Friedlander: ACC stronger after key players make 11th-hour decisions to spurn NBA Draft
11th-hour decisions help ACC come through the NBA pre-draft process
Reece Beekman is no stranger to buzzer-beaters.
As a Virginia sophomore in February 2022, he stunned the Crazies at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium and Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils by hitting a game-winning 3-pointer with only 1.1 seconds remaining.
So it should come as no surprise that the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year chose to milk the clock down as far as he could before making a decision on whether to remain in the NBA Draft or return to the Cavaliers for his senior season.
Beekman withdrew his name from the draft only a few hours before the 11:59 p.m. deadline on Wednesday.
He was 1 of 2 prominent ACC players to wait until, almost literally, the 11th hour before announcing his intentions.
Like Beekman, Syracuse guard Judah Mintz and Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly tested the NBA waters and found them either lukewarm or too cold to dive all the way in.
Their decisions to return, though not entirely unexpected, are the best news possible for both of their respective schools – especially Syracuse and Tech, which will be looking to make fresh starts under new coaches Adrian Autry and Damon Stoudamire in 2023-24.
It’s also a win for the ACC.
As much grief as the conference has taken for its collective performance on the court over the past couple of seasons, the last thing it needed was to have its product watered down even more by any surprise departures.
It was a foregone conclusion that stars Isaiah Wong, Terquavion Smith, Dereck Lively II and Dariq Whitehead would not be back. They all announced their intention to remain in the NBA Draft right away.
The question was how many others would follow?
There are only 58 spots available in this year’s 2-round draft and only those taken in the 1st round are assured guaranteed contracts. It doesn’t take a math major to crunch the numbers and realize that the odds of staying in the draft are squarely against those on the margins.
For most, there’s more to be made in name, image and likeness earnings than by turning pro, going undrafted and spending next season in the G League. Or halfway around the world.
It’s a realization that’s led all of the ACC’s other big fish – with the exception of Wake Forest freshman Bobi Klintman, who must have been given assurance by at least 1 NBA team that he’d be taken in the 1st round – to keep swimming in the small pond for at least another year.
Making the ACC’s talent pool that much deeper in the process.
Jeremy Roach is back at Duke, joining the 5-star trio of Kyle Filipowski, Tyrese Proctor and Mark Mitchell, none of whom even bothered applying for the draft.
Nijel Pack and Omier Norchad, the stars of Miami’s surprise Final Four run, are still with the Hurricanes. Clemson’s PJ Hall, Pittsburgh’s Blake Hinson and NC State’s Casey Morsell are also back with their original teams.
Now Beekman, Mintz and Kelly have joined them, albeit with much more of a flair for the dramatic.
The return of Kelly, a 6-6 sophomore who led the Yellow Jackets at 14.4 points per game while shooting 37.9% from 3-point range, was a no-brainer. He wasn’t invited to the Combine and hasn’t been mentioned on any major mock drafts.
Beekman and Mintz were a different story.
Both raised their stock with strong Combine performances and have consistently been projected as mid-2nd-round picks – although at one point, DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony had Mintz sneaking into the end of the 1st round.
Because of Beekman’s defensive prowess and Mintz’s high ceiling, both would likely have been picked and stood a realistic chance of making a roster in the right situation.
But apparently they were told that the risk wasn’t worth the gamble.
And they listened.
Kelly’s return gives Stoudamire a solid foundation of 4 returners upon which to build. Mintz’s decision to remain in Orange is even bigger. With the addition of Notre Dame transfer JJ Starling, Autry’s 1st Syracuse team will feature 1 of the best backcourts in the ACC, even after losing Joseph Girard as a transfer to Clemson.
Both teams can now head into the new season with realistic hopes of getting back to the NCAA Tournament.
Qualifying for the postseason hasn’t been a problem for UVa under coach Tony Bennett and it likely wouldn’t have been even without Beekman. But with him still in the lineup, the Cavaliers are in a much better position to gain redemption after yet another embarrassing 1st-round NCAA exit.
Especially if they find themselves needing somebody to make something happen just before the clock strikes midnight.