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NBA PM: Eight Kentucky Wildcats Going Pro?

As many as eight players from the Kentucky Wildcats could be entering the 2014 NBA Draft … Jabari Parker still undecided about future

Yannis Koutroupis

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BasketballInsiders.com’s Yannis Koutroupis and CineSport’s Noah Coslov discuss which players in the Final Four are flying under the radar as NBA draft prospects.

Eight Kentucky Wildcats Going Pro?

When Aaron Harrison nailed the game-winning three against Michigan, he didn’t just send the Kentucky Wildcats to the Final Four. He also earned the coaching staff and athletic director $330,000 in bonuses, adding fuel to the fire that college student-athletes deserve to be paid. While the NCAA and universities netting billions off of amateur athletes and restricting their potential income in the process is an issue that needs to be addressed, no tears should be shed for Harrison and his teammates – because their big pay day is just around the corner.

One of the other byproducts of this unexpected run by the Wildcats is that their entire rotation’s draft stock is rising.

Regardless of how they fare at the Final Four, eight Wildcats are going to have to legitimately sit down and contemplate whether they want to return next season or go pro. For some the decision will be clear cut, while others may want/need to stay, but would have to embrace the risk of losing playing time to another loaded recruiting class coming into Lexington. Calipari already has National Letters of Intent from four of the top recruits in the 2014: shooting guard Devin Booker, point guard Tyler Ulis, power forward Trey Lyles and center Karl Towns Jr.

Here’s a look at each of those eight players individually and where they stand in terms of the NBA Draft:

Julius Randle – Power Forward
Once Randle arrives back in Lexington, he should immediately pack his bags and get ready to move to wherever he is doing his pre-draft training, because his time in college has come to an end. Kentucky head coach John Calipari wouldn’t let him stay if he wanted to. The whole reason Randle signed on to play for Cal was to be groomed into the best prospect he could be and that has happened. He’s put up a double-double every tournament game so far and while Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins have been watching since the opening weekend, he’s established himself as the most pro ready of the bunch.

We’ll have to see just how high that moves him on draft night, but Randle’s stock is firmly in the top four and there is absolutely no reason for him to even think about staying for his sophomore season.

James Young – Small Forward
At times this year, Young has played like a top 10 pick. Unfortunately for Young, that was earlier in the season. He’s been steady, but not as explosive as he was earlier in the year. Still, there’s not going to be much debate for Young when he thinks about staying or going. He needs to go. As one of the top-ranked small forwards in the class with pro-level skills offensively, Young is highly unlikely to last past the middle portion of the first round. He’s going to see the floor right away as a rookie because of his ability to score the basketball in a variety of ways. What will really determine how successful he is as a pro is his defense. Young has all the tools to be a quality defender. If he makes the most of them and continues to polish his offensive game, he could be a starter sooner rather than later.

Andrew Harrison – Point Guard
There are few positions in college basketball that hold more prestige than playing point guard under Coach Calipari. Andrew hasn’t played up to the level of his predecessors Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans or John Wall. His numbers are more on pace with what Marquis Teague put up during the Wildcats’ championship run in 2012, but he still ended up being a first round pick despite modest statistics and Andrew could as well. At 6’6, Harrison is a big point guard who has made strides throughout the season, both in his play and his approach. For a young team in need of a leader, Andrew has become one and an NBA team in the later portion of the first round is going to make the investment in him with hopes that his biggest improvements are still yet to come.

Aaron Harrison – Shooting Guard
Few players in the country have been scoring in as efficient a manner as Aaron, the hero in Kentucky’s Elite Eight victory over Michigan. He’s really found his niche in Calipari’s offense, looking comfortable and confident. At 6’6, he too has good size for the next level, although his advantage isn’t as great as Aaron’s is at the point. He’s arguably the second best player on the team right now behind Randle, so don’t expect him to give coming back much consideration either. His decision is made easier by the fact that his brother’s stock has started to rise too. They’ve played together their entire lives and they’ll likely want to go through the pre-draft process together as well.

Dakari Johnson – Center
Calipari has invested a lot of time in Johnson and put his faith in the center’s development. He reaped the benefits from his patience against Louisville as Johnson went for 15 points and six rebounds. He’s shooting a ridiculous 66 percent in the tournament and at 7’0, 265 lbs. he has the size, strength and low-post skills that will help teams look past the fact that he’s extremely raw and likely a couple of years away from being a consistent NBA player. He’s really going to have to work on his body and adjust to the increased speed and athleticism that he’ll be facing, but is potentially playing behind Lyles and Towns the best way for him to do that? Probably not, which is why Johnson could be gone despite the fact that he’s far from ready.

Willie Cauley-Stein – Center
It’s very likely that Cauley-Stein would have been a first-round pick last year had he decided to declare. He envisioned playing a bigger role as a sophomore and moving into the top 10, but his playing time has remained virtually the same and his production has actually declined in some areas. Still, he’s an athletic seven footer who has all the makings of a defensive force at the next level. He suffered an ankle injury against Louisville that looks like it could cost him the rest of the tournament (he did not play against Michigan and has been ruled “doubtful” for the Final Four). That’s not the kind of note he wanted to leave on, but at this time it seems like Kentucky has done all it can for him. Even if he doesn’t play this weekend, he’s still likely to be a mid-to-late first round pick. The perceived upside you have as a sophomore is far greater than as a junior, especially if he doesn’t make monumental improvements. The pressure to produce at a much higher level, while battling projected lottery picks for playing time, makes the risk outweigh the reward in Cauley-Stein’s case.

Alex Poythress – Small Forward/Power Forward
Fair or not, a lot of Poythress’ teammates are going to look at his situation as reason to bolt early. Poythress probably would have been a late first-round pick last year after putting up 11.2 points and six rebounds a game. However, he wasn’t content with how his freshman season went and decided to stick around. His role was reduced to 18 minutes a game this season as he was out-recruited by the arrival of Randle. Cal has tried to use him in different ways and find a way to get more production out of him, to no avail. He did play a vital role in their win against Louisville and winning a national championship would certainly help ease the pain from his sophomore slump, but returning has not paid off for Poythress. As much as his stock has dropped, his decision to leave has probably been made for months now. When playing at his natural position as a power forward, Poythress could help an NBA team as a blue collar reserve. Look for him to get selected in the early-to-middle portion of the second round.

Marcus Lee – Power Forward
This season Lee has averaged 6.1 minutes a game, putting up 2.4 points and 1.5 rebounds a game. As a top 25 recruit who would have been seeing far more playing time at California or Louisville, who he spurned to be a Wildcat, it’s been a tough pill to swallow. He didn’t let that frustration prevent him from being ready when his number was called against Michigan, though. He came in and absolutely assaulted the offensive glass, scoring 10 points, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking two shots to help the Wildcats edge the Wolverines by three. They wouldn’t be alive still if it wasn’t for his outburst. One good game is hardly enough to justify being one-and-done, but Lee is a serious talent with great potential. If he declared, he wouldn’t go undrafted. Remember, Daniel Orton was a first-round pick despite only playing 13.2 minutes a game during his lone season at Kentucky. With Cauley-Stein potentially out for the rest of the season, Lee is positioned to see big minutes in North Texas once again. If he continues to surprise, he may decide to cash in because it’s not like a featured role is waiting for him next season. He’s going to be fighting an uphill battle to start over Lyles and Towns. The only way he stays is if he’s completely confident in his ability to push his stock even higher next year while likely being the third big man in the rotation. That’s a risky proposition – just ask Poythress.

Parker Still Undecided

Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker is projected to be a top four pick by almost every website that covers the draft, but there has always been talk that he could stick around for his sophomore season. Duke’s early exit from the NCAA Tournament increased those odds, as does the appeal of playing with one of Coach K’s best recruiting classes in recent memory, which features his close friend and dominant-low post presence Jahlil Okafor. Parker has just under four weeks to make his decision, and appears to be content to use a lot of it.

“He’s undecided and we know the [NBA’s Early Entry eligibility] deadline is the 27th [of April] so if he’s going to make a decision he has to make it by that date but right now he’s undecided,” Sonny Parker, Jabari’s father, told SNY.tv.

“He’s still in school. He goes to Duke University. He’s hitting the books, man. It’s all about school for him. He has to unwind from the season.

“It’s going to be his decision. I don’t put no pressure on him. He’s gotta make a decision when he’s coming out. He’s 19 years old now, he ain’t in high school right now.”

The fact that Parker is focusing on academics and not pre-draft training, as most of the other prospects whose seasons have come to an end are, is telling. Draft workouts may not hold as much importance for Parker as others, but you still want to go into them prepared and in shape.

If Parker decides to stay, it’s solely because he enjoys the collegiate experience and wants to be a part of a potential national championship team next season. The NBA is calling and he is ready (offensively at least). He doesn’t stand to gain much by returning, but it’s become a regular occurrence for at least one highly-ranked prospect to stick around despite his stock seemingly being peaked. Parker could be the one to do so this year.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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NBA Daily: Looking At The 2018 Draft Class By Tiers

The NBA Draft is a hard thing to predict, especially when it comes to draft order and individual team needs, Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler takes a look at how this draft looks in tiers.

Steve Kyler

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Looking At The 2018 Draft In Tiers

While Mock Drafts are an easy way to look at how the NBA Draft might play out, what they do no do is give a sense of what a specific player might be as a player at the next level. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how some of the notable NBA draft prospects project.

It’s important to point out that situation and circumstance often impact how a player develops, even more so than almost any other variable.

So while the goal here is to give a sense of how some NBA teams and insiders see a draft prospect’s likely potential, it is by no means meant to suggest that a player can’t break out of his projection and become more or sometimes less than his he was thought to be.

Every draft class has examples of players projected to be one thing that turns out to be something else entirely, so these projections are not meant to be some kind of final empirical judgment or to imply a specific draft position, as each team may value prospects differently.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at the 2018 NBA Draft in Tiers.

The Potential Future All-Stars

DeAndre Ayton – Arizona – C – 7’0″ – 245 lbs – 20 yrs
Luka Doncic – Real Madrid – SG – 6’7″ – 218 lbs – 19 yrs
Michael Porter Jr – Missouri – SF/PF – 6’10” – 216 lbs – 20 yrs

Maybe Stars, But Likely High-Level Starters

Jaren Jackson Jr. – Michigan State – PF – 6’10” – 225 lbs – 19 yrs
Marvin Bagley III – Duke – PF – 6’11” – 220 lbs – 19 yrs
Wendell Carter – Duke – PF – 6’10” – 257 lbs – 19 yrs
Mohamed Bamba – Texas – C – 7’0″ – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Collin Sexton – Alabama – PG – 6’2″ – 184 lbs – 19 yrs
Mikal Bridges – Villanova – SG/SF – 6’7″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Robert Williams – Texas A&M – C – 6’9″ – 235 lbs – 21 yrs
Miles Bridges – Michigan State – SF/PF – 6’7″ – 230 lbs – 20 yrs
Dzanan Musa – Cedevita – SF – 6′ 9″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky – SG – 6′ 6″ – 181 lbs – 20 yrs
Trae Young – Oklahoma – PG – 6’2″ – 180 lbs – 20 yrs

Maybe Starters, But Surely Rotation Players

Kevin Knox – Kentucky – SF – 6’9″ – 206 lbs – 19 yrs
Troy Brown – Oregon – SG – 6’6″ – 210 lbs – 19 yrs
Khyri Thomas – Creighton – SG – 6′ 3″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Zhaire Smith – Texas Tech – SG – 6′ 5″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Rodions Kurucs – FC Barcelona B – SF – 6′ 9″ – 220 lbs – 20 yrs
Aaron Holiday – UCLA – PG – 6′ 1″ – 185 lbs – 22 yrs
Jacob Evans – Cincinnati – SF – 6′ 6″ – 210 lbs – 21 yrs
De’Anthony Melton – USC – PG – 6’4″ – 190 lbs – 20 yrs

The Swing For The Fence Prospects – AKA Boom-Or-Bust

Lonnie Walker – Miami – SG – 6’4″ – 206 lbs – 20 yrs
Mitchell Robinson – Chalmette HS – C – 7′ 0″ – 223 lbs – 20 yrs
Anfernee Simons – IMG Academy – SG – 6′ 5″ – 177 lbs – 19 yrs
Jontay Porter – Missouri – C – 6′ 11″ – 240 lbs – 19 yrs
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State – PG – 6′ 2″ – 185 lbs – 20 yrs
Bruce Brown – Miami – SG – 6’5″ – 191 lbs – 22 yrs
Isaac Bonga – Skyliners (Germany) – SF/SG – 6’9″ – 203 lbs – 19 yrs
Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky – SG – 6’5″ – 197 lbs – 20 yrs

Players not listed are simply draft prospects that could be drafted, but don’t project clearly into any of these tiers.

If you are looking for a specific player, check out the Basketball Insiders Top 100 Prospects list, this listing is updated weekly.

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Top Ten NCAA Basketball Juniors: 2017-18

While the NCAA junior class typically provides a limited number of NBA-ready options, this could be the most talented group in quite some time.

Mike Yaffe

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NCAA juniors might appear to yield limited options for NBA draft purposes. But while the “one and done” athletes receive the most hype, there can also be worthy candidates from the third-year ranks due to factors like attrition, injuries, suspensions or transferring to another school.

Although the majority of last season’s top prospects either stayed for their senior year (Grayson Allen, Trevon Bluiett) or went undrafted (Melo Trimble), there was still NBA-ready talent to be had in both Justin Jackson (Sacramento Kings) and Dillon Brooks (Memphis Grizzlies).

This year’s crop should be more fruitful, as many of the athletes listed below were able to showcase their talents in the March Madness tournament; in fact, three of them played in the national championship game itself.

With honorable mention due to Shake Milton (SMU), Jalen Hudson (Florida) and Melvin Frazier (Tulane), here are the top ten NCAA basketball juniors from the 2017-18 season:

10. Allonzo Trier, SG, Arizona

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 4 in., 205 lb.

Despite being overshadowed by top overall prospect DeAndre Ayton, Trier had an impressive campaign of his own that featured personal highs in both scoring (18.1 PPG) and free-throw percentage (.865). He was named the MVP of the PAC-12 tournament, but failed to deliver (10 points, zero three-pointers) in the team’s upset loss to Buffalo to derail the Wildcats’ post-season aspirations.

Trier’s college-level career was extended by a pair of PED-related suspensions, but perhaps his season-high 32 points in his first game back served notice that the infractions are firmly in the past. If nothing else, he should at least be able to represent his team in the NBA dunk contest.

Draft-day projection: mid-to-late second round

9. Moritz Wagner, F/C, Michigan

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 11 in., 235 lb.

Wagner raised eyebrows with his timely three-point shooting in the NCAA tournament, but the reality is that he averaged just over 39 percent from beyond the arc in both his sophomore and junior years. In addition, he set collegiate highs in both rebounds (7.1) and points per game (14.6) in what was a successful, if not breakthrough, campaign.

Although bigs who can shoot from outside are more commonplace than ever, there is surely room in the league for the German who is likely to follow in the footsteps of fellow countrymen Dirk Nowitzki and Maxi Kleber, with the latter being the more apt comparison.

Draft-day projection: mid second round

8. Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 2 in., 190 lb.

Brunson blossomed into the Big East player of the year while staying put at Villanova for three seasons. His 18.9 points and 4.6 assists per game as a junior are nearly double what he averaged as a freshman, and his ascension to running the point for the defending national champs has been impressive.

No one can question Brunson’s passion for the game, but he lacks the scoring ability of comparably-sized point guards Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, both of whom averaged over 24 PPG at the collegiate level. He will also need to improve on the defensive end, but a sustainable NBA career similar to that of Jeff Teague is within reach.

Draft-day projection: early-to-mid second round

7. Chimezie Metu, F/C, USC

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 10 in., 225 lb.

A Lawndale, CA native who stayed local, Metu has averaged nearly the same points (14.8 then 15.7), rebounds (7.6 then 7.4) and blocks (1.4 then 1.6) per contest between his sophomore and junior years. Yet this apparent level of consistency belies a great deal of variation in his contributions on a game-by-game basis, and don’t think the scouts haven’t noticed.

As a case in point, Metu’s final Pac-12 tournament ended with a thud, as he managed a mere seven points and four boards against Arizona, and the Trojans were subsequently left out of the big dance. Much like Texas’ Mo Bamba, he possesses the size and tools to be effective in the NBA, as long as he is willing to put forth the effort.

Draft-day projection: late first-to-early second round

6. Keita Bates-Diop, F, Ohio State

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 7 in., 235 lb.

Bates-Diop responded to his medical redshirt in 2016-17 by becoming the Big Ten’s player of the year, during which he produced 19.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He averaged 26.0 PPG in the NCAA tourney, although he was nearly kept off the glass (three rebounds) in the Buckeyes’ elimination loss to Gonzaga.

While Bates-Diop has drawn comparisons to the Dallas Mavericks’ Harrison Barnes, his burly stature seems more reminiscent of former Mavericks forward Justin Anderson, who has been a bench fixture since his trade to the Philadelphia Sixers. Despite Bates-Diop’s impressive college resume, it will be incumbent upon him to cause matchup problems as a stretch-four at the next level, a stipulation that most likely will eliminate him from lottery pick consideration for now.

Draft-day projection: late first round

5. Jacob Evans, SF, Cincinnati

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 6 in., 210 lb.

Evans brings Swiss Army knife potential at the small forward position that NBA teams covet. His surface-level stats (13.0 PPG, 3.1 APG) aren’t eye-popping, but when you consider that he led the NCAA’s second-ranked defensive team in both categories, it seems feasible that he was limited more by style of play than by personal ability.

Despite his deflated offensive stats, Evans converted 37 percent of his three-point attempts, so comparing him to the Houston Rockets’ Trevor Ariza seems appropriate for his skill set. In the Bearcats’ loss to Nevada in the NCAA tournament, Evans had 19 points and seven rebounds, which coaches would gladly take from him on a regular basis.

Draft-day projection: late first round

4. Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 3 in., 210 lb.

With a 6 ft. 10 in. wingspan (showcased on this block) and the ability to connect at a 41.1 percent clip from outside, Thomas may best exemplify a prototypical “three and D” player in the league. His 15.1 PPG and 1.7 SPG are both indicative of year-over-year improvement, and he possesses the physical dimensions that can make him effective as a pro.

Playing on a Blue Jays squad that got eliminated in their first game of both the conference and the NCAA tournaments afforded Thomas little opportunity to perform in the spotlight, but the level of consistency with which he produced before those early exits cannot be ignored.

Draft-day projection: mid-to-late first round

3. Jerome Robinson, SG, Boston College

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 6 in., 191 lb.

A tall shooter with a slight frame, Robinson brings to mind former NBAer Kerry Kittles, who was a productive member of the New Jersey Nets (before they moved to Brooklyn) for several years. Playing for an average Eagles squad, Robinson provided double-digit scoring in all but three games during his junior season, including a whopping 46 points at Notre Dame.

Although his Boston College team didn’t participate in March Madness, Robinson still averaged 21.7 PPG in three conference tournament games, which included two opponents (Clemson, NC State) that were invited to the big dance. He probably won’t be drafted in the top 15, but he makes for a safe choice among the better NBA teams, which would allow time for him to develop his upper body strength.

Draft-day projection: mid-to-late first round

2. Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 1 in., 185 lb.

After starting his freshman year, Holiday was relegated to the bench as a sophomore before reclaiming the starting gig after incumbent Lonzo Ball departed for the NBA. His junior campaign was remarkable, as he averaged 20.3 PPG and connected on 42.9 percent of his three-point attempts. Over the course of the season, he scored in single digits once while cracking the 30-point barrier on three occasions (including the Pac-12 quarterfinals).

As the youngest brother of current NBA players Jrue and Justin, Aaron Holiday brings a pedigree that should enhance his draft-day value. While he is smallish by league standards, both Yogi Ferrell (as a key reserve) and Kemba Walker (as an All-Star) have proven that so-called limitation is far from being a show-stopper.

Draft-day projection: mid-to-late first round

1. Mikal Bridges, G/F, Villanova

Tale of the tape: 6 ft. 7 in., 210 lb.

A swingman by NBA standards, Bridges nearly doubled his production as a sophomore by averaging 17.7 PPG, which was buoyed by his ability to make three-pointers at a 43.5 percent clip. Although super-sub Donte DiVincenzo dominated the national title game, it was Bridges who led the Wildcat starters with 19 points of his own after being named MVP of the preceding Big East tournament. Much like the aforementioned Jacob Evans, he is capable of stuffing the stat sheet, but Bridges is the better offensive threat of the two.

With his 7 ft. 2 in. wingspan and long-distance accuracy, perhaps Bridges himself said it best when he listed Paul George and Kawhi Leonard as players that “intrigued” him. While mock drafts have varied wildly in terms of projecting the other names on this list, Bridges appears to be a consensus top-ten pick, albeit towards the tail end of that continuum.

Draft-day projection: early-to-mid first round

 

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 NBA 60-Pick Mock Draft – 4/10/18

With the floodgates open and college players entering the draft class left and right, Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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With the NBA regular season coming to a close, there are some draft ramifications to watch.

Should the Milwaukee Bucks stay where they are today, they would not convey their pick to the Phoenix Suns as that pick is protected in such a way that it only conveys if it lands between the 11 and 16th pick.

Equally, the dead heat that exists in the Western Conference playoff race, could shift several teams around the draft board based on how the season actually finishes.

There are also some key dates to keep in mind this draft season:

College players can request information from the NBA Draft Advisory panel on where they might fall in the draft; they must request this information by April 13. The Advisory panel is comprised of well-respected draft talent evaluators that offer would-be draft prospects a draft range valuation based on a survey of NBA executives. Historically their range projections have been pretty accurate, and it’s a way for a college player to understand how the NBA views them as a draft prospect. It’s not a guarantee by any means, simply an informed survey of how NBA teams value them in terms of where they might get drafted, if at all.

The NBA’s Early Entry deadline is April 22. All underclassmen that wish to be included for draft consideration must declare in writing to the NBA, by that date.

The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago on May 15. The annual NBA Draft Combine will get underway on May 16, also in Chicago. In any given draft year, roughly 70 percent of players invited to the Combine end up being drafted into the NBA, so a Combine invite is a significant milestone.

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college, however, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

Here is this week’s 2018 NBA Mock Draft, based on the standings of games played through 4/09/18:

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