NBA talk follows

NBA talk follows

NBA talk follows Vanderbilt duo into NCAA Tournament

DAYTON, Ohio — Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones said he sometimes regrets announcing he would leave for the NBA Draft after this season. Wade Baldwin is waiting until the Commodores’ NCAA Tournament run is over before saying anything of his professional future.

Both star players will be on their biggest stage to date when Vanderbilt (19-13) faces Wichita State (24-8) on Tuesday (8:10 p.m., TruTV) in an NCAA Tournament first-round game here.

“I’ve tried the best I can to keep (the NBA draft) out of my mind all season,” said Jones, a 7-foot junior center who is projected as a first-round pick. “Since (announcing intentions to enter the draft last October), there have been more expectations, but that happens. You just have to ignore what people are saying.”

Baldwin, a 6-3 sophomore point guard, has rocketed up mock draft boards, projected as another first-round pick. Sports Illustrated even slotted Baldwin at No. 6 overall in its pre-NCAA Tournament mock draft.

“I don’t know where I’m going to go. It’s all projections anyways,” said Baldwin before Vanderbilt’s shoot-around at UD Arena on Monday. “There’s a lot to play for between now and (the June 28 draft). I haven’t decided if I’m coming out yet or not.

“Right now, I’m just focused on trying to win the NCAA Tournament.”

Vanderbilt guard Wade Baldwin speaks at a press conference Monday at Dayton Arena. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said he thinks both may declare for the NBA draft after this season. Neither has filled out official paperwork or hired an agent, so they could still leave Vanderbilt or return next season.

After this season, Stallings said he will help them apply to the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee, which provides a projected draft status to underclassmen considering going pro before finishing their eligibility.

Stallings said he gives both players “a mixed review” in how they’ve handled talk of their NBA draft stock this season.

“It’s sometimes been a distraction for them, a heavy load for them to bear,” Stallings said. “I’ve had to have that discussion with them. But the NBA is a hard thing for their age because that’s all anyone talks about.”

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall shared in the NBA chatter Monday when he compared Baldwin to Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook.

“You see guys follow or emulate certain NBA players,” Marshall said. “And (Baldwin) has got some of that.”

So what does all this NBA draft talk have to do with Vanderbilt’s first NCAA Tournament game since 2012? Stallings said he needs his two stars to play for the present in order to improve their potential NBA futures.

“What we are saying and what I’m asking of them is to play for your teammates,” Stallings said. “That’s the best way to get where you want to be.”

Luke Kornet, a 7-1 junior forward, is also an NBA draft prospect, though not yet to the stature of Baldwin and Jones. Kornet said he plans to return for his senior season, but he’d rather not think too much about the other two leaving the team.

“Yeah, it may happen,” Kornet said. “But if they decide that leaving is best for them, it only makes it more important that we take advantage of this opportunity to play together right now.”

More SEC accolades: Jones was named to the All-SEC second team Monday by the Associated Press, and Baldwin was an honorable mention. Last week, Jones was a first-team pick by the SEC coaches, and Baldwin was tabbed a second-teamer.

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