SALT LAKE CITY — Wednesday’s official deadline for college basketball players who had declared for the 2019 NBA draft to return to school without losing eligibility was kind to teams in Utah.
All four players from local schools who had declared for the draft decided to return to school (Jayce Johnson was a fifth, but he has since transferred to Marquette), and each player figures to be a key piece on their respective teams in the 2019-20 campaign. Additionally, a number of programs these teams compete against lost impactful players who decided to keep their names in the draft.
Here’s a look at how each of the four players returning will impact their teams next season. Players are listed alphabetically by school.
Yoeli Childs, BYU
In a rather stunning move, Childs announced Wednesday night that he will return to the Cougars for his senior season. The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Childs was BYU’s unquestioned star last season, and how the Cougars planned on replacing his production was a concern.
Instead, new head coach Mark Pope gets back a player who was one of the best in the West Coast Conference a year ago. To boot, he is one of just three players out of the 10 to receive first-team all-conference honors who is returning.
Up front for the Cougars, Luke Worthington has graduated from last year’s team, but Childs will lead a group that includes Gavin Baxter, Dalton Nixon and Kolby Lee. In truth, the bulk of the rotation from last year’s team will be back, including second-leading scorer TJ Haws.
Can Nick Emery be a bigger contributor than he was last season? Will grad transfer Jake Toolson make an impact? With Childs back, can Pope lead the group back to the NCAA Tournament? Momentum is certainly there.
Looking at the WCC, mighty Gonzaga always reloads, but the Bulldogs were hit pretty hard at Wednesday’s deadline. Brandon Clarke, Rui Hachimura and Zach Norvell all kept their names in the draft, with Clarke and Hachimura widely thought to be likely first-round picks. That said, star big man Killian Tillie decided to return after declaring, as did backup big man Filip Petrusev.
No other teams in the WCC had players declare.
Donnie Tillman, Utah
Like many players these days, it was widely believed that Tillman was declaring for the draft simply to get feedback on his game, although word didn’t get out that he’d officially return to the Runnin’ Utes until just a few hours before Wednesday’s deadline.
Tillman split time last season between being in Utah’s starting lineup and coming off the bench (he was named Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year), but it stands to reason he’ll be a more central piece of coach Larry Krystkowiak’s team in the 2019-20 season.
Beside Tillman, the Utes will have a couple of key contributors returning in the frontcourt in sophomores Timmy Allen and Riley Battin, and a number of newcomers, including true freshmen Matt Van Komen, Mikael Jauntunen and Branden Carlson and redshirt freshman Lahat Thioune.
In the Pac-12, Oregon and UCLA each lost three players, while a bunch of other schools lost just one, but possible first-round picks Luguentz Dort (Arizona State) and KZ Okpala (Stanford) are significant losses who will need to be replaced.
Neemias Queta, Utah State
Aggie Nation rejoiced Tuesday when Queta announced via Twitter that he will be returning to Logan. The big man arrived in Cache Valley from Portugal last summer as a relative unknown, but had a remarkable freshman season and was seen as a legitimate NBA prospect, which was validated by his invitation to the league’s draft combine two weeks ago.
Queta struggled there, however, which likely was a key reason he decided to withdraw from the draft. That will be great for Utah State, however, as the defending Mountain West Conference champions will return their primary contributors from the title team, including MWC Player of the Year Sam Merrill. In other words, expectations will be incredibly high this fall.
The conference’s Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, what steps can Queta make over the next year to become a surefire NBA prospect? In the meantime, the Aggies will surely be grateful that he’ll be back for at least one more season.
In the MWC, San Diego State second-leading scorer Jalen McDaniels stayed in the draft, while multiple schools had a player declare only to return to school.
Jerrick Harding, Weber State
Like Tillman, Harding’s decision to declare for the draft was thought to be more of an exploratory process than anything else. Nevertheless, it’s big for the Wildcats to have him back after he received Big Sky first-team honors for the second year in a row in 2019.
In addition to Harding, Weber State’s second-leading scorer from last season, Cody John, will be back to form an excellent backcourt, although the third and fourth-leading scorers, big men Brekkott Chapman and Zach Braxton, graduated.
Can Harding be great enough to lead the Wildcats back to the NCAA Tournament?
Portland State’s Holland Woods was the only other player from the Big Sky to declare for the draft, but he returned to school.