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Cougar trio tests the waters

Three Washington State players declared for the NBA draft before returning

Josh Hawkins, Ike Iroegbu, Ernie Kent and Conor Clifford. WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY PHOTOS

In April, Washington State University coach Ernie Kent encouraged three of his top players to learn more about themselves and their futures. So, on April 15, upcoming seniors Conor Clifford, Josh Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu declared for the NBA draft. The decision didn’t guarantee that they would leave school early – none of the three was considered a top prospect – but they would have a chance to see how they stacked up against some of the nation’s best players.

Each received feedback from an NBA advisory committee regarding their likely draft position or whether they would be drafted at all. For the first time, they were eligible to attend the NBA combine. None, however, got an invitation. While missing out on a chance to perform in front of league coaches and executives may have disappointing, Kent insisted that disappointment will serve them well as their time in college nears its end.

“Anytime with young people that you can give them a realistic view of what things are really like, I think it’s good for them,” he said. “Nothing about it was a negative.”

By late May, each player announced his intention to return to Washington State for his senior season, armed with feedback from the NBA, a better understanding of the draft process and clearer expectations of what might face them after their college playing careers.

Kent thinks the process will benefit his players, giving them clear goals to aspire to as seniors. Perhaps more importantly, he said, the feedback Clifford, Hawkinson and Iroegbu received has provided a measuring stick for future players at Washington State who might consider leaving early for the draft. He can point to the feedback they received through the process – including not being invited to the draft combine – to set expectations for student-athletes who wonder what might await them at the next level.

“The next group that comes along and wants to do this, you have a measuring stick to say, ‘Wait a minute now, here’s the group that did it. Look: they’re bigger players; they’re faster, better, whatever. Here’s where they fell in all of this.’ But if someone still wants to do it, you’re not going to discourage them.”