Kansas University freshman basketball forward Cliff Alexander, who had what coach Bill Self calls “an interesting and educational year,” has decided to end his college career and enter the 2015 NBA Draft.
The 6-foot-8, 240-pounder from Chicago arrived at KU as a likely one-and-done player and likely lottery pick in the June draft. According to ESPN.com, he exits as somebody “likely to be selected late in the first round.” Indeed, one scout told the Journal-World Alexander could go as high as No. 22 of the first round, with some league executives enamored with Alexander’s strength and potential rebounding ability.
“This should come as no surprise to anybody,” Self said, in announcing Alexander’s decision after meeting with the player on Tuesday. “He was a major contributor to our team from the beginning of the season. He worked his way into the starting lineup and has had to deal with an off-the-court issue with the NCAA that made him ineligible for the last eight games of our season. We all feel bad for Cliff for what he and our team had to go through because it was difficult for him to sit and watch his teammates play without him. During his time here, Cliff certainly got better. I loved coaching Cliff, but we support his decision 100 percent to move on and take his ability to the next level,” Self added.
Alexander averaged 7.1 points off team-best 56.6 field-goal shooting and 5.3 rebounds. His 37 blocked shots tied for the team-high with junior Jamari Traylor. His 1.3 blocking average ranked ninth in the Big 12.
“I talked this over with my mom and my dad and we decided the timing was right for me to enter the NBA Draft,” Alexander said. “Kansas has been a great experience. I enjoyed being on campus. When I came in I didn’t really know much (about playing in college). I was undersized and not strong enough to bang with other guys. As the year went on, I got settled and comfortable with the system. I got stronger in the weight room and competed harder.”
He did not say whether an NCAA investigation, allegedly into an extra benefit situation possibly involving his mom, was the reason for his leaving. KU officials would only say Tuesday that they have not been informed of any resolution to the matter. The NCAA has a policy of not commenting on such cases. Alexander’s mom did not return a phone call asking for comment. Alexander’s attorney also did not return a call requesting comment.
“Playing in Allen Fieldhouse… that’s the craziest place I have ever played,” Alexander said. “I’m going to miss the fans. They showed me a lot of love everywhere I went. They are a very supportive fan base. I’m going to miss my teammates a lot. I’m going to miss everybody. Coach Self knows the game of basketball and taught me a lot on and off the court while I was here,” Alexander added.
“I’ve known Jerrance (Howard) since I was a sophomore in high school. We’ve had a great relationship. When I got here that just grew, he felt like a big brother to me. All the coaches and staff were very supportive during my time here. They helped me grow and mature.”
ESPN draft expert Chad Ford on Tuesday had this to say about Alexander at the Web address http://ljw.bz/1O5Plf7
“Alexander began the season ranked as a potential lottery pick. Blessed with elite strength, athleticism and a terrific motor, scouts expected him to dominate weaker, less athletic bigs in college. Alas, Alexander’s lack of basketball IQ and height (just 6-foot-8) caused him to struggle and, for the most part, he never was a huge part of the Kansas offense. An NCAA investigation into his eligibility ended his season early and it’s likely that the investigation was a primary factor in deciding to declare for the draft, as Alexander risked being ineligible next season. Some NBA teams still believe he has upside. He could go anywhere in the 20-to-40 range,” Ford wrote.
Roster talk: KU, which also loses one-and-done freshman Kelly Oubre Jr., now has four scholarships available in recruiting. More could be available if junior Perry Ellis turns pro and/or anybody transfers. One vacancy has been filled by No. 15-ranked (by Rivals.com) Carlton Bragg, 6-9, Cleveland’s Villa Angela St. Joseph High, who has orally committed to KU. Prep prospects who are considering KU include No. 2 Jaylen Brown, 6-7, Wheeler High, Marietta, Georgia; No. 3 Malik Newman, 6-3, Callaway High, Jackson, Mississippi; No. 5 Thon Maker, 7-foot, Orangeville Prep, Mono, Ontario; No. 7 Cheick Diallo, 6-7, Our Savior New American, Centereach, New York; No. 11 Stephen Zimmerman, 7-foot, Bishop Gorman High, Las Vegas; and No. 19 Brandon Ingram, 6-8, Kinston (North Carolina) High. Michael Thorne Jr., a 6-11 senior transfer from UNC Charlotte, is considering KU, Pitt and Illinois.
Where will he go?: Draftexpress.com currently lists Alexander as the first pick of the second round. NBAdraft.net has Alexander the fifth pick of the second round.
Forced to decide?: Dan Feldman of probasketballtalk.nbcsports.com had an interesting take on Alexander’s decision to turn pro.
“Unfortunately, the decision was essentially taken out of Alexander’s hands when the NCAA began investigating whether he and his family were remaining poor enough while Kansas got rich off his fixed-wage labor,” Feldman wrote at http://ljw.bz/1NStN3O
“Whether you believe college or the pros better develops players for the NBA, there’s no question Alexander wouldn’t develop much at Kansas if suspended next season. So, to the draft he goes. Alexander is a borderline first-round pick. The most common words used when assessing his game are ‘Basketball IQ’ – as in, it needs to improve. He’s just 19, so it should. But there’s always concern about how much and how quickly.
There’s a reason Alexander was so highly touted coming out of high school. There’s also a reason he’s not the top-10 pick many expected. But there’s no good reason Alexander should be forced into this choice. Alas, he is, and NBA teams must now evaluate an intriguing but flawed prospect.”