By AARON BEARD – AP Basketball Writer
Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, Duke’s AJ Griffin and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis spent last season demonstrating their NBA potential to large collegiate-level audiences, including at the NCAA tournament.
Shaedon Sharpe ended up taking a different route to next week’s draft.
He never played a second for Kentucky before making a surprise departure for the NBA, but he may be the first name to be mentioned in this group of lottery prospects.
Here’s a look at some of the best wingers in the draft:
The 6-6 sophomore blossomed in his sophomore season to become ESPN’s No. 8 draft prospect.
STRENGTHS: Mathurin was a second-team Associated Press All-American with outstanding athletics and a reliable jumper. He averaged 17.7 points while shooting 38.3% on 3-pointers in two seasons. He had a big March moment, scoring 30 points and coming through in the clutch to help Arizona survive an overtime win over TCU in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
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“I used March Madness to show my talent,” Mathurin said Thursday. “And I felt like there’s a big opportunity for me for people to see what I can do.”
CONCERNS: While his length offers defensive potential, Mathurin could also use more consistency at that end of the floor, with ESPN collegiate basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla noting earlier this year that Mathurin was good at reading and handling the pick and roll has room to grow.
The 6-6 small forward, son of former NBA player and current Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin, offers wide shot, length and defense potential.
STRENGTHS: Griffin, who turns 19 in August, is ESPN’s No. 9 draft prospect with an average of 10.4 points. His shot was terrific, the newcomer hitting 44.7% of his 3-pointers and scoring a dozen games with at least three 3s. There were also flashes of ability to take over games, highlighted by his 27 points in February’s game against rivals North Carolina.
CONCERNS: There is a limited sample size to rank a player who has missed most of their last two preseasons due to injuries. He also needs to develop outside of dribbling to complement his reach.
The 6-5 sophomore went from roleplaying off the bench to unexpected star for Wisconsin.
STRENGTHS: Davis plays with aggression and toughness on both ends. As ESPN’s No. 11 draft prospect Davis averaged 19.7 points and 8.2 rebounds to become an AP First Team All-American while proving capable of creating his own shot or searching for his teammates.
His 37-point aggregate performance in a road win over then-No.3 Purdue in January exemplified his advantages, with Boilermakers coach Matt Painter calling him “the definition of a two-way player”.
CONSIDERATIONS: Davis needs to improve his outside shooting after scoring just 30.6% on 3s in his last 15 games, including 10 of 48 (20.8%).
The 6-5 Watch took an unusual route to drafting after a semester-long residency in Kentucky.
STRENGTHS: He was considered the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2022 before reclassifying and signing up with the Wildcats in January with a stated plan to play the 2022-23 season. Hall-of-Fame coach John Calipari gushed about the Canadian’s athletics and shooting, with Sharpe showing off his ability to shoot around the rim, hit the dribble and hit from the outside in the prep ranks. As ESPN’s No. Ranked 7th draft prospect, he measured just under 7 feet wingspan at the NBA draft combine.
CONCERNS: Sharpe has not played since a nationally televised high school game in October and after his decision to drop out has little work left to compare with other top pros.
– OUSMANE DIENG: The 19-year-old Frenchman spent last season in the Australian National Basketball League’s Next Stars program for elite prospects. Ranked 12th by ESPN, the 6-10 Dieng has intriguing perimeter skills as a potential lottery pick. But he needs to develop his outside shot (27% from 3-point range in the NBL) and add mass (205 pounds).
–MALAKI BRANHAM: The 6-5 Ohio State freshman averaged 13.7 points while shooting 41.6% from 3-point range and 83% from the foul line. He might be late in the lottery and is ESPN’s No. 13 draft prospect.
– OCHAI AGBAJI: The 6-6 senior was a first-team AP All-American and the most outstanding player in the Final Four when Kansas won the NCAA championship. Agbaji improved his game last season averaging 18.8 points and 5.1 rebounds while also proving to be a top-notch defender, making him a first-round contender and ranked No. 16 on ESPN.
— TARI EASON: The 6-8 transfer as a sophomore and Cincinnati gave LSU a 7-2 wingspan and the versatility to defend multiple positions, part of the reason he was a first-round prospect and ESPN’s No. 17 prospect is.
— JADEN HARDY AND MARJON BEAUCHAMP: Both are first-round inductees of the G-League Ignite development program for candidates who bypassed college basketball.
AP sportswriter Gary B. Graves of Louisville, Kentucky contributed to this report.
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