CHICAGO – After each day at the NBA Draft Combine, the UConn Big Three gathered in one hotel room to unwind and enjoy their final moments together before it was time to make a decision.
On Wednesday night when Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson got together, the conversation wasn’t about how they all performed and improved their draft wrestling during the week. Instead, they reminisced about the joyful ride of the National Championship season and the journey through the years they had spent together at Storrs.
“We saw each other every night, just relaxing. They are my teammates, but they are also my brothers,” Sanogo said after the end of the second leg on Thursday.
“Last night we talked about being a UConn legend – a lot of players went to UConn but didn’t win a championship, so we talked about like, ‘Damn, we won a championship at UConn so our names will be on top for life.’
Earlier in the day, Sanogo and Jackson faced each other in their first brawling action in front of a slew of NBA scouts and executives, including several head coaches. Both played well, Sanogo recorded a double-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of blocks. Jackson showed he could influence the game without scoring, finishing with four points, an assist and two blocks, although he came close to a third as he tried to chase and punch his former co-captain on the edge.
“I didn’t put it in,” Sanogo said, bursting out laughing.
“It was fun. Sometimes it’s like that, it’s a sport, sometimes you have to play against your brother.
— UConn Men’s Basketball (@UConnMBB) May 19, 2023
Each of the UConn prospects came out of the week with pro stocks higher than ever.
Hawkins, who has opted out of brawling, was comfortable enough with his position in the draft after several one-on-one meetings with teams, which he said went well. His name is predicted to be called at some point in the late lottery phase, picking numbers 10 through 14, most commonly in No. 12 for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
His view that he was the “top scorer in the draft” was confirmed by many NBA scouts during the week.
Hawkins had encounters with the Thunder as well as the Dallas Mavericks who picked No. 10, the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Practice went well for Jackson, and while his jump shot struggles continue to be a cause for concern for NBA teams, he did quite well during Monday’s shooting practice and at Roc Nation Pro Day on Monday night, where, according to Jonathan Givony of ESPNthere was a large turnout of NBA executives who came to see him.
With the option to return to UConn still on the table, Jackson said he wanted a first-round pick (although he did not say he would need a first-round guarantee to stay in the draft) and that his decision would be “obvious” at the end of the combine. Givony goes with Jackson at the end of the first round29 overall, to the Indiana Pacers in his mock draft released after the Tuesday night Draft Lottery.
Finishing his freshman year at UConn, Jackson met the Pacers before the merger, and when the event began he had so many matches lined up he couldn’t remember them all.
He met the New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday morning and said he had four or five games scheduled for Thursday. He didn’t have the schedule for the next day with him when he spoke to the media on Wednesday, but noted that the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls were among them.
While Sanogo has improved his actions with his brawling performances, his height remains an issue as a low bar player. He worked on his 3-point shot, which played well and was effective in high-screen pick-and-roll during brawls, where he was also able to show off improved passing skills. Feedback he heard from teams was that they would like him to work on his body so he can be a more versatile defender, especially around the perimeter.
Sanogo, who cemented himself as one of the top big men in all of college basketball during his NCAA title run at UConn, is not listed on most mock drafts. Although he could still sign a G League deal or a two-way deal and if not, continue to develop overseas.
Highlights from UConn’s Tristen Newton on day two of the G League Combine
Newton finished with 14 points, shooting 3/4 from distance and showing more flashes of solid defense
Newton is expected to seek an invitation to the NBA Combine which will be announced tonight/tomorrow pic.twitter.com/sXnY9IUZpL
— Ryan Cassidy (@ryancassidycbb) May 15, 2023
Tristen Newton, UConn’s quarterback with another year of qualification, was testing the waters at the G League Elite Camp days before the merger, but did not receive an invitation to join his other three teammates. Newton had his best performance on the second day of the event, scoring 14 points (2-for-3 on 3-pointers) and six rebounds, but was not among the lucky eight who got the extra chance.
Newton can still turn pro, but has the option to return to UConn for his fifth year of college basketball.
On Sunday, when Hawkins landed in Chicago, Newton was still in town and joined him and Jackson in his hotel room. It was the first time Hawkins had seen any of them since he left for Los Angeles for training about a week after the national championship game.
“These are my brothers and we all know it, so having these guys around makes you a lot more confident just feeling their presence,” Jackson said. “Even when I was on court with Adama and he was doing well – it felt great to see him really play at the highest level and show what he can bring to the table.”