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Utah State’s Sam Merrill working toward NBA draft, which may not take place as scheduled

Utah State guard Sam Merrill (5) drives against Saint Mary's guard Tommy Kuhse (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Moraga, Calif., Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

Sam Merrill has frequent access to a gymnasium in Lindon. A friend in Farmington also has gym access for him, so as far as basketball workouts go, the two-time All-Mountain West first-team selection has that covered in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Merrill has not been able to consistently get into a weight room, so that end of things is tougher. At his parents’ home in Bountiful, Merrill has a couple of dumbbells, a couple of kettlebells, a jump rope. As Merrill prepares for the NBA draft, his workout situation is not ideal, but he is making due.

Merrill never declared for the NBA draft as an underclassman at Utah State. With this being the 6-foot-5 shooting guard’s one and only trip through the draft process, what’s happening now is all he knows.

“If you’ve been through it before, this is different, but it’s been normal for me,” Merrill told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week. “As soon as the NCAA Tournament was canceled, of course I was disappointed, but I was excited to start a new adventure and went right to work. Obviously, it’s been difficult without certain resources.”

Under normal conditions, Merrill’s pre-draft process would begin at the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament. After the NCAA cancelled its crown-jewel event on March 12, things were expedited.

Merrill chose an agent, Kieran Pillar of Mark Bartelstein-founded, Los Angeles-based Priority Sports. He received an invite to the Portsmouth Invitational, a seniors-only showcase in Virginia contested each April and attended by personnel and decision-makers from all 30 NBA teams. Merrill had not yet committed to playing at Portsmouth, but the COVID-19 pandemic and social-distancing guidelines in Virginia took care of that decision by cancelling the event.

Under normal conditions, Merrill would be preparing to criss-cross the NBA map, conducting in-person interviews, participating in group and individual workouts at team facilities, potentially preparing for the NBA draft combine later this month. All of that is off the table, at least for the time being.

Teams are allowed two hours of virtual meetings with a player in a week, and no more than four hours total. Merrill has interviewed with 15 teams to this point, one of which is the Jazz, a source told The Salt Lake Tribune.

“I think it’s tough for everybody right now,” Merrill said. “A guy in my position, I’m more of a fringe guy, a second-round guy, so I have to prove that I belong. I’ve just tried to do a good job with the interviews, but I do think not being able to get in front of teams is forcing them to a deeper dive on film, which could be an advantage.”

To Merrill’s point, his junior and senior-year film is solid, and he could be in an advantageous position if the NBA draft is not backed up and all teams have to go on are film and Zoom calls. Conversely, Merrill would have a lot to gain if the NBA backs up the pre-draft process, allowing for in-person evaluations at team facilities.

While the NFL pushed forward with a virtual draft on the event’s originally-scheduled dates last month, there is momentum building toward postponing the NBA draft from June 25 to later in the summer. A key step toward postponing the draft came on Friday when the NBA announced it will postpone the draft lottery (May 19) and draft combine (May 21-24).

The situation, like all others across sports in the United States, remains fluid, but one thing everyone seems to agree on is that an NBA draft cannot take place in the middle of potential regular-season or playoff games being played.

“I haven’t been told anything official, but most people seem to believe the draft would be in August or September,” Merrill said. “It would be good to get a few workouts in, whether they’re group or individual. I am confident either way.”

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