Dribble Handoff: The underclassmen who should withdraw from the NBA Draft and return to college basketball


The deadline for college underclassmen to declare for the NBA Draft passed on May 30 with dozens of college basketball players positioned to test the waters at the combine this month ahead of the draft on July 29. Before draft night, however, another deadline looms large for several players and their college programs.

This year’s withdrawal deadline for college players who wish to return to school is July 7. That means the next month will be critical to determining what some rosters end up looking like next season. It will also be critical to determining the futures of some talented young players who will have to decide whether they are ready to leave the college game behind..

For this week’s edition of the dribble handoff, our writers are issuing some advice to a few young players going through the pre-draft process. While stars like Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs and USC’s Evan Mobley are sure bets to be lottery picks, there are several other underclassmen going through the pre-draft process whose stock remains up for debate.

Here, our writers are naming the underclassmen they believe would benefit most from returning to school.

Cisse entered his freshman season as a five-star prospect and projected one-and-done first-round pick, but it became very clear very early that he was rawer than most realized. Was he a useful player at Memphis? Yes, in spots — evidence being that Cisse was the American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year. But he only averaged 18.6 minutes per contest, which ranked eighth on the team, largely because he was often a real liability due to a lack of skill on offense and questionable instincts on defense that were compounded by an inability to guard in space. And the fact that he shot just 32.4% from the free throw line also made it difficult for Penny Hardaway to keep Cisse on the court late in close games. 

Simply put, as my friend Fran Fraschilla once said about another raw prospect, Cisse is two years away from being two years away. And if he remains in the 2021 NBA Draft, the truth is that he’s likely to go unselected and end up in the G League or some other place well short of the NBA. If he’s fine with that, it’s fine with me. And if he just wants out of Memphis, that’s fine with me too. But it’s hard to argue Cisse wouldn’t be better served spending more time in college, at Memphis or literally anywhere else, so that he can continue developing against amateurs, many of whom he can physically overwhelm despite his limitations, rather than face professionals every day who are likely, with few exceptions, far advanced and just generally better players at this stage of his career. — Gary Parrish

Primo entered the season at 6-foot-6, 190 pounds and was an under-the-radar pro prospect. In 19 games he shot 38.1% on 118 3-point attempts and finished with averages of 8.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 0.8 assists. He needs another year. More specifically, he needs another year in Nate Oats’ system. Primo would be a prime sophomore-season breakout candidate with the Crimson Tide in 2021-22. Alabama is set to lose a handful of important players; if Primo returned, he’d have a shot at doubling his averages and boosting his stock in the process. 

Keep in mind the Tide earned a No. 2 seed after winning the SEC — and are set to be the best team in the league again next season. He’s a player that’s not a household name yet, not even in the SEC, but there is a lot more to unfurl with his game if he opted to come back and play for one of the more forward-thinking tacticians in major college hoops.  — Matt Norlander

There weren’t many bright spots for Arizona State last season. Picked to finish second in the preseason in the Pac-12, the Sun Devils went 11-14, tied for the third-fewest wins in league play, and underwhelmed as much as any team in college hoops. Yet Marcus Bagley was a rare bright spot on this team, averaging 10.8 points and 6.2 boards per game while making 34.7% of his 3-pointers. With a 6-8 frame strong role-playing potential, he fits the mold of a 3-and-D wing the NBA so desperately covets. The problem is that teams want to see more from him before betting first-round assets on him. 

He played in only 12 games because of injury and in those games, he was always the third or fourth option on a team that was painfully mediocre. Returning for a sophomore season and showcasing himself as a top option could do wonders for his stock. Now, a chance to showcase himself in pre-draft workouts for teams might be enough to persuade teams he’s worthy of a top-30 pick, and right now he’s somewhere just outside that range. Ultimately, the leap he could make from a strong second season in Tempe could do him and his pro prospects a huge favor. — Kyle Boone

Hunter Dickinson, Michigan

Looking back, it’s hard to believe Hunter Dickinson only registered as a four-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite considering how effective he was for Michigan as a freshman. The 7-foot-1 behemoth finished six double-doubles for the Big Ten regular season champions and played a critical role in helping the the Wolverines secure a No. 1 seed. In total, Dickinson averaged 14.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks while hitting 59.8% of his shots from the field. But don’t confuse his standout freshman campaign with NBA readiness.

It’s a tired truth to most basketball fans by now that centers in the modern NBA need to be able to hoist 3-pointers and defend the pick-and-roll. Dickinson is no exception. He attempted only four 3-pointers this past season — missing them all — and will need to improve his lateral quickness and rough assist-to-turnover ratio before he’s NBA ready. With the development of an outside shot and improvement of his off-hand around the rim, Dickinson can make himself valuable enough offensively to play through whatever defensive limitations may linger. But until those improvements happen, he’d be better playing for an elite college program than scrapping for playing time at the professional level. — David Cobb





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