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Utah’s Both Gach has made himself eligible for the NBA Draft. Is he serious or just testing the waters?

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard Both Gach (11) skies to the rim for the Utes to take the lead in the 2nd half. The University of Utah basketball team was defeated by Oregon, 64-69, Jan. 4, 2020, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Not all NBA draft declarations are created equal.

Some college underclassmen declare with the intention of gaining feedback from NBA personnel, but ultimately returning to school for at least another year with that feedback in hand. Some declare, hire an agent for the pre-draft process, go through team workouts and face-to-face meetings, but still return to school. Hiring an agent for the pre-draft process started being allowed last spring in the wake of the FBI college basketball scandal.

There are also those underclassmen that declare with the clear intention of not returning to school, but instead beginning a professional career, whether that be in the NBA or overseas. This avenue was in the news this week when NJCAA Player of the Year Jay Scrubb, a Louisville commit and the nation’s consensus top junior college prospect, announced he would hire an agent, forego his remaining college eligibility and enter the NBA draft.

Both Gach falls into the first category. On Monday night, news broke that the University of Utah sophomore guard will enter the NBA draft with the intention of testing the waters and maintaining his college eligibility. Multiple sources told The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday evening that Gach does not plan to hire an agent during the pre-draft process.

“I’m pretty much just trying to get some feedback from NBA executives and guys at the next level so I can see what I need to work on, what I can improve on,” Gach told The Tribune via phone on Thursday afternoon from Arizona. “I want to see what I can possibly do at the next level. I’ll take what people tell me and I will learn from it.”

Gach, like most everyone else with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, is self-quarantining, but he noted he still has access to a gym and weight-training equipment, giving him the ability to work out on a regular basis. Under normal circumstances, Gach would be readying for potential group workouts at NBA practice facilities, but COVID-19 and the gripping uncertainty associated with it have guaranteed that this NBA draft cycle will not be conducted under normal circumstances.

Similar to what the NFL did with its pre-draft process, the NBA is prohibiting teams from conducting in-person workouts or requesting/watching live video. Instead, teams can conduct virtual meetings with prospects, but those are capped at two hours per week with a single prospect and four hours total. Teams are also allowed to use game footage that was already out there before the NBA announced its indefinite suspension on March 11.

The NBA draft is scheduled for June 25 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. An altered, reduced pre-draft process would have large ripple effects, potentially postponing and backing up the draft to later in the summer or even into the fall. Momentum is building for such a decision, but everything is fluid at the moment.

“There’s obviously a lot of stuff going on right now, so I understand the NBA not being under normal circumstances right now,” Gach said. “Players expect to work out, and do interviews, so this is going to be a different route for guys.

“Hopefully, everything will be pushed back so players can showcase what they can do. I haven’t heard anything about it being backed up. There’s things online being said, but no one really knows.”

Gach’s season at the U.

Gach’s sophomore season got off to a flying start.

In wins over Nevada, Minnesota and Kentucky, he averaged 18.3 points on 52.9% shooting from the field and 47.1% from deep. Consistency wasn’t always there, but his best through November and December was plenty good as Utah went 9-3 against non-conference competition.

Following a loss to then-No. 20 San Diego State on Dec. 20, Gach returned home for Christmas with his right knee in pain. He’d previously dealt with Osgood-Schlatter disease, which causes knee pain in growing adolescents, and is generally associated with growth spurts. Early in Gach’s teenage years, he shot up five or six inches and currently stands 6-foot-6.

Utah started Pac-12-play by hosting Oregon State and then-No. 4 Oregon right after New Year’s. Gach was often-brilliant, averaging 20.5 points on 46.9% shooting from the floor in a weekend split against the Beavers and Ducks, but knee pain persisted. The pain was not prohibitive, so Gach kept going out there. As January rolled on, he was clearly not himself.

“It was an up-and-down season, it was tough for me personally,” Gach said. “I was playing pretty well, feeling like myself, I had some pretty good games. Obviously, I got injured, and I think it came at a bad time, right at the start of conference play.

“It kept on getting worse and we eventually had to shut it down. I feel like that just set me back a little bit, it took me in a direction I didn’t want to be on.”

Finally, after what was a mostly-brutal January, Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak sat Gach for four games in an effort to get the knee issue dealt with. There was an MRI early in the process, which Gach told The Tribune on Feb. 18 yielded no ligament or structural damage, but did show the bones in the knee were tender. The remnants of Osgood-Schlatter disease also played a role in the pain.

In hindsight, Gach might have shut it down earlier once the pain came around Christmas.

“I could have, it might’ve been a better idea, but I wanted to try to help my team,” Gach said. “Being injured, not being 100%, I can’t do what I can do.”

In one late-season three-game stretch, running the point with Rylan Jones sidelined with a concussion, Gach looked like himself. He averaged 20.7 points per game on 59.5% shooting. The run was capped by a 28-point, 5-rebound, 4-assist tour de force in the regular-season finale against Colorado.

Krystkowiak compares Gach to another former Utes star, Delon Wright. The second-team All-American and 2015 first-round pick of the Toronto Raptors (he now plays for the Dallas Mavericks) was not a demonstrative guy, but part of his maturation was that he became someone other players wanted to play with.

“Both turned that corner at the end of the year,” Krystkowiak told The Tribune. “He was playing hard, he was smiling, he was playing his butt off, and he really had some great games. I thought he really, really turned that corner. He’s matured and he’s growing.

“When the game gets taken away from you, you watch and you realize how fortunate you are. All of these little experiences are part of the process.”

The ramifications of Gach’s decision

The fact Gach has not retained an agent would indicate he does indeed intend to merely test the waters and gain feedback, but the truth of the matter is, his going through the pre-draft process means everything is on the table.

Gach can remain in the draft with the intention of beginning his professional career, whether that be in the United States or abroad. He can also remove his name from draft consideration and transfer, which is what Donnie Tillman did last spring in leaving for UNLV. That latter scenario is extreme, but it can’t be ruled out.

With the NBA draft still slated for June 25, the NCAA deadline to withdraw and maintain college eligibility is June 3. Utah’s roster will be in flux until Gach makes a decision, one way or the other, and it would only get worse if the calendar gets pushed back due to COVID-19.

With Gach, Krystkowiak is at the NCAA maximum of 13 scholarships. If Gach were to leave, Krystkowiak would have one scholarship to play with, either late in this 2020 recruiting cycle or in the NCAA Transfer Portal. Prep recruiting is at a virtual standstill right now because of COVID-19, which could make the portal a more viable option at this time.

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