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MCGILL: Win-Win for Herd as Trio Pursues NBA Dream

March 27, 2018

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – A trio of juniors on the Marshall men’s basketball team – C.J. Burks, Jon Elmore and Ajdin Penava – are dipping their toes in NBA waters, moves that might cause some college hoops coaches to panic. Dan D’Antoni sees it differently.

“I want everybody to be successful,” he said from his office Tuesday. “When everybody’s successful, we’re successful. I don’t want to hold somebody back so that I can be successful. There is a mutual ground where everybody wins, and if C.J. or Jon or Ajdin receives a first round grade, it’s great for us. It’s win-win.”

Burks, Elmore and Penava all filed paperwork with the NBA this week to declare for June’s draft, although none of the three players will sign with an agent. That preserves each student-athlete’s option to return to Huntington for the 2018-19 season, one that carries elevated promise after the Thundering Herd’s Conference USA championship season that ended in the NCAA tournament Round of 32. The trio of players, obviously, were significant pieces to a 25-11 season that ended a 31-year NCAA tournament drought and delivered the program its first NCAA tournament win.



“When I took this job, I wanted Marshall to be in the national conversation,” D’Antoni said. “We started on level one, but this season we leap-frogged a few levels.”

The NCAA (post-combine) withdrawal deadline is May 30 at 11:59 p.m. Underclassmen who declare for the draft have until that time to announce intentions to resume intercollegiate participation. The NBA early entrant deadline is June 11 at 5 p.m., although that pertains primarily to international prospects. Last season, 63 underclassmen and 10 international prospects were eligible for the draft, figures that do not include student-athletes who exhausted their collegiate eligibility. The NBA draft, which will be held June 21 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, features two rounds and 60 selections.

The juniors were the Herd’s top three scorers: Elmore at 22.7 points per game, Burks at 20.1 and Penava at 15.6.

Elmore, who also declared for the draft a year ago but opted to return to school after receiving his evaluation, had a season for the record books. He scored a school-record 816 points and dished out a school-record 244 assists, and is the first person in Division I basketball since at least the 1985-86 season to top 800 points, 200 rebounds and 200 assists in the same season. The 6-foot-3 guard from Charleston, West Virginia, also set school single season records for free throws made and free throws attempted.

Elmore is eighth nationally in scoring and ninth in assists (6.8 per game), one of two players ranked in the top 10 in Division I basketball in both categories. He averaged 21.0 points and made 7 of 17 3-pointers in two NCAA tournament games, including a 27-point performance as No. 13 seed Marshall ousted fourth seed Wichita State in the East Region Round of 64 in San Diego, California, two weeks ago.

Burks averaged 20.1 points per game and had the fifth-highest single point total (702) in school history. He is one of 26 players in Division I basketball to score at least 700 points, make 80 3-pointers and shoot better than 88 percent from the free throw line in the same season. The 6-4 product of Martinsburg, West Virginia was named to the All-Conference USA second team.

Penava led the nation in blocked shots with 134, while averaging 15.6 points and 8.5 rebounds. The 6-9 Bosnian was an All-Conference USA third team selection and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. He flashed versatility all season as a rim protector, perimeter threat and ball handler. His 33 3-pointers are the most ever by a player who led the nation in blocked shots.

Over the next two months, the players will travel around the country working out for teams and receiving feedback about their draft prospects. That, D’Antoni said, will benefit each player and the Marshall program should they choose to return to school for one more season.

“They will hear basketball from a different voice,” D’Antoni said. “They will be able to add some different things to their games and it’ll make them better players when they come back here.”