While most of the focus within the UTSA basketball program in the past few days has centered on tonight’s Conference USA game at first-place North Texas, coach Steve Henson on Wednesday also discussed an intriguing off-season plan for both Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace.
Henson said his two high-scoring junior guards are scheduled to enter the upcoming NBA Draft evaluation process, which comes with an option to withdraw and return to play as seniors for the Roadrunners in 2020-21.
The coach said the plan was formulated after last season in talks with both players.
“Our message is just that, by having those conversations prior to the season, these two guys don’t have to worry about it,” Henson said. “Very specifically, one of the (pro) scouts told us that we need to win games.
“The scouts know who they are. They’re aware of them. How can they not know? The numbers are too big.”
Jackson and Wallace stand out as the highest-scoring duo in NCAA Division I, averaging a combined 43.2 points per game. Jackson is second in the nation in scoring at 25.8, with Wallace at 17.4. Both averaged better than 20 per game last year as sophomores.
Henson played seven years in the NBA in the 1990s, but he said the league has evolved dramatically in terms of how it tracks talent.
“Like what I was talking about on the radio last night,” Henson said, “the (pro) scouting staffs are huge now. The ability to get information – the film, the stats — is just at your fingertips. I’m sure every (NBA) team has got a file with those two guys’ names on it.”
The move toward tapping into the pre-draft evaluation process with Jackson and Wallace is in keeping with Henson’s management style.
He likes to take time to talk to his players about their long-range goals. A few years ago, the coach knew that former starting point guard Giovanni De Nicolao was way ahead on his academic plan.
Because of the circumstances, De Nicolao expressed an interest in finishing school in three years, which would allow him to cash in on his basketball skills back home if he could find a good situation. That’s what happened, as he signed a deal to play in Italy’s second division.
“He ended up getting the option that made sense for him,” Henson said. “So, yeah, we miss him. But, it’s a good thing for him. Jhivvan and Keaton, right now, they don’t have to think about that stuff (in the coming off-season). They know that’s the plan.”
Henson said he brought it up on his Tuesday night radio show to explain the issue so that “fans don’t panic,” because it’s a new concept for some of them. “If you put their name in the draft, it doesn’t mean they’re leaving,” he said.
The NCAA rules on early entry candidates have changed in recent years, according to a story published last April by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.
From 2009-15, NCAA athletes who submitted their names before their senior year automatically gave up their option to return as college players, according to the report.
Since 2016, athletes have been allowed to enter the evaluation process and then withdraw before the actual draft is held, so that they can discover their market value while also maintaining their eligibility.
If Jackson or Wallace, or both, make it through the evaluation process and elect to stay in the draft, then it will be a good sign for the athletes, Henson said.
“It means that they’ve got some pretty good feedback (from the NBA),” he said. “(But) if they need to gain some weight, and work on pick and rolls, whatever it might be … then they can sit down with their families and make that decision. Right now, we need to lock in on winning games.”