Esa Ahmad and Sagaba Konate both did what they should have done.
Declare for the NBA Draft. Without agents.
Ahmad, a rising senior forward for WVU, did so Thursday. Konate, a rising junior forward, did so two days before on Tuesday. Both announcements came during a period when many of college basketball’s top players announced their professional intentions.
But, unlike some, Ahmad and Konate did so without agents, meaning they can retain their NCAA eligibility next season. Unless they decide to hire agents, that is. At that point, their eligibility is washed.
This is a great rule by the NCAA. It allows college athletes to put their name in the ring without exhausting their playing days at the college level. It allows them a chance to hear from NBA scouts. It allows them to gather feedback from professional organizations.
And that’s exactly what Ahmad and Konate are doing.
The forward duo is able to heed NBA teams’ messages. They are able to see what aspects of their game are positives. They are also able to see what they need to work on in order to achieve their NBA/professional basketball dreams.
Neither are NBA Draft prospects right now. That is nothing against their games, but neither is rated on any Draft boards for the 2018 NBA Draft in June at the Barclays Center in New York City.
Ahmad has perhaps the most talent on the roster. He came to Morgantown as the No. 46 overall recruit in the class of 2015’s ESPN 100. No other player on the roster for the 2018-19 season was rated that high out of high school. The same goes for last year’s 2017-18 roster. He had a number of big-time offers, highlighted by the likes of Indiana, Ohio State, Xavier and Wisconsin, among others.
The talent is certainly there, and at times, Ahmad has certainly showcased that. He has averaged 10-plus points in two straight seasons, and his 5.5 rebounds as a junior were the second-most on the team, only behind Konate.
Consistency was an issue for Ahmad, and if he can show his potential and high talent level every game, then there is no reason for him to not get more looks from NBA organizations. He did score in double figures in 13 of the 21 games he appeared in last season, but he also scored five points or less three times and was held scoreless three times. In the final two Big 12 Tournament games, he took a combined eight shots and scored a combined five points, failing to score any in the Championship loss to Kansas.
WVU head coach Bob Huggins has constantly raved about Ahmad’s rebounding, and if he can find more consistency offensively as a senior (assuming he returns), then there is no reason Ahmad will not hear his name called.
Konate, though, is the most intriguing prospect at WVU and maybe even the entire Big 12 among players that are likely to come back next year. He has only played organized basketball for four years. He grew up playing soccer.
There is unlimited potential for Konate. He has only played basketball since 2014, but there are many times when it looks like he has played his entire life. He posted 10.8 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore, yet those numbers do not tell the tale of his repertoire.
He blocked 116 shots last season, which ranked second in the country. Through two seasons at WVU, he is at a total of 169, which is the third most in program history. That puts him nine away from Phil Wilson (178) at No. 2 and D’or Fischer (190) at No. 1.
That is remarkable for someone who has played basketball for just four years. If he continues to make strides with his game, like he did from his freshman to sophomore years as he increased his scoring total by 6.7 points, his rebounding total by 4.8 rebounds and his blocking by 1.8 blocks per game, then it is hard to imagine just what he can do in another year at the college level.
Potential is a huge thing for Konate. Scouts will love that. NBA organizations will love that. NBA teams often draft players based — not only on their talent — because of their potential.
Konate has a lot of both. Another year or two at the college level could make him a definite NBA Draft selection when he heads to the professional landscape.
Just look at how this rule benefited (now former) WVU star Jevon Carter. He was already a star as a junior, posting 13.5 points, 3.7 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game that year and earned NABC Defensive Player of the Year honors, but he wanted to see what else he could work on.
Like Ahmad and Konate, he submitted the NBA Draft paperwork. He declared, but did so without an agent. That allowed him to hear from NBA scouts without exhausting his final year of eligibility.
And it certainly appears that helped Carter. He was a great player going into the 2017-18 season, but his effort — 17.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 3.0 steals per game, going alongside All-American and Defensive Player of the Year honors — have made him a projected second round pick.
Ahmad and Konate have until 5 p.m. ET on June 11 to withdraw their names, and if they do that as they are expected to, then they might find themselves in similar situations as Carter.