options headed into some of the key spring months.
Jevon Carter, West Virginia
West Virginia’s strong tournament run ended in the Sweet 16 at the hands of the eventual champions, but senior Jevon Carter thoroughly proved that he’s a prospect to watch. Carter racked up six and five-steal games against Murray State and Marshall, respectively, to open up the tournament, and that wasn’t all. Over those two contests, Carter finished with a total of 49 points and 13 assists, even hitting on 5-of-8 attempts from deep. Beyond being named to the Consensus All-American Second-Team this spring, Carter has taken home back-to-back NABC Defensive Player of the Year honors as well.
His calling card is absolutely tenacious perimeter defense, but the West Virginia star is no slouch offensively. Carter averaged 17.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game on 39.3 percent from three-point range during the 2017-18 season — so what’s not to love? He’ll be 23 years old by the time his rookie season rolls around, but the Mountaineer’s lengthy award resume and impressive tournament set him up mightily moving forward. As an experienced, hard-nosed defender with a steady three-point shot — not dissimilar to Malcolm Brogdon in recent years — Carter could be a steal this June.
Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler has Carter slotted in at No. 29 overall in his most recent mock draft.
Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova
Of course, the man of the hour was bound to make an appearance on this list. Although it may appear as if Donte DiVincenzo came out of nowhere, Wildcats fans have watched him torch opposing defenses for quite some time. DiVincenzo markedly improved in each of his three seasons at Villanova, and he currently holds an average of 13.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on 40.1 percent from three-point range. He’s been overshadowed thus far by recent draftee Josh Hart and the newly-minted College National Player of the Year, Jalen Brunson, but DiVincenzo stole the show against Michigan.
DiVincenzo dropped 31 points on 5-of-7 from three-point range, part of a red-hot second half run that buried the Wolverines for good. As the reigning Big East Sixth Man of the Year, DiVincenzo is no stranger to these types of nights — but if he wasn’t on draft radars yet, he definitely is now. The Wildcats’ streaky shooter has the size and athleticism to bother opposing teams should he take his impressive run into next month’s combine.
But the program’s continuity is what earned Villanova two national championships in three years, so DiVincenzo remains a compelling candidate to return for his senior season. With Brunson heading to the NBA, DiVincenzo could-be the go-to star on another talented roster — that alone may be too tempting to pass up. Either way, DiVincenzo has outgrown his playful “Michael Jordan of Delaware” moniker, but this may just be the beginning for another standout Villanova prospect.
Tony Carr, Penn State
If you’ve not yet heard of Tony Carr, you will soon. Trae Young and Collin Sexton have earned high remarks all year, but Carr is a point guard to watch out for — just ask the entire NIT field.
As Penn State’s featured guard, the 6-foot-5 scoring machine helped the Nittany Lions take home their second NIT crown in the last decade. During Penn State’s title-clinching blowout of Utah, Carr registered a near-triple-double with 15 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. If that wasn’t enough, Carr led his fourth-seeded squad past Mississippi State the round prior after tallying 21/5/6 — more or less cementing his already intriguing draft status.
But unlike most younger players, Carr has already stated his intention to sign with an agent ahead of the draft. This decision would eliminate the possibility of Carr returning to Penn State should the next month go awry — but his confidence is at an all-time high. At a recent press conference, Carr noted that most of the current draft projections have him going somewhere in the mid-to-late first or early second round — and it’s not hard to see why. In 2017-18, Carr averaged 19.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and five assists on 43.3 percent from three-point range — contributions that would earn him a well-deserved spot on the All-Big Ten First-Team.
In one of the cooler subplots of the season, Carr led Penn State to three consecutive wins against Top 25-ranked Ohio State over the span of five weeks, flat-out dominating with 27.6 points per game. For franchises that need an explosive guard but don’t have the means to grab one of the studded lottery picks, Carr should be a hot commodity further down the draft board.
Keenan Evans, Texas Tech
As of late, it’s been Zhaire Smith quickly rising toward the lottery conversation — but don’t sleep on Keenan Evans, Texas Tech’s top scorer. After averaging 17.6 points and 3.2 assists in 2017-18, Evans was named to the All-American Consensus Second-Team alongside the aforementioned Carter and likely lottery selection Miles Bridges. When Evans scored 20 or more points, the Red Raiders went 13-1 — but when he scored fewer than 10, that record drops to just 1-4. Like Carter, Texas Tech’s tournament ended against Villanova — but Evans’ recent play will keep him on front office radars nonetheless.
Prior to their Elite Eight loss to the Wildcats, Evans took down 23, 22, 16-point efforts against SF Austin, Florida and Purdue, even outscoring Smith on all three occasions to boot. Best of all, Evans showed promise from three-point range, a skill he’ll no doubt need at the next level. During the regular season, Evans converted on just 32 percent of his looks from deep. But over that three-game tournament run, the prospect hit on five of his nine attempts (55.5 percent). A small sample size, surely, but it’s always noteworthy when prospects show progress on the game’s biggest stage. Evans is a senior, so he’ll look to build momentum during the upcoming combine — but he has a knack for scoring, something that professional benches will always scour the class for.
Tyus Battle, Syracuse
Last but not least, there’s Tyus Battle, a 6-foot-6 sophomore-year guard that propelled a surprise Syracuse Orange team into the Sweet 16. After leading Division-I with a tireless 39 minutes per game, Battle was on the floor for every minute of Syracuse’s play-in victory over Arizona State. In fact, Battle didn’t miss a single second of the Orange’s four tournament games — making the scorer extremely well-tested already. Battle can get going in a flash and notably recorded 29 points on 6-for-11 from downtown in a mid-December win over Georgetown. More recently, of course, were Battle’s 19 points and five assists in their tournament-ending loss to Duke.
As of now, Battle has not yet announced if he’ll test the NBA waters — but nobody would blame him for gauging interest after his stellar season. Battle averaged 19.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game as Syracuse’s go-to scorer and playmaker. Due to his high offensive usage, Battle’s field goal (39.9) and three-point (32.3) percentages aren’t where they need to be quite yet — but there’s plenty else to like here. Battle will likely be deployable in many flexible roles at the next level and his defense — albeit not often highlighted given Syracuse’s zone defense — shows promise as well.
Of note, Kyler currently has Battle going with the No. 22 overall pick. A formidable combine performance could shoot Battle into draft contention — so keep an eye on him.
With the NBA Draft Combine set to take place on May 16, expect many of these tournament-tested prospects to continue rising upward. For seniors like Carter and Evans — or those who will sign with an agent like Carr — they’re entering a crucial portion of their basketball journey. Present commodities like DiVincenzo and Battle will likely stick their toes in the water — but they’ll always have the option to head back to promising programs. Either way, these five players are certainly worth watching as their quest to play at the next level begins anew.
NBA Daily: Trae Young Looks To Be Next Up
Oklahoma’s Trae Young is taking college basketball by storm, and drawing comparisons to All-Star point guards.
When basketball fans glance across the college landscape to find the next wave of talent they expect to dominate the sport, they check in on the usual spots.
Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan State, Kansas and UCLA are among the culprits. Norman, Oklahoma, and the Sooners, though? Well, they’re not a destination that comes to mind very often when debating what young player is in position to take the reins at the next level.
Until now, that is. Meet Trae Young.
Young is Oklahoma’s freshman point guard. He’s 6-foot-2, isn’t overly muscular, and operates up and down the court with a smoothness that’s eerily similar to the guy who plays the same position out in the Bay Area.
How he looks isn’t the only thing that draws comparisons from Young to Steph Curry. Look at the numbers, and the obscene production the 19-year-old point guard is putting up. At the moment, Young leads the entire country in points per game (28.7) and assists (10.4). Young has reached the 30-point plateau four times in eleven games, including his 43-point outburst against Oregon. He’s scored 29 points on two occasions, and twice more reached 28 points.
Young’s picture-perfect shooting form and effortless release from beyond the arc are what makes this teenager so lethal. But he’s not just a one-trick pony. On Dec. 20 against Northwestern State, Young tied the NCAA record with a 22-assist performance (to go along with his 26 points). It was the first time in 20 years a player had reached 20 points and 20 assists in the same game. In six of Young’s first 11 collegiate games, he’s reached double-digit assists.
The invigoration of Young into the Oklahoma offense has Lon Kruger’s 11-20 team from a year ago at 10-1 and ranked No. 17 in the country heading into Big 12 Conference play. Make no mistake about it, that’s large, if not wholly, because of the freshman point guard.
How exactly did the Sooners land a superstar player of this caliber, though?
Well, they almost didn’t.
Young’s college choice came down to his hometown Sooners (he attended Norman North High School right down the road) and typical blue-blood powerhouse Kansas. Even with the commitment of a five-star point guard, few, if any, saw this type of impact from Young right away.
Ranking No. 23 on ESPN’s Top 100 for the class of 2017, Young was behind three other point guards: Trevon Duval (Duke), Collin Sexton (Alabama) and Jaylen Hands (UCLA).
Expecting the supernova level star Young has become almost immediately would’ve been a bit overzealous in any prediction. But that’s what makes college basketball the marvel that it is. Young has looked like the best player in the country, on a team where, at just 19 years old, he is considered “the man,” and without the usual supporting cast that players get at Duke and Kentucky.
After a 31-point, 12-assist performance against Northwestern on Friday, opposing head coach Chris Collins couldn’t do anything but rave about the teenager that dominated his team.
“With how deep he can shoot it from, you have to extend out on him, and then it just opens the floor,” Collins said. “He does a great job. He changes speeds well and he is shifty. And so the moment you are kind of a little off balance, he does a great job getting into your body and kind of playing off your movements. He’s got incredible vision. I always knew he was an incredible scorer. But the one thing I think he is underrated is his ability to pass. I thought he made some great passes and found guys.”
While the comparisons between Young and Curry are obvious, Collins offered up his own version of the mold he believes Young is fitting into.
“I had the opportunity to coach Kyrie Irving at the same age, and he was similar like that before he got hurt,” Collins said about Young. “There was just a maturity to his game that he had. He knew how to change speeds. He looked like a veteran from day one and that’s how Trae is out there. He plays at his pace. He knows where he wants to go.
Ironically, 11 games were all Irving got to play at Duke during his freshman season, and he still managed to be drafted first overall. Young may have a bit more competition than Irving did come next June for the draft’s top spot, but just over a month into his rookie campaign in college, Young is looking every bit of the best player in the entire nation.