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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A quiet NBA draft awaits the Pac-12, which speaks volumes about the state of the conference

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

If the projections are reasonably accurate, Jaime Jaquez Jr. is the only player standing between the Pac-12 and a hefty dose of ignominy Thursday evening in the NBA draft.

The versatile UCLA forward is considered the only likely first-round selection for a conference that typically produces a handful of them and hasn’t been shut out of the opening round entirely since 1988.

The last time it generated just one first-rounder was when Washington’s Quincy Pondexter went 26th to Oklahoma City in 2010.

Jaquez’s perch atop the draft class is somewhat unexpected and highly instructive.

The Southern California native was a four-star recruit who spent four years in Westwood developing his game. In that regard, he’s a warning and lesson for the conference. He’s a symptom of what ails the collective and a reflective view of the creeping rot.

Not long ago, in fact, the Pac-12 was basking in its draft successes:

• In 2017, it produced the top two picks, Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, and six first-rounders in all.

• The following year, it generated the No. 1 pick again: Arizona’s Deandre Ayton.

• In 2020, it accounted for one-fifth of all the first-rounders; and in 2021, it produced four of the top-24 picks.

This spring, the Pac-12 cannot claim a No. 1 pick and has no lottery-level talents. The closest thing to a first-round lock is Jaquez, who’s projected for the late teens or 20s.

Sure, someone else could provide an upside surprise. Perhaps UCLA wing Amari Bailey, who’s slotted for the middle of the second, will sneak into the end of the first. Maybe a team gambles on Washington State’s Mouhamed Gueye, a raw talent projected for the late second round.

But none of the other top players from the 2022-23 season is within a half-court heave of the first round. Not high-scoring Arizona forward Azuolas Tubelis. Not UCLA’s sensational perimeter defender, Jaylen Clark, who’s recovering from an Achilles injury. Not USC sharpshooter Drew Peterson.

One reason for the paucity of first-round options: A handful of the top players assessed their draft value and opted to return to school.

Another reason: The major talent acquisitions of the past two recruiting cycles haven’t developed.

The Pac-12 doesn’t have input issues, folks. Over the past five years, the conference signed 24 prospects who carried five-star ratings by the 247Sports recruiting service – fewer than the SEC and ACC but far more than either the Big Ten or Big 12.

And in the past three recruiting cycles (2020-22), the Pac-12 signed 11 prospects with five-star ratings. A few are already in the NBA, but most are still developing their games – either in the conference or elsewhere.

Five-star recruits signed by the Pac-12:


USC’s Evan Mobley: Played one year, drafted No. 3 overall (Cavaliers)

Stanford’s Ziaire Williams: Played one year, drafted No. 10 overall (Pelicans)

Arizona State’s Josh Christopher: Played one year, drafted No. 24 overall (Rockets)


UCLA’s Peyton Watson: Played one year, drafted No. 30 overall (Nuggets)

Stanford’s Harrison Ingram: Played two years, transferred to North Carolina

Oregon’s Nathan Bittle: Played two years, returning to school

ASU’s Enoch Boakye: Played two seasons, transferred to Fresno State


Oregon’s Kel’el Ware: Played one year, transferred to Indiana

UCLA’s Amari Bailey: Played one year, entered NBA draft

UCLA’s Adem Bona: Played one year, returning to school

Arizona’s Kylan Boswell: Played one year, returning to school

It’s hardly uncommon for five-star talents to require several college seasons before blossoming into first-round selections, and some never make the jump.

But the Pac-12 isn’t as well equipped to navigate problems with player evaluation and development as other power conferences. Its programs have resource limitations, exposure issues and scheduling challenges not experienced elsewhere (at least to the same degree).

When eight five-star talents enter the conference over a two-year period and only one emerges as a one-and-done, then on-court success becomes that much more difficult.

The Pac-12 faces an annual struggle to meet reasonable bars for NCAA Tournament bids, seeds and advancement. Only once in the past seven years, in that wacky, pandemic-impacted 2020-21 season, has the conference sent more than one-third of its teams to the tournament.

Central to the collective malaise is mediocre talent development – not only with regard to the elite prospects but also the three- and four-star recruits.

Sure, it’s about making the most of the next Ware, the next Ingram, the next Boakye. But the conference must produce more players like Jaquez, who was merely the 100th-ranked recruit in his class. It’s one more issue and the only issue, for talent evaluation and development reside at the core of coaching whether peach baskets or NIL money define the game.

The lineup of Pac-12 head coaches has changed little over the past few years despite a clear need for major upgrades. The 2023 draft class is one more piece of evidence.