Early Departures: ACC

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The ACC might have proven itself to be the premiere conference in college basketball this past season — heck, with 40 teams in the league, how could it not be the best? The ACC is always loaded with premiere talent, both young guns and veteran players alike.

This season was extra-special in terms of younger talent for the Atlantic Coast. Many players have decided to forgo their final years of eligibility in order to live their dream of NBA stardom. Here is a list of those players who have already announced their decision to leave school and where they might land in the draft.

Jahlil Okafor, Duke, Freshman

The 7-footer is a lock to be a Top 3 pick in June’s draft. Sadly, that is more than likely going to be to the 76ers, Knicks or Timberwolves (shudder). Nice knowing you, Jahlil.

Okafor is arguably the best big man product to come out of the ACC since Tim Duncan way back in the Clinton administration. His offensive footwork and touch around the rim are beyond his years. Okafor will need to work on his defense and ability to play straight up on the NBA’s more athletic big men.

Tyus Jones, Duke, Freshman

The 6-foot Minnesota native played bigger than his stature all season long. Jones was Duke’s go-to scoring threat in crunch time in 2014-2015, including the 3-ball that sealed Coach K’s fifth national title just two weeks ago. Jones is a volume shooter who connected on 41 percent of his shots from the floor and 37 percent from deep. His role in the NBA won’t be as a primary scorer, but as a complimentary piece and facilitator as he averaged almost 6 assists pregame this season. Jones is a mid to late first round pick.

Justin Anderson, Virginia, Junior

I would have loved to see Anderson come back for his senior season, especially after missing crucial time toward the end of the season. Anderson was one of the country’s most efficient two-way players in the country this season, averaging 12.2 points and 4 rebounds per game, while shooting over 45 percent from behind the arc. He’s athletic and can do a little bit of everything, so finding his way into an NBA rotation shouldn’t be  an issue for Anderson. Anderson is a mid first-round pick and could fit nicely with Frank Vogel’s defense first system in Indiana, backing up Paul George.

Montrezl Harrell, Louisville, Junior

Harrell was probably a first-round pick if he had chosen to come out last spring, but he decided to stay in The Ville and play for Rick Pitino. By staying in school, the 6-8 Harrell might have made himself a few million dollars a more per year — novel concept, right? Staying in school, improving.

Harrell nearly averaged a double-double in points (15.5) and rebounds (9.6) this past season, but where Harrell really earned his money (scholarship) is on the defensive end where he recycled opponent’s shots like he was Captain Planet. Harrell is a bit of a loose cannon on the floor, like a skinnier, more athletic Ben Wallace. Remember that guy? Harrell is another first-rounder, probably mid to late first round. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix has him going to Washington at 19. I don’t disagree.

Trevor Lacey, NC State, Junior

Lacey was the best perimeter player in the ACC that you weren’t watching. That’s what happens when your coach is Mark Gottfried; you aren’t on TV a lot. Lacey will likely fall to the second round as he still has much to fine-tune, especially on the
defensive end. So why leave early — especially on an NC State team that looks to be much improved in 2015-16? Lacey is already 23 and will be 24 in October, giving him a smaller gap to earn a professional contract than say a 20-year-old sophomore or 19-year-old freshman. Lacey is a very smart, athletic player who can score in a variety of ways and should find himself on an NBA roster in October.

Olivier Hanlan, Boston College, Junior

Who? If Trevor Lacey is the best player you weren’t watching in the ACC, then Olivier Hanlan was the best player in the ACC you never heard of. In fact, I totally forgot that Boston College was still in the ACC.

Hanlan’s 6-4 frame and scoring ability can make him a viable combo-guard off the bench for many NBA teams. Hanlan led BC in scoring the past three seasons and averaged over 21 points per game in ACC play this past season to go along with over 4 rebounds and assists. Methinks Hanlan is another second-rounder.

Justise Winslow, Duke, Freshman

Maybe no player besides R.J. Hunter improved their draft stock over the month of March than Duke’s Justise Winslow. Winslow went from first round likely to probable lottery pick. Winslow might be the most athletic wing player to come out of this draft class, which is saying something in 2015. Make no mistakes, Winslow’s game is quite raw and he could start out as a role player from the bench, but his upside and physicality are too much for NBA teams to pass up. I don’t think the Lakers would necessarily be a good fit, but I think they take Winslow within the first 10 picks.

Terry Rozier, Louisville, Freshman

Rozier was the Cards’ leading scorer this past season, despite only shooting 41 percent from the floor and 31 percent from deep. Rozier might be one of the more purely athletic guards in the draft, but he lacks the finer points. His stock might not ever be higher, though and is sure to be a second rounder. Rozier could make a nice back up point guard for a team who is already solidified at the position. Early second round … Minnesota or Brooklyn might work.

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