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UCLA Sports

Chris Smith’s decision to go to NBA or return to UCLA shrouded in uncertainty

UCLA guard Chris Smith, front, drives to the rim past Colorado guard Tyler Bey in the first half on Feb. 22 in Boulder, Colo.
UCLA guard Chris Smith, front, drives to the rim past Colorado guard Tyler Bey in the first half on Feb. 22 in Boulder, Colo.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Had everything gone as planned, Chris Smith would have easily avoided making what amounts to, at best, a semieducated guess.

The UCLA junior guard would have showcased his emerging talents in the Pac-12 Conference tournament and the NCAA tournament in addition to the NBA draft combine and individual workouts, giving him a strong sense of his standing before deciding whether to enter the NBA draft or return to college for one more season.

Now there’s uncertainty piled atop uncertainty.

Smith’s father, Sean, said Monday that his son continued to weigh all factors as the family discussed his basketball future, including the potential impact of a draft combine and individual workouts that could be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In a widely expected move, UCLA’s spring game scheduled for April 18 has been canceled because of the coronavirus breakout.

While there has been no official announcement, it is widely believed that individual workouts that normally start at the end of April and the draft combine scheduled for May 21-24 in Chicago will be postponed or canceled.

“That definitely has an impact because this is totally uncharted territory for the NBA as a whole,” Sean Smith said, “but the whole process is uncharted for us as a family, so we’re just trying to make the best decision for him, be that go back to school or whatever.”

Smith, who was selected the Pac-12’s most improved player after a season in which he averaged a team-high 13.1 points per game, is listed as a fringe second-round pick on some mock draft boards. His father said the family had not discussed a threshold that would determine whether he entered the NBA draft or returned to UCLA.

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“We haven’t developed a criteria that includes that,” Sean Smith said. “But, I mean, it’s difficult to even state that with the fact that you can’t get into workouts and things of that sort to try and adjust your position, so where he stands right now is where he stands.”

A handful of factors could compel Smith to return to UCLA, including his development under coach Mick Cronin and the abrupt end to a season in which the Bruins (19-12) won 11 of their last 14 games, making them a trendy pick to fare well in the Pac-12 tournament and make the NCAA tournament after having a sub.-500 record in January.

The Pac-12 announced on Monday it is extending its suspension of all athletic activities until May 31 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another good college season, capped by a strong showing in the NCAA tournament, could catapult Smith up the draft boards.

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“We love Coach Cronin and his staff and how they have helped him develop and they believe in him and they push him, which is very important for my wife and I and it’s important for Chris as well, to push him and believe in him,” Sean Smith said. “And the fact that the team started to jell at the end of the year and didn’t get an opportunity to show what they felt they could do in the Pac-12 tournament and possibly the NCAA tournament, there may be some unfinished business.”

Early entrants have until April 26 to declare for the draft and until June 3 to withdraw their names from draft consideration and remain eligible for next season, though both dates could change if the draft scheduled for June 25 at the Barclays Center in New York is pushed back.


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