“Being one and done was always a goal of mine, but it wasn’t something I necessarily expected to happen,” Black told ESPN. “Coming in, I was focused on winning games and getting better, knowing the rest will take care of itself. I want to thank God and all the coaches who helped me from when I started playing AAU, through high school and college, including Coach Muss [Eric Musselman]. Also, my teammates and family for supporting me and being my biggest fan.”
Black, the No. 8 prospect in ESPN’s NBA draft projections, was named second-team All-SEC and to the all-freshman team after averaging 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game this season.
Black helped No. 8 seed Arkansas defeat No. 1 Kansas to make the NCAA tournament Sweet 16, where the Razorbacks lost to eventual national champion UConn. Black had one of his best games of the season in what ended up being his final appearance in an Arkansas jersey, posting 20 points, 5 steals and 4 rebounds.
A 6-foot-7 point guard, Black played more minutes than any other freshman in college basketball, establishing himself as one of the best defenders in this draft class with the intense ball pressure he puts on opponents and his ability to fight over screens, rotate to protect the rim and get in passing lanes seemingly instinctually.
“Defense is something I was always super passionate about,” Black said. “That comes from me being competitive. Wanting to win, taking pride in my matchups and not get scored on. That was the first thing they taught us at Arkansas; defensive principles, having a head on a swivel, helping teammates and learning how to affect the game off the ball.”
Black played both on and off the ball for Arkansas, showing impressive creativity, pace, physicality and smarts operating out of ball screens, even if his aggressiveness waned at times on an Arkansas team that never truly found a hierarchy offensively, sometimes looking unselfish to a fault.
“Some games the team needed my scoring, and other times my role was to get others going,” Black said. “Switching up roles was pretty easy for me depending on who was hot. I was happy to do whatever we needed to win games. I feel like I can impact the game on or off the ball.”
Black’s parents were collegiate athletes at Baylor, with his father a member of the basketball team and his mother playing soccer. Hitting a growth spurt that took him from 5-10 as an eighth-grader to 6-6 his junior year, Black was a highly regarded wide receiver in high school who received 15 scholarship offers and competed in a variety of track and field events (high jump, long jump, triple jump), not fully committing to basketball until his senior year.
“I had offers for football before basketball,” Black said. “Coming from a family of athletes helped me develop a competitive spirit from a young age. I learned a lot about playing with toughness and physicality on the football field. Track helped me get faster and quicker, as well as with conditioning. Every sport helped me in basketball in a different way.”
Black helped USA Basketball to a gold medal at the FIBA Americas U18 championship last summer, but he didn’t fully break out as a potential top-10 pick until the Maui Invitational in late November, where a pair of 26-point, 6-assist performances against Louisville and Creighton in front of dozens of NBA executives cemented him more firmly in lottery conversations. Black says where he ends up being drafted isn’t that important to him ultimately.
“I deserve to be drafted high, but regardless I’m more ready to just work,” Black said. “There are a lot of dudes who get drafted high who don’t do well in the league. The work you put in and how you produce is far more important than where you get picked.”
The NBA draft combine will be held May 15-21 in Chicago, and the draft will be June 22 in New York City.
Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service used by NBA, NCAA and international teams.