Men's Basketball, Column

It’s About Time Robinson and Bowman Crack an NBA Big Board

Boston College men’s basketball combo guard Jerome Robinson is the second-leading scorer in the ACC and the first in the conference to eclipse the 500-point mark this year. His partner-in-crime isn’t too far behind: Ky Bowman is averaging 16.9 points, 7.2 boards, and 5.0 dimes per game—a statline that no other NCAA player has posted this season, let alone any season since 1996-97. The two account for 49.1 percent of BC’s total scoring output and have transformed the Eagles, an ACC bottomfeeder each of the past five years, into a perennial threat.

The best part is, the average fan outside of the New England area has no idea who they are. And why would they? Try finding their names on a 2018 NBA Draft Big Board. They’re not there.

Out of all of the prospect rankings and mock drafts that I pooled, only one mentioned either of the guards. Arian Smith of listed Bowman as the 87th-best player in the potential 2018 draft class. Robinson didn’t even crack the top 100.

Meanwhile, you’ll find plenty of guys on those charts who are looking up at the two Eagles in pretty much every statistical category there is. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the conference to find an assortment of prospects who have caught scouts’ eyes—players that are supposed to be far and beyond the level of Robinson and Bowman.

Nine ACC players made CBS Sports’ most recent prospect rankings. Not one of the four guards—Trevon Duval (Duke), Gary Trent Jr. (Duke), Grayson Allen (Duke), and Bruce Brown (Miami)—on the board are averaging more points than either of BC’s duo. Trent Jr. comes closest with 15.1 points per game, a full 5.3 ticks below Robinson’s scoring mark. Aside from scoring, Duval is the only one that has Bowman beat in one of the three major statistical categories. Yet, even though the freshman is averaging 0.9 more assists, he’s six rebounds short of Bowman.

There’s one thing that the four have in common: they were all ESPN 100 recruits—not only that, but they were all rated as top-30 players in the country coming out of high school. Robinson and Bowman, on the other hand, were afterthoughts. If you search for the pairing in ESPN’s recruiting database, you’ll end up with a half-filled graphic, simply stating that both Robinson and Bowman were recruited by and committed to BC. Neither received a scout grade, a positional, state, or regional ranking. ESPN didn’t even deem them worthy of a comprehensive overview outlining their college selection—perhaps because no big-time Division I programs targeted the two North Carolina natives.

Robinson and Bowman were doomed from the start. Year after year, high schoolers lining ESPN’s prospect rankings have consistently cluttered the draft board, especially in the first round. Last June, 12 of the first 15 players selected were former ESPN 100 recruits. Granted the majority of them proved their worth at the collegiate level, there’s also something to be said about the brand the media, namely ESPN, created for them.

Thanks to mixtapes, highlight reels, scouting reports, and other forms of promotion, these guys are stars before they even step foot on their respective campuses, automatically catapulting them in front of the rest of the country’s prospective NBA players. Just look at Zion Williamson: The 6-foot-6 high school senior out of Spartanburg Day School, who recently committed to Duke, has over one million followers on Instagram and is infinitely more popular than say, NBA All-Star Goran Dragic. Leading up to Williamson’s decision, ESPN followed his commitment as if he was a professional feeling out teams during free agency. Like LaMelo Ball, Williamson is a sports icon, who’s probably still ordering a cap and gown for his upcoming graduation.

As long as the heralded recruits aren’t complete busts, the buzz often follows them to the next level. This summer, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr., the top-ranked recruit in all of college basketball, was proclaimed to not only be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, but the next big thing. About two minutes into the Tigers’ season opener against Iowa State, he was sidelined with a back injury—one that required surgery, effectively ending his season. His draft stock fell, but only by the smallest of margins. To this day, despite recording all of two points in his brief collegiate career, Porter Jr. is pegged as the sixth player to come off the board in this year’s draft, according to 247sports.

For the most part, this kind of hype mainly pertains to the upper quartile of NBA Big Boards, but that’s not to say the rest of the players don’t have something going for them. The majority of the prospects that are projected to hear the name called are playing into March. Just last year, 37 of the 50 players, excluding the 10 international prospects, that were taken in the draft were coming off NCAA Tournament appearances.

It’s not uncommon for players to get on a roll amid a deep tournament run and see their draft stock rise in a matter of weeks. In 2014, Shabazz Napier guided a seventh-seeded Connecticut team to its fourth national championship, averaging 21.7 points in the process. The performance earned him a spot on the NCAA’s All-Tournament team and, more importantly, pushed him into the first round of the upcoming NBA Draft. One year later, Sam Dekker, who was overshadowed by fellow NBA prospect Frank Kaminsky III before the tournament, skyrocketed up the draft board, posting 19.2 points per game on Wisconsin’s journey to the title game.

These players had the opportunity to suit up on the national stage in front of 30-some thousand people, with millions of more watching at home—a postseason experience that gave them a leg up over guys like Robinson and Bowman.

Still, there are exceptions to the rule. Both of the last two No. 1 overall picks, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons, never made it to the dance, and there are several more that fill out the second round of the draft. At the end of the day, a program’s success, especially if it’s in the Power Five, shouldn’t dictate the future of the players at hand. It hasn’t always in the past, even at BC. Just three years ago, former Eagles guard Olivier Hanlan, who averaged 19.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game in his final season on the Heights—numbers that are comparable, if not worse than Robinson and Bowman’s—was plucked by the Utah Jazz in the second round of the draft. Then, of course, back in 2011, the Oklahoma City Thunder nabbed another BC guard, Reggie Jackson.

It’s important to note that neither Hanlan nor Jackson led BC to an NCAA Tournament. They showed scouts, general managers, and NBA Executives that they could play with the best in the ACC, which is typically synonymous with the best in the nation. Robinson and Bowman are doing the same today—they’re just not getting any credit for their accomplishments.

Earlier this week, Robinson dropped a career-high 46 points in South Bend, Ind., just hours after being left off the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Watch List for the 2018 Jerry West Award, an annual honor given to the country’s best shooting guard. The junior’s 40-piece was the first of any ACC player this season and three shy of BC’s program record. On 12 separate  occasions, Robinson has logged 20 or more points this season, including nine times against conference opponents. The bigger the game, the better he plays. As far as conference-only stats are concerned, the junior comes in at first in scoring (recording 3.8 more points per game than potential No. 1 overall pick Marvin Bagley III), fourth in field goal percentage, and first in 3-point percentage.

His side-kick, Bowman, is hot off a season-saving performance, in which the scrappy guard picked off a Miami pass in the paint with under four seconds remaining, went up for a shot, drew the foul, and knocked down the ensuing free throws to secure a much-needed top-25, ACC win. The sequence encapsulated who the sophomore is: a do-it-all point guard with more upside than just about anyone in the country.

Robinson and Bowman aren’t the only ones to get the cold shoulder. Just last year, Pittsburgh’s Jamel Artis and Michael Young—two of the ACC’s top-five scorers—hardly got any love from draft analysts. Like Robinson and Bowman, the two were stuck on a team near the bottom of the conference without a strong supporting cast. The ignorance isn’t any more justifiable this time around.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying BC’s backcourt is perfect by any means. After all, they have their fair share of off days. Way back in November, Robinson shot 1-of-14 from the field against an inferior Sacred Heart team, mustering just four points. Bowman is even more streaky, fluctuating in production levels from half to half. Above all else, the two struggle with ball security, a big reason why the Eagles have the third-worst turnover margin in the ACC.

But even when weighing the negatives, scouts have to take the guards’ playing situation into consideration. They man the 33rd-least experienced team in the nation and put BC on its back, night in and night out. Per, Robinson and Bowman play 87.9 and 93 percent of their team’s minutes, respectively, leading what is the second-thinnest squad in the country. A few extra turnovers here and there are forgivable, especially when you are single-handedly fueling an offense.

It appears as if Robinson’s 46-point game has turned a couple of heads—Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge was one of 21 executives at Conte Forum for the Eagles’ upset win over No. 25 Miami on Sunday. But the fact of the matter is that Robinson and Bowman have merited that kind of attention for over a year now. The spotlight is long overdue.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the guards are NBA-ready, first-round talents—not yet, at least—but there aren’t 60 guys in the country that deserve a spot over either of them on an NBA Big Board, that’s for sure.

Photos by Kaitlin Meeks, Keith Carroll, Sam Zhai, and Tiger Tao / Heights Editors and Heights Staff

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Editor

February 12, 2018