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USC freshman Onyeka Okongwu opts to enter NBA draft



USC freshman Onyeka Okongwu is entering the 2020 NBA draft, he announced Wednesday.

“I am declaring for the draft, forgoing my final three years of school [and] planning on signing with an agent in the near future,” Okongwu told ESPN in a text message.

Okongwu also posted a message to social media on Wednesday, thanking USC coaches and fans and saying “all good things must come to an end” and that he wants “to take the next step when the opportunity presents itself.”

Okongwu, the No. 6 prospect in the ESPN Top 100, emerged as one of the top big men in college basketball while earning All-Pac-12 first-team honors.

“These past couple weeks have been crazy, but I’m happy to be able to be able back home in Chino under quarantine with my family,” Okongwu told ESPN. “Every fitness center and gym is closed, so besides being at home doing things, I haven’t really been able to work out as much.”

Okongwu averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 1.2 steals for the Trojans, establishing himself as one of the most versatile defenders in the country and vastly exceeding early expectations.

“The virus is a serious matter and putting a lot of things on hold, but being healthy and staying safe is more important,” Okongwu said. “I’m not sure how the pre-draft process will be now. There is a lot of uncertainty. I’m just doing my part right now, staying home waiting for everything to blow over. The more people who do this, the faster it’ll be for everything to go back to normal. I continue to pray to God that everyone gets healthy and stays safe.”

Okongwu first emerged in recruiting circles as a freshman on the Chino Hills team that took high school basketball by storm with Lonzo, LaMelo and LiAngelo Ball. Okongwu flew somewhat under the radar during his high school career despite putting up big numbers on the Adidas Circuit for the Compton Magic, missing much of his junior season with an injury, which caused him to not be selected for any of the prestigious high school all-star games as the No. 20 ranked recruit in the ESPN 100.

He quickly emerged as the Trojans’ best all-around player and a clear lottery prospect, ranking fifth in Player Efficiency Rating among likely draft prospects. He also was the only player in the country to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes.

Some NBA scouts feel Okongwu could ultimately end up as the best big man to come out of the 2020 draft due to his high basketball IQ, terrific defensive versatility and his ability to finish explosively around the basket, which has helped draw comparisons to Miami Heat all-star Bam Adebayo due to his similar dimensions and style of play.

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NBA details options for players traveling to Florida apart from teams



LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — As NBA teams prepare to leave for Orlando, Florida, in the coming days, organizations have received directives on the process for transporting players unable to travel on the team charters, according to a league memo acquired by ESPN.

If a player misses a scheduled coronavirus test in the two days prior to the team’s departure date — or has “extenuating circumstances” that have been disclosed to the league — he must arrange his own travel to join his team as the league restarts its season. The player has the option of flying on a charter flight at the player’s expense, traveling by car, or flying commercial, the memo said. If a player flies privately or drives, he will have to have two negative test results before resuming basketball activities. If he flies commercially, the player must have three consecutive negative test results, according to the memo.

With the first teams scheduled to arrive in Orlando on Tuesday, it is unlikely that players who have tested positive in the past week will be able to fly with their teams. According to the league’s health and safety guidelines, any player who has contracted COVID-19 must quarantine and test negative twice before being medically cleared to make the trip. Or, if he misses a test in the two days prior to the team’s flight, he will have to return three consecutive negative tests before traveling.

The Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets are among the teams that have seen multiple people in their traveling party test positive in the past several days.

The training camps at Walt Disney World Resort will be the first time that most players will play sanctioned 5-on-5 basketball with their teammates since the league shut down on March 11 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Players who have to stay back in their home markets to recover from COVID-19 could miss part of their team’s scheduled training camps and that vital preparation time. Having less time to prepare could leave players more susceptible to injury.

The 22 teams participating in the restart are scheduled to arrive in Orlando in staggered phases. The first group of teams is scheduled to enter the “bubble” on Tuesday, the second on Wednesday and third on Thursday. After completing a two-day quarantine, the first group is expected to start training camps on Thursday.

Ahead of the regular-season games that are slated to begin on July 30, each team is also playing three scrimmages against teams from the other conference or one that is in the same conference and an unlikely first-round playoff opponent.

If a player has not been getting tested regularly over the past several weeks, fulfilling the NBA’s requirements, he is required to have six consecutive negative test results upon arrival before participating.

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Serge Ibaka — ‘Locked in’ Raptors ready for NBA restart



From the moment he and his teammates reconvened in Florida last week, Toronto Raptors forward Serge Ibaka said everyone was “locked in” and ready to get to work.

“I saw just how everyone is in great shape,” Ibaka said on a conference call with reporters Saturday afternoon. “They came here in great shape, and as soon as we got here everyone was starting to put in work.

“I’ve been in the league for 11 years. You can see when people’s locked in and they are ready mentally, and when they are not.

“So I can tell you right now, mentally, everybody is ready. Everybody is ready.”

Ibaka and the Raptors were the one team that was allowed to travel to Florida early, due to complications with trying to have players return to Canada from the United States amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Raptors, who are working out at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, still can only shoot individually at their own basket (like players on all teams) until after they enter the Disney World bubble and quarantine there.

Still, Ibaka said that it felt good to be able to get shots up after spending so much time away from the gym.

“It’s better than nothing,” he said with a smile. “It’s helpful. And, also, like I said just seeing the guys around I think is good, too.”

As for the rising case count in Florida, Ibaka said that it was something he’s worried about — in part because his daughter lives in Orlando. He said she and those around her are feeling good, however, and that he hopes everyone takes precautions upon entering the bubble.

“Honestly it’s really concerning,” he said. “Hopefully everybody has to follow the rules, every player, when we get in the bubble in Orlando, we can respect all the notes that they’re going to give us. But I have my daughter who lives here in Orlando, and it’s kind of scary a little bit. It’s something where you have to make sure you look at it.”

It’s been a strange season, to say the least, for the defending NBA champions. Toronto had barely finished celebrating last season’s title when Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left in free agency. Then the Raptors went to Japan in the preseason, and entered the regular season with little expectations due to Leonard’s departure.

But Toronto then proceeded to become one of the NBA’s best teams, and was the Eastern Conference’s second seed, on pace to win 59 games, when the season was suspended on March 11 — all while every member of the team’s core rotation (except for OG Anunoby) had missed at least a month during the regular season due to injury.

“It’s been a little bit weird [this season] with everything that’s going on,” Ibaka said of Toronto’s attempt to defend its title. “But one thing we know is that it’s over. Whatever happened last season is over, and we’ve got to try to put our mindset so that it’s ready to go for this one.

“We know it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be a challenge, and everyone is going to come for us because we are the champs, so we have to be ready.”

Ibaka, who spent most of his career as a power forward, has fully shifted to center the past two seasons with Toronto, forming an effective 1-2 punch first with Jonas Valanciunas, and then with former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol.

After all of the injuries Toronto has suffered this season — including multiple hamstring issues for Gasol, who only played in 36 of the Raptors’ 64 games before the season was stopped — Ibaka said he’s very excited to see what the Raptors are capable of doing now that they have their full assortment of players ready to go.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a little weird in the beginning to have everybody at the same time, but I think it’s a good thing because we need that. I can’t really wait to see how it’s going to work out for us having everybody back.”

And how high does he think Toronto’s ceiling can be with everyone healthy?

“Everything,” he said. “We believe in us. We have the experience. We have the championship mentality already. We have confidence.

“But now it’s time to go. Time to go to work, and, like I said, we’re ready.”

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Week of NBA scrimmages kicks off with Magic-Clippers



The NBA announced the schedule Saturday for scrimmages at the Walt Disney World Resort, with 33 games set for between July 22 and July 28.

Each of the 22 teams that will be part of the season restart has been scheduled for three games. The Orlando Magic and LA Clippers will play in the first game on July 22. WizardsNuggets, PelicansNets and SpursHeat are also set for the first day.

Teams were set to scrimmage against a team in the opposite conference or an unlikely first-round playoff opponent in same conference, the NBA told teams in a memo obtained by ESPN.

All three arenas at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex that will be used for the restart will also play host to the scrimmages.

There will be between three and six games per day during that six-day span. The season will officially resume with the start of seeding games on July 30.

Teams begin arriving at Disney for a brief quarantine followed by the start of their training camps on Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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