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For college players not wanted by the NBA, NIL opens a path for them to stay in school


Armando Bacot, last seen limping off the floor for North Carolina after yet another heroic performance in the national championship game, has had the most eventful spring and early summer of his life. He’s traveled. He’s taken business meetings, lots of them. He went to the Kentucky Derby. He threw out the first pitch for a Baltimore Orioles game, delivering a highly creditable (if not high-velo) toss straight into catcher Anthony Bemboom’s glove.

Most notably, he has landed a not-insignificant role on Season 3 of the enjoyably outlandish and very popular Netflix teen adventure series "Outer Banks." Bacot will appear in at least a couple of episodes playing a character named, appropriately enough, "Mando." In early May, he posted photos of himself alongside the show’s stars from the Columbia, S.C., set.

Bacot was invited to guest star by Josh Pate, one of the show’s creators, a North Carolina alum and devoted men’s hoops fan. The answer was an immediate yes. "It’s a show I love and always watch," Bacot says, "so of course I said yeah.

"It’s been kind of crazy, honestly. The offseason has been all over the place."

What Bacot’s offseason hasn’t been is remotely devoted to the NBA Draft, a fact that is also representative of a defining sea change in men’s college basketball, one whose effects are just beginning to be felt. A few years ago, let alone a decade or two, a player like Armando Bacot, coming off the season Armando Bacot just had, would be all but legally required to formally pursue an NBA career. He was a first-team All-ACC performer, a hulking 6-foot-10, 240-pound center who averaged 16.3 points and 13.1 rebounds per game. He played his best, most dominant basketball when it mattered most, and when, traditionally, players can make disproportionate changes to their draft stock: in the NCAA Tournament. There, Bacot wasn’t merely good, he was great, the first player to record a double-double in all six of his NCAA Tournament games; he grabbed at least 15 rebounds in five of those six totemic performances.

He was, in other words, the kind of player who leaves for the NBA Draft, no matter what the mock drafts tell him. Relative to baseline, a player’s stock simply doesn’t get much hotter than Bacot’s would have been this spring. It should have been time for Bacot to thank his teammates, coaches and the Carolina family for a wonderful few years, and to say farewell and good luck as he chased his NBA dream. That should have been that.

Except, well, Bacot didn’t really give the draft all that much thought and you can click here to know more about NBA

Part of that was the ankle injury, and Bacot not being able to impress scouts and general managers in the actual draft process. "I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where I’m not all the way healthy and I’m kind of rolling the dice," Bacot says. But he also didn’t have to leave campus to make money — and wasn’t projected to be picked in the first round even if he were fully healthy. One NBA scout told The Athletic that Bacot might not have been drafted at all.

So instead, Bacot joins a rich crop of star big men coming back to college basketball this fall. They include Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, who is only the second Naismith National Player of the Year to return to school in the last 39 seasons; Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, a two-time All-American and one of the (mustachioed) faces of the sport; Michigan’s former All-American Hunter Dickinson; and Indiana’s All-Big Ten big man Trayce Jackson-Davis. It’s the first time in nine years that at least one first-team All-American and one second-team All-American will be back in school. Add in Bacot, and you could reasonably build a preseason All-America first team with those five post players. And that’s without mentioning Purdue’s 7-foot-4 force of nature Zach Edey, who’s back for his junior season, and UConn’s Adama Sanogo, who was first-team All-Big East as a sophomore.

A decade or so ago, all of them would have been no-brainer first-rounders, if not high lottery picks. But thanks to the NBA’s lack of interest in their particular set of skills, and the newfound ability for them to make NIL money on campus, the old-school, back-to-the-basket big men are suddenly staying in school for multiple seasons.

"It used to be, if you were big and had a pulse you left," Baylor coach Scott Drew says. "And now you’re big and dominant and can’t go. Your best position to recruit is a center. You can keep them."

These two factors — the modern NBA and NIL — have combined to help change roster management in the college game. And it means the future of the men’s collegiate game, for almost accidental reasons, looks as strong as it has in decades.

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