Draft decisions loom for Joe, Jones

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Monday, March 23, 2020
Arkansas' Mason Jones (15) celebrates with teammate Isaiah Joe (1) during a timeout after the Razorbacks took the lead late in the second half of Arkansas' 72-68 win over Valparaiso on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock.
Photo by Thomas Metthe
Arkansas' Mason Jones (15) celebrates with teammate Isaiah Joe (1) during a timeout after the Razorbacks took the lead late in the second half of Arkansas' 72-68 win over Valparaiso on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock.

FAYETTEVILLE — Shortly after Arkansas’ 2019-20 season came to an abrupt end at the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., due to the spread of covid-19, projections for Razorbacks basketball in Year 2 under Eric Musselman began.

But a number of key decisions must be made in the near future before the 2020-21 season can be properly analyzed.

Atop the list are questions of whether sophomore guard Isaiah Joe and junior Mason Jones will leave school to pursue professional basketball careers. The duo combined to score 46 percent of Arkansas' points this season.

In a since-deleted tweet posted to his Twitter account on Sunday, Jones wrote that he would be soon announcing a decision regarding his future. As of Monday morning, Joe has made no public statement about his future.

College players with eligibility remaining have until April 26 to declare for the draft as early entries, and June 3 is the deadline for underclassmen to return to school after going through draft process. But like everything these days, those dates are fluid.

According to NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt, the NCAA will work with the NBA to adapt to the potential calendar shifts of a delayed NBA Draft in 2020. As of now, the draft is scheduled for June 25 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

On March 18, ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported that NBA Vice President Kiki VanDeWeghe sent a memo to college coaches telling them the NBA is accepting applications to the Undergraduate Advisory Committee, which gives feedback to players on potential draft stock.

“Whatever Mason and Isaiah want to do, we’re here to support them,” Musselman said last week on a teleconference. “We’re here to gather as much information as they want us to gather. They can gather information on their own as well. But, again, I think it’s just too much speculation right now, because no one knows when an NBA Draft date is going to even be.

“There are people in the NBA, assistant coaches, that don’t know if the draft is going to happen until well past the normal date. They’re only speculating as well. The only thing NBA teams can do right now from an evaluation standpoint is watch film of players. That’s what a lot of their scouts are doing right now.”

Neither Joe or Jones appeared on The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie’s most recent 2020 NBA mock draft. In Vecenie’s Version 3.0 in February, Joe was slotted at No. 35, the fifth pick in the second round, but Jones was not listed.

Joe fell following a knee surgery that forced him to miss six games, five in February.

On March 19, Vecenie wrote, “I’d venture Joe is back at Arkansas. Or, at least he should be. … Think (Jones is) the more likely one to go.”

Jonathan Givony, in his latest mock draft on ESPN, did not have Joe or Jones projected to be drafted. They were listed as the No. 62 and 80 prospects, respectively, on his list of the top 105 available players.

Joe was ranked the No. 12 draft-eligible shooting guard, and Jones was No. 14.

Musselman added that there is a path for graduate transfer guard Jimmy Whitt to make an NBA roster. An opportunity to play internationally will likely present itself as well. Whitt, in his second stint at Arkansas in 2019-20, averaged 14 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

He was one of the Razorbacks' top defenders as well, finishing second on the team with 44 steals.

Whitt received an invitation to play in the since-canceled Portsmouth Invitational, a senior showcase event attended by NBA executives and scouts. He was under consideration for the now-canceled Reese's College All-Star Game at the Final Four, too.

"People are really smart, like, the people that run Portsmouth and NBA scouts, everybody knows that Jimmy really defended and guarded the best player," Musselman said. "Basketball is half offense and half defense, and Jimmy was a premiere defender for us. Like I said, that’s half the game, and I think NBA people recognized that, or at least people that watched tape or watched games.

"I certainly have already been on the phone with people about Jimmy. Our staff will continue to promote Jimmy as much as we can."

The notable early entries around the SEC this year include Anthony Edwards of Georgia, the presumed No. 1 pick, and Auburn freshman Isaac Okoro.

Eighty-six underclassmen declared for the NBA draft in 2019 and did not return to college.

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