Iowa State Cyclones

Best time for college basketball players to leave NCAA for NBA is ASAP

Patience is a virtue college basketball players can't afford

Iowa State freshman Talen Horton-Tucker speaks to reporters Friday at the NBA Combine at Quest Multisport in Chicago. Horton-Tucker is leaving ISU for pro basketball. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)
Iowa State freshman Talen Horton-Tucker speaks to reporters Friday at the NBA Combine at Quest Multisport in Chicago. Horton-Tucker is leaving ISU for pro basketball. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)

CHICAGO — The longer college basketball players stay in school, the harder it is for them to play in the NBA.

Iowa State’s Marial Shayok and Talen Horton-Tucker both participated in last week’s NBA Combine here. Shayok spent five seasons in college basketball, three at Virginia, two at Iowa State. Horton-Tucker played one season at ISU, then turned pro.

Shayok was first-team All-Big 12. Horton-Tucker was honorable mention. Shayok averaged 18.7 points per game, Horton-Tucker 11.8. Shayok shot 49.6 percent from the field, 38.6 percent from 3-point range, 87.8 percent from the foul line. Horton-Tucker shot 40.6, 30.8 and 62.5 percent, respectively, in those three categories.

Shayok scored 23 points in 40 minutes in the Cyclones’ 62-59 loss to Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Horton-Tucker scored two points in 15 minutes.

Horton-Tucker appears far likelier of the two to be chosen in the June 20 NBA draft. He turned 18 last November. Shayok will be 24 in July.

Horton-Tucker supposedly has more upside. An ESPN.com mock draft called him “a hefty playmaker who can shift anywhere from floor general to power forward. He’s competitive and powerful with an excellent feel for the game, polished handle and developing 3-point stroke.”

If only Iowa State could have gotten another season out of Horton-Tucker and seen if those projections came closer to fruition before the player bid Ames adieu.

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But that’s college basketball and that’s what comes with recruiting blue-chippers. Fourteen of the 30 players tabbed as 2019 first-rounders in the latest Sports Illustrated mock draft were freshmen, and another two were teens from Europe.

Almost all projected first-rounders here at the combine skipped the five-on-five scrimmages Thursday and Friday. Horton-Tucker was among them. Those who did play have more left to prove. They’re also older.

One was Iowa’s Tyler Cook, a junior. Shayok was another, someone fighting to show NBA people he isn’t too old to add to a roster.

Look at Giannis Antetokounmpo, the MVP candidate of the Milwaukee Bucks. He is his sixth pro season. He is 24.

Shayok played his way from the Portsmouth Invitational for seniors to this week’s G League Elite Camp to the Combine. His road to the NBA is a straight uphill line, and he is dealing with it.

“There are some pros to (being a senior),” he said here Thursday. “I’m going to be ready to come in and contribute right away. My IQ of the game is maybe a little higher than some of the freshmen. I’m really confident in the way I play at both ends. I’ll be ready to go.”

However, teams look at the ceilings of the freshmen and the seniors, and they roll with the kids. Shayok almost surely will never be an NBA All-Star. Horton-Tucker probably won’t, either, but pro teams are always looking for someone with a glimmer of that potential.

While freshman combine invitees like Indiana’s Romeo Langford and Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis skipped the scrimmages here, among those who played were juniors Kyle Guy of Virginia and Jared Harper of Auburn.

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Last month, those two battled in the national semifinals. Guy scored 15 points and played 39 minutes in the Cavaliers’ national-title win over Texas Tech. Harper scored 26 points to lead Auburn to an Elite Eight upset of Kentucky, which has three freshmen projected as first-rounders.

Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy, both seniors and first-team All-Big Ten seniors this season, couldn’t get as much as an invitation to the Combine.

You fully understand why Iowa freshman guard Joe Wieskamp declared himself draft-eligible this spring so he could get in some individual workouts with NBA teams before returning to the Hawkeyes.

Wieskamp and everyone closest to him know he can’t wait too long if he’s going to make it to basketball mecca, aka the NBA. He has to be aiming at next season as his Hawkeyes finale for his best shot to get where he ultimately wants to go.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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