HARRISONBURG — Across the Colonial Athletic Association, coaches are selling the NBA dream.
By most accounts, 2018-19 was a down season for the conference. And closing in on a decade since former member VCU made a run to the Final Four, the CAA has since become an annual one-bid league in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Colonial ranked No. 18 among 32 conferences on RealTimeRPI.com and 20th in Ken Sagarin’s computer rating, putting the CAA behind the Ivy League, MAC and Southern Conference in each.
But heading into next season, CAA coaches are quick to point out two things. First, the conference is tightly packed and competitive top to bottom. And second, it produces NBA talent.
“I feel like if you look at our league and the players who have left it at least speaks to the fact we have really good coaches here and we do a good job evaluating and bringing in talent,” James Madison coach Louis Rowe said. “We could have a few players in our league playing in the NBA this year. It’s a really, really good league with talent.”
Former College of Charleston forward Jarrell Brantley and former Hofstra guard Justin Wright-Foreman were selected in the second round of last month’s NBA Draft, both winding up with the Utah Jazz.
It was the first time in more than two decades the CAA had multiple players drafted and UNC-Wilmington big man Devontae Cacok later joined the Summer League squad of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Tuesday night, Cacok, who set an NCAA record shooting 80 percent from the field as a sophomore and led the CAA in rebounding the past two seasons, signed an Exhibit 10 contact with the Lakers. That means he’ll head to training camp with the team and has a prime opportunity to earn a two-way deal, which would mean splitting the season between Los Angeles and the Lakers’ G-League affiliate.
Brantley and Wright-Foreman also have good shots at making the Jazz roster. Both were standouts in games played in Salt Lake City before Summer League play shifted to Las Vegas, where both have dealt with hamstring injuries.
In Utah, Brantley averaged 13.5 points and five rebounds while Wright-Foreman put up 13 points and 3.5 assists per game.
As the challenge for CAA coaches increasingly becomes not only selling high school recruits on the mid-major experience, but also keeping players with an opportunity to transfer to high-major programs, one of the best ways may be pointing out the conference can be a pathway to a pro career.
“There’s so much parity top to bottom,” Delaware coach Martin Ingelsby said. “We lost some good established players. Brantley and Wright-Foreman being drafted can be big for our league, which I feel like is one of the best leagues nobody talks as much about as they should. Hopefully these are things that can help us promote how good a brand of basketball we have.”