Historically, Pacific Northwest men’s college basketball teams on the national level have played like they’re using underinflated balls provided by Tom Brady. A Northwest team has not won an NCAA championship since Oregon won the inaugural title in 1939.
The one and only Final Four appearances among Washington, Washington State, Seattle U., Oregon and Oregon State took place more than 50 years ago. The Northwest’s five other Division I programs – Gonzaga, Eastern Washington, Portland, Portland State and Idaho – have never played in a Final Four.
None of this has prevented Northwest colleges from producing a long list of quality NBA players. The roll call includes Hall of Famers John Stockton (Gonzaga), Elgin Baylor (Seattle), Gary Payton (Oregon State), Gus Johnson (Idaho) and Bob Houbregs (Washington).
Time will tell if another Hall of Famer from the Northwest emerges from the 2016 NBA draft. ESPN’s Chad Ford is not making any Hall of Fame forecasts just yet, but the respected NBA draft analysis predicts three of the top 10 picks Thursday (4 p.m., ESPN) will come from Northwest colleges.
In his latest mock draft, released Saturday morning in the “insider” pay section of ESPN.com, Ford predicts Washington power forward Marquese Chriss will go fourth to Phoenix; Gonzaga power forward Domantas Sabonis will be taken ninth by Toronto, and Washington wing Dejounte Murray (whom Ford projects as a point guard in the NBA) is bound for Milwaukee as the No. 10 pick.
Ford offered high praise for all three players.
On Chriss: “The Suns have a glaring hole at the 4 after trading Markieff Morris. They need someone who can really stretch the floor from that position and have two terrific options in Chriss and (Croatia’s Dragan) Bender. Bender is a better rebounder and a better shooter. Chriss is a much better athlete and has a higher ceiling.”
On Sabonis: “Sabonis hits the sweet spot for the Raptors. He’s strong, tough, ready to play now . . . He isn’t a great athlete, but that’s the only real thing holding him back.”
On Murray: “Murray’s upside, combined with (Milwaukee coach) Jason Kidd’s waning patience with Michael Carter-Williams, makes him a great pick here. Based on talent, he has top-five upside.”
Ford predicts college forwards will be the top three picks. Ford figures Louisiana State’s Ben Simmons will go No. 1 to Philadelphia, Duke’s Brandon Ingram goes second to the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston grabs California’s Jaylen Brown with the No. 3 pick.
Ford said it’s possible Chriss could wind up being drafted second or third. After watching Chriss at a recent workout, Ford wrote, “He is an absolute freaky athlete for a player his size . . .There aren’t a lot of 6-foot-10 forwards with his combination of explosive leaping ability and agility. He moves as well as any big I’ve seen since (current Detroit Pistons center) Andre Drummond.”