Johnny Juzang’s buzzer-beating return makes UCLA big winner — but not only one — at deadline to withdraw from NBA Draft
The buzzer-beater lately has not been an uncommon occurrence with UCLA basketball, as too many of the team’s fans will recall with despair. This was not Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs nailing a 40-footer to end the Bruins’ season, however, nor Stanford’s Oscar da Silva taking advantage of .8 seconds that maybe didn’t exist to nearly cost them a spot in the NCAA Tournament. This was less dramatic than either, but just as impactful and far better news in Westwood.
Late Wednesday, not long before the NCAA deadline for basketball players to retain college eligibility, emerging star Johnny Juzang announced he would withdraw from the 2021 NBA Draft and play another season at UCLA. He did this with the declaration, with Instagram his venue of choice, that “3’s back, 4’s up.”
The college basketball world got the message.
Juzang’s announcement, coupled with an earlier one from veteran center Cody Riley, means the Bruins will have back all eight rotation players from the Final Four defeat against Gonzaga, as well as incoming transfer Myles Johnson from Rutgers and five-star forward recruit Peyton Watson, currently with the USA Basketball entry in the FIBA U-19 World Cup. It means UCLA should be among the leading contenders for the 2021-22 NCAA championship that will be decided next April in New Orleans.
Juzang was averaging 14 points on 41.2 percent shooting when the 2020 NCAA Tournament began but, over the course of its 17 days, he averaged 22.8 points on 50.9 percent shooting. He produced more 20-point games in the tournament than he had in the whole of the regular season. He even hinted he could become a more reliable deep shooter, which could be the key to a long pro career. Juzang made 37.5 percent of his threes in the NCAAs, up from 33.9 percent in the first 49 games of his college career. If he can improve to better than 40 percent, his versatility as a scorer could make him a first-round prospect for the 2022 draft.
UCLA was not the only winner from “deadline day” – not the official NBA date by which prospects must determine whether they wish to be part of the 2021 draft but, rather, the one imposed by the NCAA, which college players must meet in order to retain Division I eligibility.
All of college basketball won big as the deadline approached, with numerous top talents choosing to spend another season pursuing the NCAA Tournament and Final Four. It is possible some of them found the new college environment more inviting, with the possibility to earn money from their names, images and likenesses now added to the traditional rewards of tuition, room, board, books, fees and cost-of-attendance payments.
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These were the teams that ranked directly behind the Bruins in the good-news department.
2. Kansas. There didn’t seem to be much of a chance wing Ochai Abagi would remain on the draft list, but for the Jayhawks to get back him and transfer guard Remy Martin could make the Jayhawks a championship contender. Promising forward Jalen Wilson had withdrawn a week earlier. KU will need to establish an order of sorts: Who is this team’s first option? Second? Is there enough shooting? But there are lots of possible answers.
3. Oral Roberts. Max Abmas, the nation’s leading scorer last season and the player most responsible for the Golden Eagles’ improbable Sweet 16 run, chose to return for another college season. He made 100 3-point shots and averaged 24.5 points as a sophomore, and he topped his average in each of three tournament games against high-major defenses from Ohio State, Florida and Arkansas.
4. Michigan. Center Hunter Dickinson was a second-team All-American during his freshman season, powering through opponents for averages of 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds on a team that won the Big Ten regular season and reached the NCAA Elite Eight. The Wolverines also got DeVante’ Jones “back” from the draft; he’s transferring in from Coastal Carolina, where he averaged 19.3 points and 7.2 rebounds – as a 6-1 guard.
5. Texas Tech. With coach Chris Beard leaving for Texas and Mac McClung off to the NBA Draft, the Red Raiders really didn’t need another loss. And with many NBA Draft analysts projecting Terrence Shannon to be a solid second-round pick, it seemed possible, even likely, he would keep his name on the early entry list. But Shannon announced on deadline day he would play again for the Red Raiders. He averaged 12.9 points last season but is capable of continued improvement as his offensive game grows.
6. Ohio State. The Buckeyes kept the most important member of their squad, forward EJ Liddell, and that ordinarily would have put them near the top of this list. But they also lost an important guard, Duane Washington, who averaged 16.4 points for the Buckeyes. That’ll hurt some, but there were moments last season when the Buckeyes were too reliant on him to create opportunities for himself. With rock-solid Jamari Wheeler transferring in from Penn State, they’ll have one of the nation’s best defensive guards and plenty of scoring options, led by Liddell, who was good for 16.2 points and 47.4 percent shooting.
7. Baylor. The Bears lost a championship team’s worth of elite perimeter players to the draft, but the return of versatile 6-9 forward Matthew Mayer could make them powerful once again. His game-changing performances at West Virginia and Oklahoma State (a combined 37 points and 12 rebounds) in the last week of the regular season helped Baylor earn a No. 1 seed. They’ll need that more often now. He’s talented enough to do it, if he embraces the responsibility.
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