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As NBA Draft nears, ex-Arizona guard Brandon Williams looking elsewhere
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ARIZONA BASKETBALL

As NBA Draft nears, ex-Arizona guard Brandon Williams looking elsewhere

Down near the end of the 2021 NBA Draft early entrant list, a scroll that includes 19 Pac-12 players and 190 other collegians even after official withdrawal deadlines passed, sits Arizona’s lone representative.

Sort of.

Brandon Williams, who last played for Arizona in 2018-19, is technically available for selection in Thursday’s NBA Draft, according to an official NBA release. But his stepfather, Chris Wright, said Williams is working out to prepare for the G League draft or other options ahead.

“Been away from the game for a while so he is on a totally different journey than the others,” Wright said in a text to the Star. “But I’m sure his dream will eventually come true.”

Projected as a five-star recruit early in his high school career before a congenital knee issue sidelined him for nearly the full 2017 calendar year, Williams still managed to become the Wildcats’ second leading scorer (11.8 points) as a freshman guard in 2018-19 despite missing six games when his knee flared up in midseason.

Williams had a second surgery on his knee after that season and spent all of 2019-20 on the UA bench. He returned home to Southern California in the spring of 2020 and never came back, his departure from the Wildcats becoming official last September.

Since then, Williams has remained in Southern California to work out and aim for a professional career next season. He appeared in the Tampa Bay Pro Combine from June 3-5 alongside other pro prospects such as USC’s Tahj Eaddy and Washington’s Quade Green, averaging 9 points and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 29.0% over four games.

Williams’ workouts have gone well, his stepfather said. And more importantly, Williams is physically ready to play.

Not in the NBA, at least at this point. But somewhere.

“He’s 100% healthy, and has a lot going on behind the scenes,” Wright said. “He will let the public know once everything is confirmed. Bright days ahead.”

While Arizona likely won’t have a pick for the second time in the past three NBA Drafts — Bennedict Mathurin could’ve been taken had he not decided to return to school — the Pac-12 is expected to have three first-round picks and up to five or six draftees overall.

USC forward Evan Mobley is expected to be taken with one of the first few picks, as he was long before his freshman season. And Oregon guard Chris Duarte just might jump into the lottery — at least in part because of how he played against Arizona.

Duarte hit a game-winning 3-pointer despite a rough overall outing in Oregon’s 63-61 win over Arizona on Feb. 13 at McKale Center, then poured in 22 points while hitting 4 of 5 3s in the Ducks’ 80-69 win over Arizona on March 1.

It is those sort of experiences that Duarte hopes will attract a high draft pick, since his age works against him in conventional, upside-minded NBA draft thinking.

“I’m ready to go right now, ready to contribute to a team on whatever they need,” Duarte said during his NBA predraft media conference. “I’m 24 years old. My question (to teams) is, `If you want to win right now, go ahead and take me. If you want to win six, eight years later, go ahead and take an 18-year-old kid and develop him.’ It takes time.”

According to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, the Warriors could be a fit for Duarte at No. 14 because Steph Curry’s expiring contract in 2022 means drafting a teenager could be difficult.

“Adding a ready-made contributor like Duarte who can make shots, play off the ball and be competent defensively likely makes the most sense,” Givony wrote.

Further down in the draft pool, departing seniors Chris Smith (UCLA) and McKinley Wright (Colorado) are likewise hoping their experience can generate a pick of any sort while other potential draftees such as Mobley, Stanford’s Ziaire Williams and ASU’s Josh Christopher have just one college season behind them.

Here’s a breakdown of the Pac-12 players who have filed for the 2021 NBA Draft:

Likely first-rounders

Evan Mobley, USC

Age: 20

Size: 7 feet, 215 points

2020-21 stats: 16.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.9 bpg, 57.8 FG%

Against Arizona: 21 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.5 bpg

Projected pick: 2 (The Athletic), 3 (ESPN, Sports Illustrated, NBADraft.net, The Ringer, CBS)

He said it: “He’s absolutely a Tier One guy who profiles as a future All-Star. Offensively, he can put the ball on the deck and attack. He has the potential to shoot it. He’s a pretty good passer. Defensively, his lateral quickness is terrific on the perimeter, and his hip flexibility is outrageous.” — Sam Vecenie, The Athletic

Chris Duarte, Oregon

Age: 24

Size: 6-6, 190

2020-21 stats: 17.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.7 apg, .532 FG%, .434 3FG%

Against Arizona: 16 ppg, 6.5 rpg

Projected pick: 14 (ESPN), 15 (Sports Illustrated, NBADraft.net), 19 (The Ringer), 22 (CBS), 26 (The Athletic)

He said it: “He is one of the oldest players projected to be drafted and looks like a plug-and-play fit thanks to his strong perimeter shooting, passing and defensive playmaking instincts.” — Jonathan Givony, ESPN

Ziaire Williams, Stanford

Age: 19

Size: 6-8, 215

2020-21 stats: 10.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, .374 FG%, .291 3FG%

Against Arizona: 16 points, 2 rebounds 4 assists on Dec. 19 at Santa Cruz, California. Williams did not play against Arizona in McKale Center on Jan. 28.

Projected pick: 14 (The Athletic), 16 (Sports Illustrated), 17 (ESPN), 23 (CBS), 18 (NBADraft.net), 21 (The Ringer)

He said it: “His combination of positional height, skill level, and shooting ability has always been tantalizing for scouts, but questions surrounding his injury history and lack of consistency dating back to high school persist.” – Jeremy Woo, Sports Illustrated

Probable second-rounder

Josh Christopher, Arizona State

Age: 19

Size: 6-5, 215

2020-21 stats: 14.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, .432 FG%, .305 3FG%

Against Arizona: 11.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 spg

Projected pick: 29 (The Athletic), 34 (ESPN, SI), 35 (The Ringer, NBADraft.net), 41 (CBS)

He said it: “Scoring efficiency at Arizona State wasn’t great, but Christopher’s got great size for a scoring guard and indeed he can really score it. He was something of a ball-stopper in college but in the right system there’s talent and production to extract from a prospect of his caliber.” — Kyle Boone, CBS

Sleepers

McKinley Wright, Colorado

Age: 22

Size: 6-0, 196

2020-21 stats: 15.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 5.7 apg, 48.0 FG%, 30.1 3FG%

Against Arizona: 13.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.0 apg

Projected pick: 56 (The Ringer), 57 (ESPN), Not Drafted (SI, CBS, NBADraft.net)

They said it: “Tough-minded player who has a hunger to make stops, though he needs to improve as a perimeter scorer.” – Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer

Chris Smith, UCLA

Age: 21

Size: 6-9, 215

2020-21 stats: 12.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 43.8% FG%, 50.0 3FG% (eight games only)

Against Arizona: Did not play in either game against UA because of a torn ACL

Projected pick: Not drafted (consensus)

They said it: “That (ACL) injury robbed him of the opportunity to truly showcase his improvement after he went through the 2020 predraft process. Nonetheless, Smith is a rangy athlete with a wingspan over seven feet and the multi-positional chops to play at the next level.” — David Cobb, CBS

Not expected to be drafted Isaac Bonton, G, Washington State

Naz Carter, F, Washington

Oscar da Silva, F, Stanford

Tahj Eaddy, G, USC

LJ Figueroa, F, Oregon

Quade Green, G, Washington

Amauri Hardy, G, Oregon

Ethan Thompson, G, Oregon State

Brandon Williams, G, Arizona

Bryce Wills, G Stanford

Withdrew from draft Warith Alatishe, F, Oregon State

Marcus Bagley, F, ASU

Maurice Calloo, F, Oregon State

Johnny Juzang, G, UCLA

Remy Martin, G, ASU (transferred to Kansas)

Isaiah Mobley, F, USC

Cody Riley, F, UCLA

Roman Silva, C, Oregon State

Alonzo Verge, G, ASU (transferred to Nebraska)

Contact sports reporter Bruce Pascoe at 573-4146 or bpascoe@tucson.com. On Twitter @brucepascoe


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