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2023 NBA Draft: Purdue’s Zach Edey, UCLA’s Amari Bailey top prospects facing tough stay-or-go decisions

Every year college players test the NBA Draft waters, mulling over tough stay-or-go decisions that impact college and professional rosters alike. But here’s the truth: most players who are seen as “on the fence” right now are likely staying in the draft.

Last year I looked at 10 players who faced stay-or-go decisions. The numbers broke out as follows: two came back to school and eight stayed in the draft. Of the eight who remained in the draft, four went in the first round, three went in the second round and only one was undrafted.

Some of the decisions were fairly easy. Shaedon Sharpe was a definite goner. Christian Braun and Dalen Terry, at least by the time of the draft, were locks to be first-rounders. But this early in the process – before the lottery, before the combine – it’s a guessing game as to how NBA teams view this class and thus a mystery who will, or will not, stay in the draft.

This isn’t a space where I’ll make predictions – I’ll save that for another time and place – but I’ve cobbled together 10 players who, at least for now, fit the description previously mentioned. Expect changes in the coming weeks undoubtedly as teams gather more intel and players rise and fall up and down boards. But as things stand, I believe the 10 prospects below have the most challenging decisions to make before the NCAA’s May 31 deadline to return to school

Let’s jump in.

1. Amari Bailey, UCLA

Big Board rank: 26Projection: Late first round/early second round

A former five-star recruit, Bailey flashed major star power – particularly down the stretch – in his time with UCLA. But his potential right now isn’t totally reflected in the market, where my ranking of No. 26 – effectively a late first-rounder – is higher than the consensus. Another season with the Bruins could allow him to further showcase himself as a dependable, consistent scorer. That would likely place him near the top of the 2024 draft.

2. Zach Edey, Purdue

Big Board rank: NRProjection: Second round

No college basketball player was more dominant last season from start to finish than Edey. He could be the favorite to repeat as player of the year if he returns to school, which no player has done since Ralph Sampson won three in a row from 1980-83. It’s hard to imagine Edey’s stock rising much higher, though. He has some weak points in his game, but given his production profile and frame, it seems entirely plausible a team could talk itself into taking a flyer on him in the second round.

3. Jordan Walsh, Arkansas

Big Board rank: 42Projection: Second round

As a freshman on an Arkansas team flush with one-and-done potential, Walsh emerged as a consistent impact player thanks to his ability to switch multiple positions on defense and stretch the floor as a shooter. He’s a bit of an oddball projection to the next level. A 6-foot-7 wing who plays with the movement, speed and physicality you see from a power forward. If he can improve his shot there’s a role for him in the NBA – whenever he decides to make that leap.

4. Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky

Big Board rank: NRProjection: Second round/undrafted

After Kentucky missed out on Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, the door seemed to open for a potential return to school for Oscar Tshiebwe. The 2021-22 national player of the year. Tshiebwe isn’t a floor-spacer and this past season revealed some weaknesses in his game defensively in terms of his mobility, or lack thereof. However, his motor as a rebounder and second-chance creator is among the best in this class.

5. Trey Alexander, Creighton

Top 50 rank: 21Projection: Second round

With Ryan Nembhard off to Gonzaga, there’s playing time to be seized on the ball in Creighton’s guard-friendly offensive system for Alexander. He has improved immensely as a playmaker in his two seasons with the Bluejays and could really showcase that growth next to Baylor Scheierman next year. He could generate more interest during the pre-draft process than people expect, which may make this decision trickier. I have him comfortably ranked as a first-round talent – higher, admittedly, than consensus. But I think once NBA teams see his two-way talents they’ll be intrigued.

6. Coleman Hawkins, Illinois

Big Board rank: 44Projection: Second round

Hawkins posted career-highs in points (9.9), rebounds (6.3), assists (3.0) and minutes (32.5) per game last season for the Illini, showcasing his versatility as a shooter while grading out efficiently on the other side of the floor as well. A return to Illinois to build upon a breakout season would make sense, but he’ll be someone I’d wager teams are willing to gamble on in the second round with his size and skill set.

7. DaRon Holmes II, Dayton

Big Board rank: 47Projection: Second round

In a class short on big talent from big men, Holmes stands out as a sleeper who could benefit from either staying in the draft in a relatively weak center class. He’s an athletic marvel who can play above the rim and embraces his role as a defender. His improved 3-point shot is encouraging as well. I have him ranked No. 47 on the Big Board and it feels like anywhere from mid-to-late second-round is his range right now.

8. Emoni Bates, Eastern Michigan

Big Board rank: NRProjection: Second round/undrafted

Bates wasn’t eligible for the draft last year, but after transferring from Memphis to hometown Eastern Michigan, he’s giving the NBA a serious look. He’s fallen in pro scouts’ eyes from his time as the No. 1 recruit in his class, but there could still be some interest here for teams thinking long-term. His shot-making at 6-9 is a gift. Whether he can refine his game and harness his defensive potential is another question. Bates could be a big riser and work his way into the first round or go undrafted. Neither outcome would shock me.

9. Andre Jackson Jr., UConn

Big Board rank: NRProjection: Second round

Shortly after helping lead UConn to the national championship, Jackson said, “Only way I’m not coming back is if Coach tells me to leave.” That was April 4. Two weeks later, Jackson declared for the draft, but left open the door for a return to college. He’s a really interesting prospect who was a force for the Huskies as a scorer and facilitator in the NCAA Tournament, and his versatility could bump him into first-round consideration. The pre-draft process will be interesting for him.

10. Bobi Klintman, Wake Forest

Big Board rank: NRProjection: Second round

Klintman has a number of fans in the scouting community that view him as a potential first-round talent because of his 6-foot-10 frame and the talent he can add as a passer and shooter. I view him as more of a long-term project, and thus not in my top 30, but there’s no denying he has developmental upside if he can continue growing his game. Some clarity could be coming on his decision in the coming weeks as teams figure out who to target – and potentially promise – as late first-round guys or early-seconds. If he gets a wink-wink he’ll be taken in the top 30, it would make sense for him to make the jump.

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