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Five takeaways from the performances of UConn’s starting lineup at NBA Draft Combine

It was a reunion for UConn’s starting five in Chicago, where they arrived at the start of the week for the NBA Draft Combine.

Riding momentum from last month’s NCAA Tournament glory, their collective stock largely continued to rise as they put their skills on display in front of NBA scouts, coaches and executives at Wintrust Arena, home of Big East foe DePaul, this week.

Here are five takeaways from their performances at the Combine so far:

How draft lottery impacts Clingan, Castle projections

Donovan Clingan and Stephon Castle were dressed to impress as they attended the Draft Lottery on Sunday with other projected top picks.

The Atlanta Hawks landed the No. 1 overall pick for the first time since the lottery was introduced in 1985 and Alexandre Sarr, the French 7-footer who played in Australia’s National Basketball League this season, quickly emerged as the likely top pick. Unfortunately for Clingan, who has been in the conversation to be taken as high as No. 1 since the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament run, the teams most in need of a center – like the Portland Trail Blazers (No. 7 overall pick) and the Memphis Grizzlies (No. 9) weren’t as lucky with which the ball machine spit out.

“He has a natural suitor in the Washington Wizards at No. 2, but also some real competition from other prospects, such as Sarr and Zaccharie Risacher,” ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony wrote.

ESPN projects Risacher, a 6-foot-9 forward from France, to go with the second overall pick and Clingan to be the next big man off the board at No. 6 to the Charlotte Hornets, who have new ownership and a new head coach in Charles Lee, the former top assistant for the Boston Celtics. Castle, one of the best defensive guards in the draft who continues to highlight more offensive elements of his game at the combine, is projected to go to the Grizzlies with the No. 9 pick.

Clingan focused on adding another element

Dan Hurley was never a fan of Clingan attempting 3-point shots in games over the last two seasons. But the big man, who measured 7-feet, 1 3/4 inches without shoes, continued to put shots up in practice and frequently showed off his jumper in warmups all year.

It is clear that the shot has been one of the main focuses during the draft process for the 20-year-old Bristol native, who looks to prove his fit in the modern NBA game.

Clingan attempted eight 3-pointers in 39 games for the Huskies this season (0-for-1 as a freshman), most of them wide-open looks, and made just two. But, when he took the court at Wintrust Arena on Monday, Clingan’s work was evident. With no contest, he made 19 of 30 (63.3%) shots off the dribble, best of his six-man group of bigs that included Sarr and his championship game assignment, Zach Edey. Clingan also finished second behind Sarr in the spot-up shooting drill, where he hit 14 of 25 (56%) from deep.

In the 3-point star and the side-mid-side drills, which also evaluate perimeter movement and shooting when tired – scenarios Clingan likely wouldn’t find himself in often – he shot 10-for-25 (40%) and 9-for-24 (37.5%), respectively.

3-point Huskies

Clingan wasn’t the only Husky to open some eyes from beyond the arc on Monday.

Shooting is considered the main weakness for Castle after he shot just 20 of 75 (26.7%) from 3-point range in his freshman season. Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman referred to his shooting as “one of the biggest swing skills in this draft,” given his highly-praised and already proven IQ, athleticism and defensive ability. But Castle found himself in a four-way tie for second in the 3-point star drill after making 18-of-25 (72%). He also shot 15-for-23 (65.2%) in the side-mid-side drill.

Alex Karaban shot lights-out on Monday, finishing first in three different shooting drills. He went 21-for-25 (84%) to lead all participants in the star drill (where the Huskies took up four of the top six spots). Cam Spencer was part of the second-place tie with Castle and Tristen Newton was just behind at 17-for-25 (68%). Karaban also led all participants in the side-mid-side drill (21 of 26, 81%) and was one shot better than Spencer in shooting off the dribble (27 of 30, 90%).

Scrimmage struggles

Karaban and Spencer competed against each other in Tuesday’s five-on-five scrimmages and, like some others, struggled to get into a flow with their collection of teammates.

Karaban did his best to show his strengths as he set screens and cut to the basket, where he made both of his shots as he finished with four points on 2 of 6 shooting from the field, 0-for-4 from 3-point range. He added two assists and a rebound as he finished plus-7 on the game. Spencer was just 2-for-12 from the field, 1-for-7 from 3-point range in 22 minutes on the floor. He finished with just five points, five rebounds and three assists.

Newton, Clingan and Castle opted against participating in the live scrimmages.

Karaban’s decision a ‘win-win’

Whether he returns to UConn or stays in the NBA Draft, Alex Karaban will be in a great position.

UConn, supportive and encouraging him to fully buy into the draft process, would immediately become among the favorites for a third-consecutive national title in 2025 should it return its “brain center.” Karaban would be put in position for an elevated role which, in turn, would help his stock for next year’s draft.

If he decides to stay in the draft after the May 29 deadline, Karaban is projected by ESPN to be a second round selection of the Charlotte Hornets at No. 42 overall (where, according to ESPN’s mock, he would join roommate Clingan).

“It’s a win-win no matter what,” he told reporters in Chicago on Tuesday. “Staying in the draft of course is chasing my NBA dreams that I’ve been wanting for a while now, but going back to school, there’s no better place to play college basketball than for UConn. Playing under Coach Hurley and the coaching staff again for another year, that’d just be a blessing. I’d be just as happy going back as I would staying in the draft.”