Aztecs expect Thomas to suit up for SDSU

April, 30, 2009
San Diego State expects Malcolm Thomas to have a major impact on the Aztecs next season.

That point was made abundantly clear to the 6-9 forward and one-time San Diego City College and Pepperdine player. But he still declared for the NBA draft. That Thomas' name was on the official list released Thursday was a surprise nationally, but not to San Diego State coach Steve Fisher. He had an inkling it was going to happen when Thomas told him recently that he wanted to see where he stood.

Fisher said he did his due diligence and checked into Thomas' status with the NBA. Not much came back in terms of any kind of commitment to be selected. Yet even with that information, Thomas still declared. Fisher said he told him that it made sense to do so after next year, after playing a season with the Aztecs. Now, if Thomas does do well he can't "test" again since you're allowed to declare and withdraw only one time during your college career.

Fisher said he remained optimistic that Thomas would withdraw his name from the draft by the June 15 deadline and play for the Aztecs next season.

The Aztecs, who reached the NIT final four, lose seniors Kyle Spain, Lorrenzo Wade, Ryan Amoroso, Richie Williams and Matt Thomas. Four of them were among the Aztecs' top six scorers on last season's 26-10 team.

"We're losing four starters and we're going to have a lot of new faces but we've got a chance to be very good," Fisher said.

The Aztecs do return their third- and fourth-leading scorers in Billy White (8.6 ppg) and Tim Shelton (7.9 ppg) and add four freshmen in addition to Thomas, assuming he stays out of the draft. The highest-rated of the freshmen is small forward Kawhi Leonard out of M.L. King High in California. The Aztecs are also expecting Pepperdine transfer guard Tyrone Shelley and Illinois transfer center Brian Carlwell to contribute from the outset of the season.

• Fisher needs a marquee home-and-home series, preferably one starting in San Diego. His best road game next season is at Arizona State.

• Louisiana Tech had three players on the early-entry list -- the Bulldogs' three leading scorers in Kyle Gibson (16.1 ppg), former LSU center Magnum Rolle (12.2, 7.2 rpg) and Kenneth Cooper (11.7, 7.1). The Bulldogs finished 15-18 overall, 6-10 in the WAC, and yet apparently this trio thinks it's NBA worthy although it couldn't win more than six games in the WAC. • Binghamton's D.J. Rivera, a one-time Saint Joseph's guard, had a stellar first season for the Bearcats. He scored 20 points a game and grabbed 6.5 rebounds and led Binghamton to the America East title and a first-round NCAA tournament appearance. That apparently was enough to convince Rivera to declare for the NBA draft, too. His name was also on the official list released Thursday.

• Also on the official list of players eligible for the NBA draft were a few familiar names of former college players who left or were asked to leave school early for various reasons and ended up overseas. They include Patrick Beverley (Arkansas/Ukraine), David Huertas (Ole Miss/Puerto Rico), Jeremy Fears (Ohio, South Carolina-Aiken/Austria), Ramar Smith (Tennessee/Germany), Ra'Sean Dickey (Georgia Tech/Ukraine) and Tyrone Nelson, the former New Mexico State guard, who has been playing in a minor league.

• USC's staff said senior Marcus Johnson, who is seeking to get a fifth year of eligibility, would declare just in case he didn't get the waiver. But his name wasn't on the list. It's unclear whether Johnson would have to go through the process since technically his eligibility has expired.

• One name not on the list was Connecticut's Stanley Robinson. During the NCAA tournament, a number of NBA sources said they felt Robinson would declare. Robinson missed the first semester of games (eight) because he was not in school while taking care of some "personal issues."

The 6-9 junior forward had a terrific final month of the season. He scored 28 points and grabbed 14 boards in a six-overtime loss to Syracuse in the Big East tournament. He scored 24 in an NCAA first-round win over Chattanooga. He blocked four shots in an Elite Eight win over Missouri. According to UConn assistant Patrick Sellers, Robinson is having his best semester since he arrived in Storrs. He's enjoying school, wants to improve his game and sees a future with the Huskies next season.

That's great news for UConn since Robinson would be the most experienced frontcourt player returning with the departure of junior Hasheem Thabeet and senior Jeff Adrien. The Huskies do return guards Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson to give them three experienced, potential double-figure scorers returning. Role players Gavin Edwards, Charles Okwandu, Jonathan Mandeldove, Donnell Beverly and Scottie Haralson give the Huskies depth. And the Huskies fully expect to get contributions from incoming freshman forwards Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Alex Oriakhi as well as guards Darius Smith and Jamaal Trice.

There is also an expectation at UConn that Ater Majok will withdraw his name from the draft. He didn't get to campus until December, practiced in the spring, but wasn't eligible to play this season. Majok is also a part of the ongoing NCAA inquiry into allegations of extra benefits provided by agent and former UConn manager and representative Josh Nochimson. Another central figure in the NCAA inquiry and former UConn student, Nate Miles, now of the College of Southern Idaho, also declared. Majok would have no bearing on the Huskies possibly being a top-25 team. Robinson's decision would.

• Pitt's Jamie Dixon will replace Davidson's Bob McKillop as the head coach of the U.S. men's U-19 team at the FIBA World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who is the chair of the junior national team selection process, confirmed that Dixon will replace McKillop, who withdrew last week after junior Stephen Curry decided to declare and stay in the draft.

Dixon was already chosen to be an assistant under McKillop. So, too, was Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery. The championships will be held July 2-12 and the U.S. is in a group with Egypt, France and Iran and will open with the Iranians in the 16-team competition. Some of the top freshmen and possibly sophomores in college are expected to be invited to the trials, which will be held in Colorado Springs in mid-June. A year ago, McKillop led the U.S. to the silver medal in Argentina.

Dixon said he met with McKillop at the Final Four and they discussed the team at length, but then at the end of the talk McKillop told him he might coach the team. Dixon said he had been looking forward to getting involved with USA Basketball. This trip piqued his interest since he played professionally in New Zealand for two years after a brief stint in the CBA following his college career at TCU. Dixon said he can't wait to get back to New Zealand, a country he called one of the most beautiful on earth.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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