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    Monday, July 15, 2024

    Four Huskies might go in next week’s NBA Draft

    In this March 22 file photo, UConn's Donovan Clingan looks to pass the ball during the second half of an NCAA tournament game against Stetson in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
    In thia April 6 file photo, UConn guard Stephon Castle (5) drives as Alabama guard Mark Sears defends during the NCAA tournament Final Four in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson )
    In this April 3 file photo, UConn's Tristen Newton smiles during a parade to celebrate the team's NCAA basketball championship in Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    In this April 8 file photo, Purdue guard Lance Jones (55) vies for the ball with UConn guard Cam Spencer (12) during the NCAA tournament Final Four in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

    Next week’s NBA Draft will be a monumental occasion for several UConn players as well as the program.

    As many as four Huskies could be selected in the 2024 NBA Draft, which starts Wednesday, June 26, with the first round at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and then shifting to ESPN’s Seaport District Studios in New York the following day for the second round.

    Donovan Clingan and Stephon Castle are projected to be top 10 selections, while Cam Spencer and Tristen Newton are also potential draft picks, likely at best to go in the second round.

    Coach Dan Hurley is hearing good things about his players.

    “The teams that really love these guys, especially Steph and Donovan, you could tell because they’re doing their homework,” Hurley said. “Obviously, you can’t see them getting past maybe the first five or six picks, I’d imagine.

    “And then Tristen and Cam are both going to be, hopefully, drafted into great spots for them.”

    All signs point to Clingan and Castle becoming the 16th and 17th lottery picks in program history and the third and fourth since 2021. New Orleans selected Jordan Hawkins at No. 14 last June and James Bouknight went No. 11 to Charlotte in 2021.

    Clingan and Castle are two of 21 players to receive invitations to the green room at Barclays Center.

    Mock drafts consistently list the UConn duo in the top seven.

    According to ESPN, the Atlanta Hawks are considering Clingan, a 7-foot-2 center from Bristol, as the top overall pick. A Husky has never been the No. 1 choice. Zaccharie Risacher and Alex Sarr, two international players, also are strong candidates.

    Clingan is unlikely to drop lower than No. 7 (Portland). Houston is a possible landing spot at No. 3.

    Castle, who left UConn after a stellar freshman season, is an intriguing player in the NBA’s eyes. A 6-6 guard, he’s projected to be selected in the No. 4 (San Antonio) to No. 6 (Charlotte) range.

    Newton and Spencer are in a more unpredictable position than their teammates. They’ve been working out for different NBA teams and also attended the pre-draft camp in Chicago in May.

    Indiana was the latest workout stop for Newton, an All-American guard and two-time national champion. Newton met with the Pacers, who own three second round picks (36th, 49th and 50th) on Tuesday. He posted on social media that he visited 12 NBA teams.

    Newton and Spencer are in a similar situation as former Huskies Andre Jackson and Adama Sanogo, who were unsure about their status while going through the pre-draft process last year.

    Jackson ended up being taken in the second round (36th overall) by Orlando, which traded him to Milwaukee. Sanogo signed an undrafted free agent contract with Chicago.

    “Andre, Adama and Cam and myself, we have the same type of workouts – three-on-three, six people and who knows where you’re going to get drafted,” said Newton during a video interview with the Pacers. “So it’s very fun having unique situations and seeing how they compare. Cam came here earlier and he told me how it was going to be. It was a fun little workout.

    “I feel like we’re all blessed to be in the situation that we’re in and just thankful for the opportunity.”

    Of the four UConn players in this NBA Draft, Spencer, a sharpshooting guard, is the biggest long shot. He may take the undrafted free agent route.

    A good fit generally is more important than where or if a player is drafted.

    “You’re looking more for really great organizations,” Hurley said. “Organizations that do a great job developing players and can simulate somewhat of what we do here at UConn, so you don’t have players in the situation that James Bouknight finds himself in.

    “You’re looking more for organizations rather than do they go first, third, seventh, 35th.”

    Bouknight was waived by Charlotte in February.

    Hurley will be at the Barclays Center on Wednesday to celebrate with his players.

    The last time two UConn players earned lottery pick status in the same draft came in 2012 when Andre Drummond went 9th to Detroit and Houston took Jeremy Lamb at No. 12.

    “It will just be great to share that day with at least two of our guys and hope that maybe a third guy slips into day one,” Hurley said. “I think the thing that you look forward to the most is just the emotion the guys are going to experience that night. You just hope that we get four guys drafted in great spots for them.”

    Alex Karaban, who tested the NBA Draft waters before deciding to return to UConn, will be rooting for his now former teammates.

    He gave his own scouting report.

    “Steph and Donovan, it’s pretty clear,” Karaban said. “I think they both should be top five picks. Donovan speaks for himself, his size, the way he moves. Everyone knows about him. Then Steph, he was the best defender in college basketball last season. I think the NBA really wants defense. So, if you want defense, he’s the perfect guy to get.

    “Then Cam, he’s a winner. Just the way he can shoot and create shots for himself, and he’s competitive as hell. … And he has the right mindset that will continue to help him to get better in the NBA for whenever he starts his path.

    “Tristen, he’s got the accolades – All-American, Bob Cousy award. … He was the best point guard in college basketball last year. If he’s still up on the draft, I think you should take him.

    “And, of course, they’re all national champions. Tristen and Donovan are two-time natty champs. They’re certified winners and they came from the best program in college basketball. I’ll be rooting for them on draft night and I’ll be super excited to see where they go.”

    News and notes

    Recruiting season is heating up as UConn pursues Class of 2025 players.

    Highly-regarded 6-4 combination guard Meleek Thomas was scheduled to begin an official visit to UConn on Wednesday. A top 10 recruit, he is from Pittsburgh and plans to play for Overtime Elite for his senior year. He’ll visit Arkansas on June 25.

    UConn also is recruiting four-star guard Acaden Lewis, who’ll reportedly make an unofficial visit to the Storrs campus on Tuesday. He’s received scholarship offers from several top programs including UConn, Kentucky, Alabama, North Carolina, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee. He attends Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.

    g.keefe@theday.com

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