TUSCALOOSA — When college basketball returns, Alabama coach Nate Oats could face a stark reality: the Crimson Tide might be without two of its top scorers from last season.
Alabama underclassmen guards Kira Lewis Jr. and John Petty Jr. are expected to test the waters of the still-undetermined NBA draft whenever the league resumes normal activities. The NBA suspended three weeks ago in the beginning days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"They’re both going to put their name into the draft," Oats said Tuesday during a conference call with local reporters. "They’re going to go through workouts whenever those are. That’s the thing, too — everything’s just up in the air."
The NBA suspended all operations March 11 after one of its players — Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert — tested positive for the virus minutes before a scheduled game against the Oklahoma City Thunder that night. Since then, as players on multiple other teams — including the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers — have since registered confirmed coronavirus cases, there's been little word on when the league could resume play, let alone hold activities like pre-draft workouts or even its annual draft originally scheduled for June 25.
What all this means for the draft is to be seen.
“Honest to God, it’s so hard to tell because you don’t even know where any of these teams are drafting,” Oats said. “I talked to the Pistons, I talked to the Bucks, and they don’t know where they’re going to draft. The lottery hasn’t happened, their season’s not over, so I think right now it’s really hard to tell.”
Because of all those unknowns, it’s difficult to say with any confidence what Lewis or Petty may do, or even where they may end up getting drafted should they elect to remain in the NBA draft pool. Most online mock drafts have Lewis as a mid-to-late first-round option while Petty is considered more of a mid-to-late second-round pick at best.
Either way, Alabama isn’t standing pat.
“Based on feedback that they get, they both may leave. We’re planning on possibly not having either of them back. ... The best course of action is to plan on them both leaving and if they happen to come back then it’s a pleasant surprise," Oats said.
“I think for them both it’s going to be a family decision, a personal decision as to how comfortable they are with leaving, but those are the two I’ve talked to and the two that will be doing all the workouts.”
Whatever their decision, the process of finding their replacements is already underway.
“If either one of them happens to come back we’ll address that when those decisions are made," Oats said. "But, I don’t think you can sit there and hope that guys come and then all of a sudden they leave.”
In just his second year, the 19-year-old Lewis was a first-team All-SEC selection after leading the Crimson Tide in scoring (18.5 points a game), assists (5.2), steals (1.8) and minutes played (37.6) this past season.
Despite missing two games late in SEC play with a hyper-extended right arm, the 6-foot-7 Petty was a second-team all-conference pick after proving to be one of the country's most prolific 3-point shooters, ranking ninth nationally and first in the SEC shooting 44 percent from behind the arc last season. Averaging 2.9 baskets from 3-point range to rank second in the league, Petty was also third on the team averaging 14.5 points a game and led the team with 6.6 rebounds from the wing position.
Based on new rules the NCAA enacted in mid-2018, NBA hopefuls like Lewis and Petty can submit their names into the draft pool, go through designated pre-draft workouts and even consult with certified agents and still maintain the option to return to college should they choose, as long as they don’t officially hire an agent.
“I don’t anticipate Kira and John hiring agents until they go through the process enough (to) know they’ve got a guarantee to get drafted in a spot where they’d be comfortable with leaving here,” Oats said. “They’re talking to agents getting feedback on how this process is going to work, getting advice from them, but I don’t anticipate either one of them (hiring an agent). They’re both smart kids; they both have smart families that will help them make intelligent decisions.”
Alex Byington is the Montgomery Advertiser's Alabama beat reporter. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @_AlexByington.